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Berger’s Burg: Be thankful that Franklin didn’t get his way

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Yes, dear readers, Thanksgiving, the Harvest Holiday, is upon us once again. It is the time for families and friends to gather, eat, and give thanks for their blessings. "What blessings?" you cry. Well, for one, be thankful that you are not a turkey. Be thankful that the Indians brought over turkey for dinner and not groundhogs, and, especially, be thankful that there is a lot of Pepto-Bismol around.

Personally, on this holiday I am particularly thankful to Vincent, my stockbroker, for all the turkeys he gave me during the past year.

Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for this holiday. But, for Heaven's sake, as long as the Pilgrims and Indians were making a big deal of it, why did their main course have to be turkey? Why not instead lamb chops, corned-beef sandwiches (garnished with sour pickles), or even gefilte fish (atop a bagel with a shmear)?

But, it was turkey back then and it is turkey today simply because a non-meat-eating pilgrim, Miles Standish, wanted all Americans to carry on this grand tradition forevermore. Miles, old boy, did you ever consider those poor turkeys?

And while we are on the subject of Thanksgiving dinner, let us now discuss my lovable cook, Gloria. Whenever she sits down to the holiday meal, she dresses to kill - and she cooks the same way. I pleaded with her not to make turkey this year, since we still have leftovers from last year and, you know what, she threatened to hit me - with a hot drumstick

Gloria totally runs our kitchen, the only one in the world where flies come to commit suicide. To improve her culinary skills, she once went to cooking school and was a straight-A student until she burned something - her cooking school. I once timed her. It took her four hours to cook Minute Rice. Whenever our two sons, Jon and Vance, were naughty, I told them, "Either you shape up or you'll both go to bed WITH dinner."

During our sumptuous and bountiful holiday meal, Gloria passed me one of her homemade biscuits. I said, "You forgot the saw." She asked our 7-year-old grandson, Justin whether he would like more stuffing. "Nope, and I don't know why the turkeys eat it either."

I broke a tooth drinking the after-dinner demitasse. But, being a very sensitive soul, at the conclusion of the meal, I stroked her with a reassuring comment, "The meal was so good that it melted in my mouth." She gave me a stare of disbelief. "OK," I stammered, "it may take two or three days, but it will melt in my mouth."

But in all fairness, I must now say a few words about the "disrespected bird" which Benjamin Franklin once nominated to be the official National Bird. He pointed out that it was a patriotic turkey, because of its red, white, and blue plumage. But it lost out to the bald eagle, despite the fact that Benjy pleaded that the eagle "possessed bad moral character."

Alas and alack, the poor maligned turkey, the unwilling star of the Thanksgiving feast, has since become the butt of many jokes and a symbol of ineptitude. However, I was able to locate a few stout-hearted supporters of the bird who have come forward to set the record straight - the turkey farmers. They insist that turkeys aren't as dumb as most people think. They do not look up at the rain and drown. In fact, one defender noted that the SAT scores of his birds have been going up for years.

"While domestic turkeys aren't nearly as wary or cagey as wild birds, they aren't as dumb as people think," said one. But, he could offer no quick anecdote on the intelligence of turkeys. He admitted that he never walked into a turkey barn to see any of them doing advanced calculus.

Another turkey farmer also felt sorry for them. He said, "We fatten them up, give them tender loving care for 14 weeks, then we kill them. Don't ever, ever, become attached to a turkey - otherwise, you will have a household full of gobbling pets to care for."

They explained that the poor domestic turkey is earthbound because it was bred to have large, non- muscular chests, which increases the white meat. Flying game birds, like ducks, have dark meat because their chests contain muscles that propel the wings, and so they have very little white meat. Since turkeys are walkers, they have muscular legs, which explains the dark meat there.

About 300 million turkeys are raised in the United States each year. Most turkey growers buy female, day-old poults (freshly hatched baby chicks) from special breeders, because females grow to market size, about 20 pounds, in roughly 18 weeks.

Then the grown birds are shipped out where they are killed and dressed. By Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, most of the turkeys are sold.

Of the 300 million turkeys sold each year in the U.S., 45 million are eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas, and 19 million at Easter. That leaves 214 million turkeys that are made into franks. ground meat, soup, and other varieties. The average American consumes 18.1 pounds of turkey each year and the figure is rising. The only country that consumes more turkey is Israel, where the average Israeli eats 22 pounds year.

When this Thanksgiving is finally over, I will take Gloria out for some real American food - pizza.

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