Sitting down to the Thanksgiving table, you may have to shimmy your dinner plate in between a massive bowl of mashed potatoes and a casserole dish full of steaming green bean casserole. Mouthwatering sides take up the majority of table real estate, but there is only one shining star that always has a VIP spot at the table's center: the turkey. With so many delicious foods at one meal, how did the turkey grab the spotlight? Furthermore, why do we eat turkey at Thanksgiving in the first place?
Eating turkey on Thanksgiving has become a tradition that was long believed to be started by the Pilgrims and Native Americans on what was considered the first Thanksgiving dinner. But after years of study, historians believe this may be one of many myths that surround the original Thanksgiving as well as the traditions that surround the holiday. Whether fact or fiction, that beloved bird is here to stay — and that is definitely something to be thankful for.
Over the years, the Thanksgiving meals have evolved from those our foremothers prepared. Turkeys can be fried, stuffed, roasted, or smoked — and even delivered warm, right to your door. With all the hours of effort invested in creating a show-stopping main dish, it's nice to know there are some practical reasons we still honor this custom.
1. It Feeds A Crowd
Thanksgiving dinner is no small affair. Gathering loved ones together is a big part of what makes this holiday so special. But putting together a meal for a hungry group of extended family and neighbors is no simple task. According to Mental Floss, our ancestors chose to serve turkey for its ability to feed the masses. These big birds meant enough meat to fill the stomachs of everyone at the table (and even the kids' table.)
2. It's Affordable
Taking a historical look, Primer Magazine reported that turkeys were cheaper than chickens, larger than quail, and much easier to hunt than geese. Still today, turkey is still considered a cost-effective meat to build a meal around. Not breaking the bank on expensive cuts of steak means more cash for all those delicious sides and pies. Sounds like a win-win to me.
3. It Feels Special
Most people don't spend an average Thursday roasting a 12 pound turkey. It's something that is associated with celebrated occasions, most notably Thanksgiving. As an article on Slate explained, turkey emerged as the chosen meat for more than one reason. Ham and pork were too common to be considered for a special meal and chickens and cows were needed alive, for the eggs and milk they produced. So unless the dinner host felt like hunting a deer, the clear choice became turkey.
As you settle into your place around the table this Thanksgiving, take a look at that buttered-to-perfection bird and have a moment of silence for the traditions that brought us Turkey Day. Because if it were not for the pragmatic ways of the early American settlers, we might be slicing into venison instead.