Image from Wikimedia Commons
As Thanksgiving approaches, I know that the anticipation of full stomachs and post-meal football is the only thing on most Americans’ mind. This anticipation of the feeling following the coveted Turkey Day festivities may overshadow what people know about what’s actually on their plates—specifically, the turkey.
Before turkeys are ready for use on Thanksgiving, they must be raised and prepared; humans cannot safely consume wild turkey meat. Thus, we must domesticate turkeys. Most modern domesticated turkeys are descendants of wild turkeys—specifically, those of the Meleagris gallopavo subspecies. This subspecies is primarily found in Mexico. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced turkeys (domesticated by those living in Mexico) to Europe. Most say that English explorer William Strickland brought the bird to England, where from it was introduced to America and the pilgrims who would go on to make it famous.
After they’re roasted and dressed, the turkeys are ready for feasting—feasting done by humans, that is. Turkeys themselves have flexible diets, their preferred foods ranging from seeds and berries to animals like frogs, snails, and worms. Their diets mainly comprise of fruit, plants, and insects in the warmer month. As the days grow shorter and colder, however, turkeys mostly rely on grains and nuts to fill them up. They usually feed shortly after sunrise and before sundown for several hours, although they will search for nourishment at other times if necessary. They forage by scratching at the ground with their feet, then inspecting what they’ve dug up in hope of finding food. They then swallow their food, without chewing, and store it in their crop. A turkey’s crop is a pouch-like appendage of its esophagus. The food kept there is then broken down by the gizzard, an organ in the digestive tract that catalyzes digestion.
Following the gorging celebration most people are inclined to relax, unbuckle their belts, and forget about the copious amounts of food they’ve just eaten. Turkeys, however, do not have that option. Turkeys live under constant fear that they will be the next meal of one of their predators. Cougars, foxes, and coyotes are all animals willing to snack on poultry, and are often on the prowl for birds like turkeys. Humans are also somewhat predatory in their attitude toward these birds. Especially in late November, when many are toiling in preparation for the most important Thursday of the month, the art of turkey slaughtering becomes increasingly vital to grasp. There is a process to which those interested in impressing their Thanksgiving guests should adhere. This procedure involves first capturing a live turkey and hanging it by its feet. The star-host must then slit the bird’s throat, aiming at the large veins just under its jaw. After letting the turkey bleed out, its carcass should be placed in hot water in order to loosen its feathers for plucking. The next step is to remove its feet and cut out the bird’s cloaca—a hole just above the tail for expelling waste and laying eggs. This allows a space for removing intestines and other organs from the carcass. The final step in slaughtering is to chop off the turkey’s head and hope for the best.
Whether this information makes turkeys more appetizing, and Thanksgiving even more enjoyable, is questionable (if not doubtful). It does, however, make for a more educational and intellectually stimulating holiday. Just because you have to loosen your belt, doesn’t mean you have to loosen your mind!