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Turkey Economics 101

(article, Culinate staff)

In this week's issue of the New York Times Magazine, the economics reporter Catherine Rampell delved into the bargain-basement cost of turkey at Thanksgiving. Why, she wondered, is turkey so cheap, when the law of supply and demand would suggest just the opposite?

She came up with a few plausible explanations. Theory A: Turkeys are a loss leader for grocery stores, which lure you in with cheap meat in the hopes that you'll splurge on cranberries and pie crusts. (In this instance, the cost of raising a turkey has very little to do with the bird's eventual sale price.) Theory B: Some turkeys (the frozen kind, which can be kept in cold storage for months) go for cheap because, well, the stores have plenty of them; other turkeys (the fresh, organic, heritage, heirloom, and otherwise foodie variety) go for more dough, since they're more perishable and less in demand.

Either way, turkeys are certainly a bargain in November; for example, discounted turkeys in Michigan and in Portland, Oregon, can go for less than 50 cents per pound. Going kosher or organic instead? You'll have to fork over at least $3 or $4 per pound — and if you're feeding a crowd, that 25-pound bird can really add up.

If you're feeling the crunch, consider another Thanksgiving economic oddity: going out to eat on Turkey Day, or having everything prepared in a restaurant or grocery store for you to take home, is actually cheaper than doing all the shopping and cooking yourself. Even so, the average cost of a T-Day feast for 10 is only about $50, or a mere $5 per person.