If the turkey had become our national bird as Benjamin Franklin reputedly suggested, the Great Seal of the United States might have looked like this 1962 New Yorker cover:
There actually is no evidence that Dr. Franklin wanted any bird to be our national emblem. However, seeing that the Bald Eagle had been selected, he wrote to his daughter that he disagreed with the choice. Bald Eagles, he said, were birds of “bad moral Character” while the turkey is more “respectable,” a “Bird of Courage” and an “original native of America.”
There also is no evidence that turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Shared by the colonists and the Wampanoag, the meal included “wildfowl” that could have been wild turkey but it is just as likely that they ate goose, duck, swan or passenger pigeons.
So, although some of our turkey stories were myths, an economist could tell you 10 reasons to have a Thanksgiving turkey:
Top 10 Economic Reasons For a Thanksgiving Turkey
10. Social Norm: a turkey has been on the Thanksgiving table since the 18th century.*
9. Utility: one turkey feeds many.
8. Opportunity cost: low price means less sacrifice.
7. Substitute goods: better than cows, roosters, venison, swans.**
6. Complementary goods: irresistible stuffing and mashed potatoes.
5. Government: official mandate.***
4. Marginal cost: annual turkey price is stable.
3. Globalization: leftovers include turkey curry and turkey tacos.
2. Behavioral economics: short term pleasure worth long term cost.
1. After eating too much turkey on Thanksgiving, we are happy to wait a year to eat it again.
* Alexander Hamilton is reported to have said, “No Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day,” (I do wonder though if the quote is accurate since Thanksgiving was rather minor then and celebrated only in New England.)
**During the 18th century, with most people living on the farm, the alternatives were cows, hens, roosters, venison or swans. But cows and hens were more valuable alive than dead, roosters are tough, you had to hunt for your venison and swans taste fishy unless you feed them a special wheat diet.
***Proclaiming the holiday would be on the fourth Thursday in November, the Congress added its approval in 1941. But President Lincoln first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. And almost 200 years before that, in 1777, the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving after a victory against the British.
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Great post! I am a regular subscriber and very much enjoy your research. One parenthetical point on Thanksgiving. The origins run deeper than a spontaneous decision by Pilgrims. Please see http://flemishamerican.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-flemish-contribution-to-americas.html
The Leiden Thanksgiving story is fascinating. You are so right. I guess next year I use it for Thanksgiving. Happy Holidays and please continue sharing your insight.