Is Thanksgiving turkey overrated?


Fact Box

  • The US Department of Agriculture estimates that each year in the US, about 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day. 
  • The concept of eating turkey on Thanksgiving is credited to American author Sarah Josepha Hale, who, in her 1827 novel Northwood, “devoted an entire chapter to a description of a New England Thanksgiving, with a roasted turkey ‘placed at the head of the table.’” Hale championed establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday to “help unify the country as it teetered toward civil war.” Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. 
  • According to, Americans will spend an estimated $1.28 billion on turkeys for Thanksgiving 2023. 
  • An innovative way to prepare turkey, called spatchcocking, allows for even cooking and juicier meat. Consumer Reports explains the method, “Cut out the backbone, split the bird in half, and lay it flat on a rack. When cooked at 450° F in the oven, a 12-pounder will be ready in about an hour.”

Emily (No)

Serving classic dishes during the holidays can evoke nostalgic memories of past celebrations, and for those who consume meat, serving turkey during Thanksgiving is a familiar and cherished tradition. Not only is turkey not overrated--it is savored by many, as a 2021 survey revealed that turkey is the most popular dish on the Thanksgiving table.

Turkey's unique connection to Thanksgiving can be traced back to the turn of the 19th century when it rose to popularity due to its abundance and affordability compared to other meats. And as historian Beth Forrest, PhD, points out, '...turkey is one of the few types of meat that we eat that is indigenous to the Americas; [therefore, it holds] a particular role in the American imagination as iconic.'

Beyond their historical charm, turkeys wow a crowd since they plate well alongside all the other traditional sides and, as a bonus, are also healthy. Turkey meat is low-fat (if consumed without the skin) and high in vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, which benefits the immune system.

For those willing to look beyond traditional roasting methods, turkey can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as smoking or deep frying--or, if small enough, cooked in an air fryer or Instant Pot.

And after the big day, turkey’s versatility, due to its neutral flavor, allows one to be creative with all the leftovers. Whether transformed into soups, sandwiches, or casseroles, the bird's adaptability enhances the post-holiday dining experience.

Evocative of wonderful holiday memories, healthy, versatile, and large enough to use for multiple meals, the iconic turkey will undoubtedly continue gracing Thanksgiving tables for generations to come.

Elisa (Yes)

About 25% of Americans are tired of traditional Thanksgiving foods, with many realizing they don't have to eat the classics on the big day-- especially turkey. Not only is it the most expensive Thanksgiving food and essentially a waste of money, but it is simply overrated

One of the primary reasons turkey is more of a hassle than a treasured delicacy is that the time it takes to defrost and cook the oversized bird is not worth it compared to other, more easily prepared, and delicious meats like chicken or duck. Sometimes, it takes days to prepare a turkey

And once a turkey is cooked, one of the biggest complaints is that it is dry and flavorless. Let's not forget that carving a turkey can be difficult with many steps, and, due to its large size, there are many leftovers that eventually go to waste. Besides, most prefer the sides over the turkey anyway. 

Eating turkey on Thanksgiving has almost become obligatory, and many are starting new traditions to replace the 'forced' focus on the bird. It is America, after all, and we should be free to eat whatever we want on Thanksgiving--especially since turkeys often come from factory farms. Even vegetarian-style Thanksgiving dinners are becoming more common. 

As critics point out, if turkey were as delicious and worthwhile as some insist, then 'there would be big bins of frozen turkeys in our local grocery stores year round. Not just around the holidays.'

This Thanksgiving, remind yourself you have the freedom to ditch the turkey and enjoy the day as you and your loved ones see fit.

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