As Americans sit down for their Thanksgiving repast this week, they might be interested to know that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national symbol rather than the Bald Eagle, which he regarded to be a coward, lazy and of “bad moral character.”
The turkey “is, besides though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack the grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on,” Franklin wrote to his daughter after Congress had approved a depiction of the eagle for the Great Seal in 1782.
Although Franklin lost the political debate, turkeys have stayed first in Americans’ hearts and, come to think of it, their stomachs – especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. And they have managed to transcend politics. Turkeys are produced in 47 states, which means there is not a red state-blue state divide.
According to an analysis of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 45.3 million turkeys were sold in the 26 states that voted for President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, while 50.4 million were sold in the 24 states that voted for Republican challenger Mitt Romney that year.
“That’s fun,” concluded Lara Durben of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “It’s a win-win for America. I mean, who doesn’t like turkeys? Everyone can get behind them.”
Minnesota has voted for Democratic presidential candidates consistently since 1972, making it one of the bluest of blue states. Minnesota also leads the nation in turkey production, selling at least 19.4 million birds in 2012, according to the Department of Agriculture’s farm census.
In second place is a red state, North Carolina, which sold at least 17.2 million turkeys two years ago. Other major turkey producers are the red states of Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina and the blue states of California, Iowa and Virginia.
Turkey production actually skyrocketed by more than 60 percent during the years that Republican President Ronald Reagan was in office, according to trend data by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
But that rise was attributed, at least in part, to a concerted advertising campaign by the National Turkey Foundation.
“We were doing direct mailing, contests and advertising, trying to strengthen the industry,” foundation spokeswoman Kimmon Williams said. “This was also coupled with the health movement of the ‘80s. More and more people were thinking about what they were eating. Turkey is incredibly healthy and a turkey sandwich after aerobics was a better decision than a burger.”
Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.