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Some Turkey Facts to Consider, and Why You Don't Want Al Gore Doing the Roasting


‘Tis the season for turkey shopping, and the price is right. According to this Wall Street Journal squib, the price of whole frozen turkeys has fallen from 94 cents per pound last year to just 66 cents per pound, with Wal-Mart leading the way, selling turkeys for just 40 cents per pound. (Note: price estimates vary.)
The estimated volume of turkeys raised in the U.S. this year is about 250 million, down slightly from last year. But if the past is predictive, that may be because of an increase in average turkey weight. Six states — Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri, and Indiana — account for two-thirds of all U.S. turkey production. The actual number of turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving, meanwhile, often reported to be 46 million — is, according to Carl Bialik, the Numbers Guy at the Journal, fuzzy at best.
In any case, how many commercially raised turkeys do you think were the result of artificial insemination?
The answer seems to be 100 percent.
Because Americans particularly love to eat the breast meat of male turkeys. (“I suspect — though don’t ask me to prove! — that at root it’s about increasing the surface area for gravy,” says Suzanne Freidberg, who guest-blogged here about her book Fresh.) This means that turkeys have been bred to have abnormally large breasts. As Karen Davis reports in More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, citing William M. Healy, “such gross breast development [means that] few adult males can even walk, let alone breed.” As you can imagine, this leads to conditions that are abhorrent to animal-rights activists and others.
Here are some of the particulars of the how the mass artificial insemination is carried out; you may want to save this reading until a few days after Thanksgiving (unless PETA has already scared you into going the Tofurkey route). If you’re especially brave, you might want to check out this Technical Advice Sheet (pdf) from British United Turkeys Ltd. For instance:

When the straw is inserted into the everted oviduct (fig. 2) the operator (or “cracker”) should release the pressure with the hands and knees to prevent “blowback” of the semen. When the pipette has been removed gently lower the hen to the ground in the direction of the inseminated hens. If the hen is dropped this may force semen out of the oviduct.

Anyway … now that Thanksgiving has nearly arrived, a great many of us are preparing to roast that bird to a golden-brown crisp. One word of advice: if Al Gore happens to stop in, you might want to keep him out of the kitchen. As he told Conan O’Brien in this recent Tonight Show interview, while discussing geothermal energy, “the interior of the earth is extremely hot, several million degrees.”
Unfortunately, Gore was off by — well, a lot. So he may think your oven too is far, far hotter than it actually is, and if you leave the roasting duties to him you’ll end up with one seriously raw bird.
Thanks to Will Masters and James McWilliams for help with the turkey literature.