The strange story of turkey tails speaks volumes about our globalized food system

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Note to journalists: This piece by Colorado State University Professor Michael Carolan, appearing in The Conversation, may be republished freely without modification, according to the guidelines at To republish, visit Video is available at

By Michael Carolan, Colorado State University

Intensive livestock farming is a huge global industry that serves up millions of tons of beef, pork and poultry every year. When I asked one producer recently to name something his industry thinks about that consumers don’t, he replied, “Beaks and butts.” This was his shorthand for animal parts that consumers – especially in wealthy nations – don’t choose to eat.

On Thanksgiving, turkeys will adorn close to 90 percent of U.S. dinner tables. But one part of the bird never makes it to the groaning board, or even to the giblet bag: the tail. The fate of this fatty chunk of meat shows us the bizarre inner workings of our global food system, where eating more of one food produces less-desirable cuts and parts. This then creates demand elsewhere – so successfully in some instances that the foreign part becomes, over time, a national delicacy.

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