Household size and environmental and ethical concerns could be informing the trend

By Tim Nelson
Updated November 15, 2018
Credit: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Just under a week from now, Americans will be serving up Thanksgiving dinner. That means millennials will take a break from killing chain restaurants and mayonnaise to kill something else: oversized turkeys.

Not literally, though. Instead, Bloomberg reports that at a time when more and more millennials are heads of their own households (or are at least old enough to host Friendsgiving), there’s something of a trend towards smaller turkeys afoot. The US Department of Agriculture suggests that inventories of whole hens (which weigh less than males) are down 8.3 percent from last year, suggesting an increasing in sales relative to the volume of production. Meanwhile, whole toms, their larger male counterparts, are 6.9 percent more available than they were last year.

There are a few factors explaining the trend, ranging from the practical to the ethical. With household demographics shifting, it’s partially a product of the fact that there are fewer people (and likely fewer meat-eaters as well) to cook for at the average Thanksgiving feast. Census data shows that 62 percent of all American households had just one or two members, up from 41 percent of living arrangements fitting that description in 1960. When there are less people at the table, buying a gargantuan, 30-pound turkey just doesn’t make that much sense.

Turkey sellers like Karen Bell, whose Milwaukee butcher shop sold off half its stock of small turkeys by Halloween, are inclined to degree. “Family sizes are smaller,” she said to Bloomberg. “Celebrating Thanksgiving isn’t like 20-people extended families.”

With more attention than ever paid to food waste, not buying a colossal bird also registers as a more environmentally sound decision. Data from the National Resources Defense Council indicates we collectively waste 200 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving. Given that the biggest birds are artificially plumped up only to have their meat wasted, going smaller (to say nothing of skipping turkey entirely) also registers as a small but notable shift towards a more humane thanksgiving dinner.

“People are starting to understand it’s not natural to grow turkeys up to 30 pounds,” said, D’Artagnan LLC owner and co-founder Ariane Daguin told Bloomberg “In general, that means they were penned up with no room to move around, and that’s why they’re fat like that.”

So no matter who you’re gathered to celebrate the beginning of a genocide against America’s indigenous population that we’ve never properly atoned for Thanksgiving with this year, you’re not crazy for going small with the turkey. And if any boomers complain about how there’s not enough bird on the table, just shut them up with some mashed potatoes.