Why Your Thanksgiving Turkey Might Look a Little Smaller This Year

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Credit: Lindsey Harris Shorter

In the spring, as Americans navigated Passover and Easter over Zoom, it seemed hard to imagine that we’d still be doing this by Thanksgiving — but here we are, figuring out how to feast from afar yet again. But preparing for the holiday isn’t just a matter of figuring out how to pass the mashed potatoes through the ether — grocery stores need to figure out how people will alter their usual shopping habits so they have what people need. And, according to a CNN report, what people are mostly looking for are smaller turkeys.

The problem with this, of course, is that you can’t just shrink a turkey. Some farmers did slaughter their birds a little bit earlier, adjusted feed rations, or leaned more heavily on raising the naturally smaller hens to fill the need for less meat on tables. Grocery stores around the country are also stocking up on other cuts of turkey besides the traditional whole bird — preparing for people to come in looking for bone-in or boneless breasts to roast.

Jack Gridley, vice president of meat and seafood at Dorothy Lane Market in Ohio, also said that the breasts will be good because a lot of novice cooks will be trying their hand at making a Thanksgiving feast for the first time. But like so much in this pandemic, they are as uncertain as we all are. “None of it’s science,” Gridley said. “It’s just a wild turkey guess.” It’s a sentiment echoed by a turkey farm operator interviewed for the piece, who says “No one really has the crystal ball yet.”

But some grocers and farmers are betting on — and hoping that — people will still cook a big bird, even for a small gathering. After all, nothing could make Thanksgiving feel more normal than an overwhelming amount of leftovers.