The Fascinating History of the Importance of the Turkey in the United States

Stelle Bensenhaver, Satire Columnist

The turkey is the most noble bird in America. One could argue that the bald eagle is the most influential bird to the United States, but even Benjamin Franklin agreed that the turkey should have been the national bird. Although the Meleagris gallopavo was robbed of its rightful crown as our national bird, its contribution to American society is nothing less than extraordinary.  

The Oxford Dictionary describes this foul as, “a large, mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head (in the male), and red wattles. It is prized as food, especially on festive occasions, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Not only are turkeys a staple of holiday food traditions, but their importance reaches all the way up to the executive branch. Starting with President Abraham Lincoln, every Thanksgiving, the United States President pardons one special turkey from turning into a Thanksgiving Day feast. Believing that the turkey population would appreciate not having all their family members murdered, American presidents keep the turkey population very happy by saving at least one of them every year. 

Turkeys are also extremely influential in American media. The 2013 classic, Free Bird, is widely regarded as the best turkey film released in the past decade, and it follows a group of ragtag time traveling turkeys. Although winning no Oscars, Free Birds does have a 44% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is considerably higher than the 20% it scored from critics, just showing how much audiences adore these capons.  

Besides the holidays, turkey is a popular choice for lunch meat all year round. Boar’s Head sells 18 different flavors of deli turkey meat. The diversity in the turkey section gives all Americans a range of turkey flavors to taste, and according to Statista, 34.6% of Americans prefer turkey as their favorite lunch meat. Turkey is synonymous with the holidays and day to day life in America, and there are even non-meat turkey options available (tofu turkey/tofurkey)!  

The turkey is incredibly important in all aspects of American life, and the United States government even agreed to it in a featured story located on their Geological Survey website.  Turkey research is compelling in environmental practices. Their habits, reproduction calendar, harvest season, and how they overrun Pennsylvania make rafters of turkeys fascinating in the science world, too.  

The indigenous American bird, the turkey, represents bravery, independence, and prosperity. Ben Franklin said it himself, “[the turkey] is a much more respectable bird…a bird of courage”, and although the turkey may be overlooked by some Americans, their influence on the holiday season, American culture, and day to day life is truly remarkable.