Meleagris gallopavo: The Domesticated Turkey

UnknownMost of us will eat turkey this month (95% of all Americans eat turkey in November), and it seems only fitting to know some facts about this important bird in our culture.  The bird we eat today is a descendant of the wild turkey that roamed North American when the European settlers arrived.  There are some differences between the domesticated turkey we eat today and the wild ones.  Wild turkeys can fly, but domesticated turkeys cannot.  Also, wild turkeys have dark feathers while domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers.  Domesticated turkeys have been bred to have large breast muscles (more white meat for us).   Many people assume the large 20 pound turkeys found in grocery stores are a result of hormone injections or some other artificial means to get the turkeys so big.  But actually synthetic hormone injections were banned in turkeys in the 1950’s.  Today’s big turkeys are a result of selective breeding.  Turkeys with larger breast muscles are bred with each other , passing those genes to their offspring.  Additionally, the turkeys are fed a diet that helps build muscle.   I am thankful that today’s turkeys are larger because they are free from the cancer causing synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol!  However, you still might want to look into buying a turkey from a vendor that claims to grow turkeys organically and humanely.  The common turkey bought in the large grocery stores is probably a turkey that was so fat it couldn’t mate and had to be inseminated artificially.  In addition, often the mother turkey is never in contact with her young, so the young chicks never get a chance to pick up survival skills or behaviors.  These domestic turkeys are totally dependent on the breeders. If you are in the Philadelphia area you might check out Reading Terminal or this website to search for an organic, humanely bred turkey.