Winged Icon

By Betsy Andrews

Published on October 14, 2009

Benjamin Franklin expressed disappointment that the bald eagle had been chosen as the national mascot of our fledgling nation, telling his daughter that a wild turkey would have been a better choice. He didn't get his way, but turkey has certainly become a more vital part of American life than the bald eagle has. Even in Franklin's time, recipes for roasting, boiling, pickling, and stewing turkey were being published in cookbooks, and by the late 19th century, when Victorian customs called for a big roast for celebratory meals, the turkey was a favored choice. After -Thanksgiving officially became a national holiday, in 1863, the turkey took on an ever larger role in our cultural consciousness as a symbol of home and hearth, tradition and bounty. Those themes play into Norman Rockwell's iconic 1943 painting Freedom from Want, which depicts a formidable-looking turkey being brought to the family table. It is that same sentiment that all U.S. presidents since Harry Truman have sought to tap into by posing with a live turkey every Thanksgiving. Turkey is, in essence, the most native of American foods. Little wonder that a meal packet sent to the moon with the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 contained roast turkey and gravy. At least, that's what the label said.

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