What Country Eats the Most Turkey?

by Nicholas Nehamas

Did you get your Thanksgiving turkey yet? We hope so, or someone from Mexico or China could be chowing down on your drumstick.

Turkey, you see, has moved well beyond the pilgrim’s platter.

On a per capita basis, Israel might actually consume more turkey than the U.S.

According to market research firm Indexbox, Israelis ate 25.4 pounds of turkey annually and Americans put away 17.5 pounds of the mouthwatering fowl each year.

Because of land and climate constraints, red meat costs a lot of money in Israel. Turkey has become a popular alternative and is often served in pita bread as a shawarma.

In the U.S., we’ve known about the bird’s succulent white meat since the 17th century. The Aztecs and other native cultures also relied on Meleagris ocellata—a different breed from our North American Meleagris gallopavo—for meat and eggs. And the United Kingdom has long celebrated Christmas with a dinner of roast turkey.

But the rest of the world didn’t start catching on until the 1990s, according to Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, a DC-based lobbying group.

“In 1990, the year before I came to work here,” Brandenberger says,”the turkey industry exported 53.9 million pounds of turkey. This year the industry exported 728 million pounds, a record. What’s equally as significant about that is, in 1990, about one percent of all the turkey produced in the U.S was exported. Now it’s more like 13 percent.”

The main beneficiary of all that extra turkey is Mexico, which imported almost 400 million pounds from the U.S. in 2011.

“I was in a supermarket in Guadalajara a couple of years ago,” Brandenberger remembers, “and I went to the processed meat case and the volume of pavo products you’ll find there is incredible.” (Pavo is the Spanish word for turkey.)

China (82.8 million pounds), Hong Kong (37.9 million), Canada (22.6 million), and the Dominican Republic (15.2 million) round out the top five importers.

A Bird on the Rise

Brandenberger points to several factors in turkey’s global popularity. The U.S. government has expanded free trade by signing agreements like NAFTA and granting permanent normalized trade relations to China. Also consumers in the developing world can afford to buy more meat as their economies improve.

And Brandenberger says Americans' own pickiness has helped his industry grow.

“Americans for a lot of reasons tend to prefer white turkey meat . . .  breast meat,” he explains. “But most of the rest of the world prefers dark meat. So the items that Americans are least interested in then become available for trade, and that’s helped us export aggressively.”

The industry has also had success promoting its product as a useful alternative to other meats. When China’s pork industry underwent a major crisis in 2007, Brandenberger says the USDA showed the Chinese how turkey could be used as a substitute in many of their processed meats.

Chinese annual consumption doubled to .09 pounds per person in 2008 before halving again the next year. After Israel and the U.S., the top per capita consumers of turkey are Canada (9.2), the European Union (7.9), Brazil (4.2) and Australia (3.7).

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

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Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

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Instant Pot/Amazon

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7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals, According to Sociologists

Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
JasonOndreicka/iStock

The carving of the turkey, the saying of the grace, the watching of the football. If a Martian anthropology student asked us to name some cultural rites of Thanksgiving, those would be the first few to come to mind. But students of anthropology know that a society is not always the best judge of its own customs.

The first major sociological study of Thanksgiving appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1991. The authors, Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould, conducted in-depth interviews with people about their experiences of the holiday. They also had 100 students take detailed field notes on their Thanksgiving celebrations, supplemented by photographs. The data analysis revealed some common events in the field notes that people rarely remarked on in the interviews. Here are some common Thanksgiving rituals you might not realize qualify as such.

1. Giving Job Advice

Teenagers are given a ritual status shift to the adult part of the family, not only through the move from the kids' table to the grownup table, but also through the career counseling spontaneously offered by aunts, uncles, and anyone else with wisdom to share.

2. Forgetting an Ingredient

Oh no! Someone forgot to put the evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie! As the authors of the Thanksgiving study state, "since there is no written liturgy to insure exact replication each year, sometimes things are forgotten." In the ritual pattern, the forgetting is followed by lamentation, reassurance, acceptance, and the restoration of comfortable stability. It reinforces the themes of abundance (we've got plenty even if not everything works out) and family togetherness (we can overcome obstacles).

3. Telling Disaster Stories of Thanksgivings Past

One day she'll laugh about this.cookelma/iStock

Remember that time we fried a turkey and burned the house down? Another way to reinforce the theme of family togetherness is to retell the stories of things that have gone wrong at Thanksgiving and then laugh about them. This ritual can turn ugly, however, if not everyone has gotten to the point where they find the disaster stories funny.

4. The Reappropriation of Store-Bought Items

Transfer a store-bought pie crust to a bigger pan, filling out the extra space with pieces of another store-bought pie crust, and it's not quite so pre-manufactured anymore. Put pineapple chunks in the Jello, and it becomes something done "our way." The theme of the importance of the "homemade" emerges in the ritual of slightly changing the convenience foods to make them less convenient.

5. The Pet’s Meal

The pet is fed special food while everyone looks on and takes photos. This ritual enacts the theme of inclusion also involved in the inviting of those with "nowhere else to go."

6. Putting Away the Leftovers

These leftovers will make delicious soup.smartstock/iStock

In some cultures, feasts are followed by a ritual destruction of the surplus. At Thanksgiving, the Puritan value of frugality is embodied in the wrapping and packing up of all the leftovers. Even in households in which cooking from scratch is rare, the turkey carcass may be saved for soup. No such concern for waste is exhibited toward the packaging, which does not come from "a labor of love" and is simply thrown away.

7. Taking a Walk

After the eating and the groaning and the belly patting, someone will suggest a walk and a group will form to take a stroll. Sometimes the walkers will simply do laps around the house, but they often head out into the world to get some air. There is usually no destination involved, just a desire to move and feel the satisfied quietness of abundance—and to make some room for dessert.