Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Smaller This Year As Americans Downsize Celebration As families across the U.S. scale back on how they traditionally celebrate the holiday, it's been a challenge for turkey producers as they figure out how to adapt to the changing market.
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Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

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Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

Small Turkeys Are In Demand As Americans Downsize At Thanksgiving

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  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

People are adjusting their Thanksgiving plans, staying away from large gatherings and, as it turns out, large turkeys. You may pause here to insert a joke about BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. NPR's Emma Peaslee has the story.

EMMA PEASLEE, BYLINE: Tonya Nash can count on one hand the number of family Thanksgivings she's missed.

TONYA NASH: We drive from Georgia to Texas every year. It's a family tradition that actually started before my boys were even born.

PEASLEE: She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, but they look forward to celebrating with his family in Houston.

NASH: It can be 20 to 30 people.

PEASLEE: But that big family is part of the reason they're staying home. Her youngest son is high-risk for COVID-19. So while a lot of things will be different this year, Nash is determined to have one thing be the same.

NASH: I'm the only one in my family that likes turkey, so I just got a very small turkey. And I'm going to get a ham 'cause everyone in the family typically eats that a little bit better.

PEASLEE: It's different than the nearly 20-pound turkey they might have in Houston. But even if she's the only one eating it, Nash is adamant.

NASH: You have to have turkey.

PEASLEE: She's not alone. Butterball surveyed about a thousand adults in September. They found that 30% plan to celebrate with just their immediate family. That's twice as many compared to most years.

RONI MCDANIEL: Hi. This is Butterball Turkey Talk Line. How can I help you?

PEASLEE: Roni McDaniel and her daughter, Coren Hayes, are Butterball experts. They've been fielding questions about Thanksgiving for weeks. And they're noticing a difference in what people are asking.

MCDANIEL: You know, oddly enough, they are looking for smaller turkeys. What about you, Miss?

COREN HAYES: They are looking for smaller turkeys. And I'm getting more questions about availability in general. Where can I find a turkey? Where can I go?

PEASLEE: Questions like that might indicate another trend - first-time hosts. McDaniel and Hayes are used to working with newbies, including one caller who accidentally bought a chicken instead of a turkey.

HAYES: And he seemed very sincere. How do I, you know, cook this and make it seem like a turkey to my guests because I really don't want to mess this up?

PEASLEE: Hayes told that caller to just come clean with the guests.

While the Butterball Talk Line can answer the question of how to cook a smaller bird, it's not as easy for farmers to make the adjustment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEYS GOBBLING)

PEASLEE: Rachel and Joe Shenk raise turkeys on a small farm in Newport, N.C.

RACHEL SHENK: Sometimes, once you get them going, they just keep, like, (imitating turkeys gobbling).

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEYS GOBBLING)

PEASLEE: They're hearing a similar refrain from their customers.

SHENK: I want the smallest turkey you have.

PEASLEE: But for the Shenks and other turkey farmers, once the turkeys are hatched, there's not much they can do because a smaller turkey isn't just a turkey on a diet. It's a turkey born on a completely different date. And that's a decision they would have had to make months ago, long before people were canceling their plans because of a surge in coronavirus cases. So the Shenks are helping their customers get creative.

SHENK: And so then I have to go back and be like, well, would you be OK with a half-turkey?

PEASLEE: And it turns out they are, because while half a turkey isn't exactly Instagram-worthy, it's certainly not the weirdest thing about 2020.

Emma Peaslee, NPR News, Newport, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DURUTTI COLUMN'S "CONDUCT")

SIMON: I will not gobble.

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