Comments & Curiosities: Telling turkey trivia

Thursday is Thanksgiving. You probably knew that. But how is that possible? I Googled Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, and not one of them said anything about time and space being compressed between Halloween and New Year's. But I'm telling you it's true.

As best as I can tell, there are about 28 days, more or less, between Halloween and New Year's Day. Incredible.

Trick or treat, white meat please, ho, ho, ho; wow, look at that float; boom, over, sit down. That being the case — and with Thanksgiving just days away — let's get to it. No time for the history of Thanksgiving this year. I say lets do T-Day trivia, which is loopy and that always gets my vote.

Turkey trivia is meaningless, but you can use it to impress your guests either during the eight hours it takes to make the dinner, the 25 minutes it takes to eat it or the two and a half hours afterward of lying around draped on the furniture like polar bears in the sun.

In fact, we may as well start there. The reason your guests are going down like redwoods within minutes after dinner is that turkey is full of an amino acid called tryptophan, which produces something called serotonin in your body, which works almost as well as Ambien only faster.

A turkey that is less than four months old is called a fryer but if it's five to seven months old, it's called a roaster. Who made up that rule? What does how old a turkey is have to do with roasting or frying? I don't get it. Male turkeys are called gobblers or toms. Female turkeys are called Vivian. No, they're not. I made that up. She turkeys are called hens.

Turkeys are the only poultry native to the Western Hemisphere. Turkeys have excellent hearing, but no external ears. They also have very good eyesight, with a much wider field of vision than ours — about 270 degrees, which is why it's almost impossible to sneak up on a turkey. It's also why when turkeys go to the movies, they'll only go to IMAX theaters. It's the wide screen they love.

Farmed turkeys can't fly. Wild turkeys can, at up to 55 miles per hour. Wild turkeys occasionally sleep in trees. The dance is called the Turkey Trot because it mimics the way a turkey moves in short, jerky steps. Turkeys can drown if they look up while it's raining, they can get severe headaches, and they often die of heart attacks.

Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol, not the bald eagle. Dr. Ben thought the bald eagle was timid and less noble than the turkey. Really, Ben? How noble is a turkey exactly? Franklin also said turkeys were "vain and silly."

The biological name for a wild turkey is "meleagris gallopavo," which means "vain and silly in the Galapagos." No, it doesn't. Made that up too. That weird fleshy thing under their chin is called a "wattle" and the other weird thing hanging off their snout is called a "snood," or a "dew bill," which is like a due bill but wetter.

An adult turkey has about 3,500 feathers. Turkeys eat twice a day, usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Wild turkeys are mostly vegetarian, with the exception of insects, which they like, and ants, which they love. North Carolina produces more turkeys than any other state. Arkansas, where the chicken is king, is third. Male turkeys make that classic "gobble-gobble" sound. Hens make more of a "click-click" sound. Eighty-five percent to 90% of American households eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

In the last 35 years, the per capita annual consumption of turkey by Americans has gone through the roof — from about eight pounds per person in 1975 to about 25 pounds today. Do you know why that is? Neither do I. But I'm guessing it is the eating healthy thing — turkey burgers, turkey sausage, etc.

The country that eats the most turkey per capita is Israel, by far. Speaking of which, the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese all had their own versions of an annual thanksgiving feast. For the Chinese, the big treat was a sweet called "moon cakes" that were stamped with the image of a rabbit, because the Chinese don't see a man in the moon — they see a rabbit in the moon.

I think that's it then, the complete T-Day primer: meleagris gallopavo and moon cakes, Ben Franklin and the Turkey Trot. All things to be thankful for, I guess. Have the best T-Day ever, if you can stay awake, which is hard. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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