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Thanksgiving feast takes bigger bite out of family budget

turkey November 22, 1998
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EST (2101 GMT)

In this story:

CHICAGO (CNN) -- They might cost a tad more this year, but Americans will be sinking their teeth into 45 million turkeys this Thanksgiving in celebration of a tradition that began more than 300 years ago.

The American Farm Bureau Federations, whose membership covers the grains and livestock business, found in a survey that the traditional Thanksgiving feast, including turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberries, has increased in cost.

A dinner for 10 will cost $33.09, up $1.34 from last year. A 16-pound turkey will cost 24 cents more, at $13.71.

"The increase is due to the cost of living and the rising standard of living. It was expected," said Dave Kelly, spokesman for the Chicago-based organization.

The holiday has come a long way since the Plymouth Rock celebration of 1621, when 56 surviving Pilgrims invited the Native Americans who helped them make it through a devastating winter to sit down together at a simple meal of thanks.

No plump, farm-fed turkeys were available to the Pilgrims, who made do with wild duck, geese and venison.

45 million turkeys to be gobbled

Stuart Proctor, president of the National Turkey Federation, said this year Americans will roast 45 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, and about half that number for Christmas.

"By far and away, the most turkeys eaten in a single day will be on Thanksgiving," he said.

He said per capita consumption in the United States, the world's leading consumer of turkey meat, had soared to 17.6 pounds in 1997 from 10.3 pounds in 1980, but was still way behind 72.7 pounds of chicken, 66.9 pounds of beef and 48.7 pounds of pork in 1997.

Turkey takes 'a giant leap'

"The growth is due to the Thanksgiving turkey taking a giant leap off the dinner table. ... Now people eat it year-round," he said.

Proctor said turkey exports also have taken off. "In 1990, we only exported about 1 percent of turkeys produced. Last year, we exported over 10 percent," he said.

Just over 282 million turkeys were produced in the United States in 1990, but in 1997 the number had grown to 300 million. North Carolina is the nation's turkey capital, producing about one-fifth of the U.S. total in 1997.

Top export destinations include Mexico and Russia.

Proctor said there was concern over exports to Russia, which is grappling with a deep economic crisis, and to the ailing economies of Asia.

Hong Kong and South Korea are also major export markets, Proctor said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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