Crisis melange at the Thanksgiving table

A number of US media outlets, from the New York Times down, are asking this question these days – while at the same time offering numerous alternatives to a big turkey meal. Newspapers, magazines, websites and TV stations are currently competing with each other with ideas and recipes, from other edible birds like duck to alternative meat dishes to vegetarian and vegan meals.

Because turkey has become a scarce commodity: In February there were the first outbreaks of bird flu in the USA. There have now been cases in almost every state, and the wave is considered the largest outbreak in the country to date. To date, 50 million animals have died or been culled this year alone, including eight million turkeys, according to the US agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

US President Joe Biden

Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Traditionally, the US President pardons two turkeys before Thanksgiving. Joe Biden chose Chocolate and Chip from North Carolina.

Heavyweights are in short supply

That drove the price up. There are regional differences, but on average you have to pay almost 70 percent more per kilo than in the previous year. In addition, many breeders slaughtered their animals early and put them on hold to forestall an outbreak of bird flu.

Logically, these animals lack weight: the average Thanksgiving turkey weighs 16 pounds, or a little over seven kilograms, before it goes into the oven. Many animals sold this year do not come close to reaching this weight. Turkeys weighing 18 to 20 pounds (8.2 to 9.1 kg), enough to feed more than two dozen people, are in short supply at all. The prices of other foods have also risen by up to 20 percent, US media reported.

High expectations, culinary trauma

There are snares lurking in the preparation: Just maneuvering the big animal into the oven presents many with considerable difficulties. With a dish that in most cases is prepared exactly once a year, the necessary routine is often lacking.

A successful turkey meal in the intimate circle of family is the US ideal – and that’s exactly why expectations are high and nerves are often on edge. Dry meat or a charred bird are considered familial traumas par excellence. A specially set up turkey hotline registers tens of thousands of callers every year.

Other preparation methods, on the other hand, are of particular concern to the fire brigade: the deep-fried variant is becoming increasingly popular. The animal is heaved in fat heated on an open fire in a large pot – ideally outdoors and in a thawed state, otherwise the result is not a crispy turkey but a gigantic fireball, as numerous amateur and fire brigade warning videos demonstrate.

According to the fire protection organization NFPA, around 60 people are injured every Thanksgiving while frying a turkey, and there are also an average of five fatalities per year.

conflict resolution in the family

But not only culinary traps put your nerves to the test at Thanksgiving, if you trust the numerous articles in the US media that give tips on conflict avoidance and dispute resolution at the dining table: For the big family reunion, many hundreds of kilometers travel to parents and others, for example Seeing relatives again – with whom, however, there is often little ideological common ground.

Political polarization has increased rapidly in the USA in recent years, and the coronavirus pandemic and how it is dealt with continues to cause conflict, with the ideal family world quickly falling apart.

Foundation myth with turkey

Thanksgiving traditionalists, of course, insist on the family feast with turkey. They refer to the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, which the English Pilgrim Fathers who arrived on the “Mayflower” celebrated in America, more precisely in Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts. The blemish of the story: no one knows for sure if turkey was actually eaten at the time—and the Thanksgiving festival itself was not repeated in subsequent years.

Many decades later, autumn harvest festivals were celebrated across the continent – ​​sometimes with and sometimes without turkey. It had the advantage that it was available everywhere, quickly offered a substantial amount of meat and, unlike chickens, no one missed their eggs after slaughter.

Sarah Josepha Hale

public domain

Sarah Josepha Hale, the “mother” of Thanksgiving

result of successful lobbying

The inventor of Thanksgiving in its current form is Sarah Josepha Hale, who – today one would say as a lobbyist – called for the national holiday. The writer was the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, the most important US women’s magazine of the 19th century. In view of the hostilities and the looming civil war between northern and southern states, she wanted to create something unifying for the whole USA with a holiday.

She began a letter campaign to government officials and published stories about Thanksgiving meals that included turkey in her magazine. Finally, in October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving an official holiday, with turkey as an integral part and symbol of it.

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