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Comments & Curiosities: Telling turkey trivia

November 20, 2010

Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol, not the bald eagle. Dr. Ben thought the bald eagle was timid and less noble than the turkey. Really, Ben? How noble is a turkey exactly? Franklin also said turkeys were "vain and silly."

The biological name for a wild turkey is "meleagris gallopavo," which means "vain and silly in the Galapagos." No, it doesn't. Made that up too. That weird fleshy thing under their chin is called a "wattle" and the other weird thing hanging off their snout is called a "snood," or a "dew bill," which is like a due bill but wetter.

An adult turkey has about 3,500 feathers. Turkeys eat twice a day, usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Wild turkeys are mostly vegetarian, with the exception of insects, which they like, and ants, which they love. North Carolina produces more turkeys than any other state. Arkansas, where the chicken is king, is third. Male turkeys make that classic "gobble-gobble" sound. Hens make more of a "click-click" sound. Eighty-five percent to 90% of American households eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

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In the last 35 years, the per capita annual consumption of turkey by Americans has gone through the roof — from about eight pounds per person in 1975 to about 25 pounds today. Do you know why that is? Neither do I. But I'm guessing it is the eating healthy thing — turkey burgers, turkey sausage, etc.

The country that eats the most turkey per capita is Israel, by far. Speaking of which, the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese all had their own versions of an annual thanksgiving feast. For the Chinese, the big treat was a sweet called "moon cakes" that were stamped with the image of a rabbit, because the Chinese don't see a man in the moon — they see a rabbit in the moon.

I think that's it then, the complete T-Day primer: meleagris gallopavo and moon cakes, Ben Franklin and the Turkey Trot. All things to be thankful for, I guess. Have the best T-Day ever, if you can stay awake, which is hard. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at ptrb4@aol.com.

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