Tomorrow over 50 million turkeys will be consumed in America as families gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table. How all those turkeys get there is a mystery to most people. They never really have to think about it, but the production, distribution, and sale of the ingredients in this dinner are emblematic of the miracle of the market. Specialization and mass production enable it all to be provided at a low cost.
Less than a century and a half ago you would have had to raise your own turkey on the farm, where you would more likely still be living, or go out and hunt for a wild one. Then you’d have to go through the work of slaughtering, plucking and cleaning it, which few of us today could do without a lot of angst. Fortunately today someone else takes care of that.
The ancestor of the gobbler we eat today was a wild turkey of the kind you can still see in natural settings. It is a much leaner bird than the gobbler, whose plumpness is a product of controlled breeding over many generations, and like many other domestic animals, does not exist in the natural world. It is native to North America, but the appellation we now give to the Meleagris gallopavo actually got its name from the country Turkey, via the British, since much early American trade had to pass through Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) on its way to England.
In the past the Thanksgiving meal did not always contain turkey, until preservation and mass production made it practical and inexpensive for everyone. The holiday itself goes back to colonial times, but was first officially proclaimed by President George Washington, and subsequently fixed as the fourth Thursday in November by a congressional resolution in 1941. It was originally supposed to be a day of prayer and thanksgiving, but modern times have seen a number of other things added to it, such as football games in the 1890s, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade beginning in 1924, the presidential turkey pardon in begun by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and the commercial “black Friday” on the following day. This is how traditions come about.
Most people still give thanks, but you always have those on the fringes who try to spoil the holiday, such as atheists who object to the religious nature of observances, and others, such as nutty professors who label it a day predicated on the “genocide” of the native population. This is the sort of thing that appeals to the conscience of some liberals, who cannot abide anything that any minority finds offensive, no matter how innocuous. For them it becomes a day of misgivings rather than thanksgivings.
Otherwise, families across the country will gather around the table to give thanks and have their turkey dinner, and they do indeed have a lot to be thankful about, due to the work, sacrifice, as well as the inventiveness of their ancestors. For although it may not be the best of times, they are fortunate to be living now as citizens of this great land and to partake of its bounty. Let us give thanks.
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