The History Of The Holiday Turkey – Why Turkey Is Our Holiday Meat Of Choice

The History Of The Holiday Turkey – Why Turkey Is Our Holiday Meat Of Choice

Eating turkey on Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition that almost everyone does every year. While this is usually something that we enjoy unless there has been a serious mistake in its preparation, few of us reflect on why it is a turkey that we choose at this time. With so many delicious options on offer from wholesale turkey suppliers in the area, it is worth exploring the history of the holiday turkey a little bit.

Having some information on why turkey is our meat of choice at Thanksgiving is not only interesting in the context of dinner party conversation, it is a valuable lesson in our nation’s history. Getting some context as to why we eat turkey rather than other meats will allow you to enjoy and be thankful for your next holiday meal even more. 

With that, let’s look at the history of the holiday turkey and why we choose it to grace our tables each Thanksgiving season.

Uncertain Origins

While the origin of turkey at the tables of many during the American Thanksgiving holiday are somewhat obscure, some believe that Sarah Joseph Hale in early New England first used a roast turkey that would become the paradigm for future celebrations. Some believe that the history of the holiday turkey extends from a tradition of turkeys used in similar celebrations in England. Still, others believe that turkey is simply the most American of any large beast that might be served to accommodate the appetites of a large gathering. For a celebration that honors a historic American era, this interpretation seems plausible.

Although the image of the first Thanksgiving will be familiar to most Americans, the historic meeting between pilgrims and Indigenous people likely never transpired with a turkey. Accounts of this event do not mention the bird and it is possible that duck or geese were eaten instead.

Moving Through The Years

The history of the holiday turkey had a historic milestone when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Reportedly his favorite meal, he was also the first American President to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey before it was killed. After this time, it became more widely known through the journals of William Bradford that early American colonists hunted wild turkeys. This added to the legendary prominence that turkey has achieved during the holiday season. 

Some even think that the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843 which featured Scrooge sending a poor family a Christmas turkey may have helped to solidify the image of the bird in the American mind.

Getting Practical

Many pragmatic considerations are given for explaining why turkey is so celebrated at Thanksgiving. When you think about it, a turkey is one of the few birds that are big enough to feed an entire gathering of family and friends. While chicken is delicious, one simply will not feed a crowd. Chickens were also more valued by early American settlers for their eggs rather than their meat. Cows were given similar consideration for their milk and were more useful alive than on a plate. Perhaps the history of the holiday turkey has more to do with the American appetite than anything else.

A Thanksgiving Without Turkey

In the post-World War II period, the government of Harry Truman advocated for poultry-less Thursdays as part of a voluntary rationing campaign. With Thanksgiving always falling on a Thursday, this implied that the classic American staple would have to be foregone. National turkey organizations were outraged by the plan and it was soon overturned. Thus, the great American turkey tradition was allowed to continue.

Sharing The Rich History Of The Holiday Turkey

Now that you have a bit of background on the history of the holiday turkey, you will be able to share this knowledge with your family and friends this Thanksgiving season. When you sit down to appreciate the delicious meal, you can now think of the long line of Americans before you who similarly took the time to prepare and enjoy the same meat. While nobody is quite sure just why the turkey has become so important, you can be sure that one of the reasons is because it is delicious.

It cannot be forgotten that Founding Father Alexander Hamilton once said that no citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day. With this glowing and patriotic endorsement, be sure to try out your favorite turkey recipe this holiday season.  Northwest Meat Company is proud to serve Chicago restaurants and food establishments.  Get in touch is you think we can help source your venue’s Holiday meat products.

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