400 Million Pounds of Frozen Turkey (and Zombies)

One nation, united with whole frozen turkeys and their various frozen parts
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A hypothetical zombie (flickr/lisaragland)

Let's just say that zombies attacked America on October 31, 2014. And this particular brand of zombies began their marauding with the nation's turkeys. And they ate all of the live turkeys.

Furthermore, let's say that after a protracted drone war on the zombies, we were able to defeat all of them without substantial living human casualties by November 26. 

And the nation rejoiced! 

But then, it dawned on everyone: it was the day before Thanksgiving and all the turkeys were gone

But luckily, the nation's food cold storage professionals would hold a press conference and announce to the nation, "Don't worry, everyone. Like every year around this time, we have more than 400 million pounds of frozen turkey in our warehouses."

And the people would rejoice again!

But then someone, a blogger probably, would ask, "But will there actually be enough to go around?" 

And that would be a real question. 

In the average fourth quarter of a year — October through December — Americans eat more than 1.3 billion pounds of turkey. That's 438 million pounds of turkey per month, though one has to assume the peaks are around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Still, there'd be more than a pound of turkey meat in cold storage for every American. 

Just don't expect a whole bird. 

In the last 40 years, the cold storage turkey stocks have completely changed in composition. In 1970, 82 percent of the frozen turkey poundage was in whole bird form. By 2012, only 32 percent of the total poundage was whole turkeys. That's because of a marked increase in the amount of processing that goes into the birds, and the number of turkey-meat products out there.

So, after the short-lived, turkey-focused zombie apocalypse, few people would get actual birds they could roast. 

If 2014 was a typical year, there'd be something like 250 million pounds of whole birds, or roughly 8.5 million turkeys. 

The rest of the frozen stocks would break down into breast meat (50 million pounds), legs (13 million pounds), mechanically deboned meat (9 million pounds), other (35 million pounds), and unclassified (88 million pounds). 

In those latter categories, you'd be looking at stuff like wings and necks and turkey burgers. 

The people, receiving their allotments from the cold storage distributors, would eagerly open up the box to see what they'd gotten. They'd post photos of themselves to Facebook with a few pounds of mechanically deboned meat: "Bummer! Got MDM'd. #turkeyunboxing"  

But our better angels would appreciate that we'd slipped the noose. And they'd tweet, "We survived, and now we'll eat turkey. Thanks be to the time-arresting glories of refrigeration. #USAUSAUSA" And it would be retweeted an infinity times. 

One nation, united with whole frozen turkeys and their various frozen parts.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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