WASHINGTON – Americans are stuffing themselves with turkey, and not just at the Thanksgiving (search) table.
The typical American gobbles up nearly 14 pounds of turkey a year, more than double the consumption in 1970.
Whole turkeys dominate supermarket bins during the holidays, but the rest of the year they're sliced and diced in dozens of ways, from tenderloins to cutlets, hot dogs to burgers.
Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation (search), said, "Consumers realize its nutritional benefit — high protein and low in fat."
As consumption has increased, so has the number of turkeys being raised on U.S. farms. According to the federation, there were about 124 million in 1975. The number peaked at over 292 million in 1995 and now is an estimated 269 million — nearly one for every U.S. resident.
While there are fewer turkeys than in 1995, the birds are plumper. Turkeys in 1995 collectively weighed nearly 6.8 billion pounds. Today's turkeys tip the scales at a combined weight of 7.4 billion pounds.
"They are just bred to weigh more now," said Karen Zimmerman, president of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. According to the Agriculture Department, Minnesota is tops when it comes to the number of turkeys raised, 45.5 million, edging out North Carolina by 500,000. Missouri is third at 27.5 million.
Despite its growing year-round popularity, turkey remains a staple for dinner on the fourth Thursday of each November — 95 percent of Americans will have some form of it on Thanksgiving, the industry group says.
Large or small, a whole frozen turkey costs roughly 99 cents per pound, while the average size bird bought for Thanksgiving dinner weighs about 15 pounds.
But Americans are paying a little more this year. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a 16-pound bird costs $15.47, about 63 cents more than last year.
Blame it on limited beef supplies and strong consumer demand for meats in general, federation economist Robert Young said.
Add in the rest of the trimmings, like cranberries, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes, and the total average cost for a Thanksgiving dinner to feed 10 people this year is $36.28, up $1.72 from last year.
If you bought cranberries for the feast, they probably came from Wisconsin, which produced over half of the U.S. crop of 583 million pounds this year. Massachusetts (170 million) and New Jersey (47 million) were next.
North Carolina is tops in sweet potatoes, growing 481 million pounds, followed by California (276 million) and Mississippi (197 million). About 1.3 billion pounds of sweet potatoes were produced nationally last year.
Illinois produced 299 million pounds of the U.S. total of 791 million pounds of pumpkin last year, leading the nation. The next biggest patches were in California (150 million) and Pennsylvania (117 million).