Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2022

It’s true— turkey prices are on the rise this year.

Unlike last year’s holiday season, when supply chain and labor issues created ingredient shortages, there should be enough frozen turkeys for everyone this year. However, avian flu outbreaks and the impact of inflation on fuel, feed, and labor expenses have contributed to rising turkey prices.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, whole frozen turkey prices have risen from $1.15 per pound at this time in 2021 to $1.47 per pound for the week of October 28-November 3, 2022. While that represents an almost 28 percent increase per pound, “the overall costs are in line with what everyone has been experiencing all year” in terms of food prices and inflation, according to Ben Del Coro, vice president of sales and marketing at Fossil Farms, a New Jersey-based purveyor of sustainable and all-natural meats and farm-raised game.

In fact, prices for all turkey parts have risen, including bone-in fresh and frozen breasts, drumsticks, and ground meat.

If such prices appear to be reasonable, trust that they are not the final ones you’ll see in the butcher case. Del Coro explains that the USDA weekly pricing data only shows wholesale prices for commodity birds. This does not include free-range, organic, or other so-called premium descriptors. Before the turkey reaches your cart, distributors and retailers add markup prices.

Those who had planned on cooking the traditional turkey for Thanksgiving might want to reconsider this year. “The purchasing trends have shifted,” Del Coro says. “For the past two years, people have been eating at home and hosting smaller gatherings,” while restaurants and hotels pulled back on serving large Thanksgiving feasts.

With additional alternatives for Thanksgiving meals returning, there is “increased demand on the same supply,” he adds. “Now wholesale is returning, but retail demand remains.” While most home cooks may find frozen turkeys at the store, the quantity and pricing may not be optimal.

Here are some Thanksgiving food alternatives if you’re feeling adventurous or considering skipping the turkey this year.

Try a different bird or cut of meat

“I personally understand that Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but it’s OK to have fun with tradition,” Del Coro expresses. His Thanksgiving dinners usually include dishes that were more common in preindustrial North America.

Game foods, for example, used to be a typical feature of the American diet, he notes. “Venison was certainly part of the original Thanksgiving meal and is seasonally appropriate,” with cuts similar to a beef roast or steaks that can be served with seasonal sides.

If poultry is more your style, then guinea hen, pheasants, and ducks are “more available and less expensive than turkey.” Try rosemary-brined guinea hen or roast pheasant with cornbread stuffing.

Del Coro also proposes poussin, a 1- to 1.5-pound chicken popular in Britain, for a turkey-like feel. Each poussin can be stuffed individually, so everyone gets their own mini-roast turkey.

Decolonize your menu

Considering turkey is only one of many colonial myths and stereotypes associated with the Thanksgiving holiday, this can be a chance to change the meal to commemorate Native Americans.

Instead of promoting the “Pilgrims and Indians” myth, the movement of decolonizing Thanksgiving focuses on remembering historical injustice and violence against Native Americans. A decolonized meal can include more items traditionally made and served by Native Americans.

Some of the ingredients commonly associated with the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal — squash, including pumpkins, corn, wild rice, and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and turnips — are also traditional Indigenous ingredients. A decolonized menu can highlight these dishes.

You might also include items that are often made by tribes in the region where you live. In the Pacific Northwest, that would include salmon and berries; in the Southwest, it might be homemade tamales.

Go plant-based

No, going plant-based for Thanksgiving doesn’t just mean serving Tofurky.

Certified holistic nutrition coach and author Jules Aron has polled friends and family about favorite Thanksgiving recipes. She notes that most people choose a side dish as their favorite part of the meal… and a great number of these sides are plant-based. 

People believe plant-based recipes require multiple substitutions or strange ingredient alternatives, Aron added. If your side dishes aren’t already plant-based, you can replace chicken stock with vegetable broth or use mushrooms instead of bacon.

Aron promotes simple plant-based dishes that showcase seasonal vegetables for two reasons: they give color to a menu dominated by drab and beige foods, and they’re cheaper in season.

As a plant-based centerpiece, she suggests a full-roasted cauliflower. Cauliflower is known for absorbing flavors very well and is delicious with creamy tahini sauce, seasonal cranberries, and candied pecans.

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