SA ducks colonial vibe: Turkey’s goose is cooked

South Africans may have inherited many festive season traditions from the colonising north, including Santa, pine trees with tinsel, crackers and even snow-themed motifs, but the Christmas table centrepiece in colder climes, the turkey, struggles to find its place in the sun here.

If you go turkey hunting, you’ll find that most major retailers stock the large bird. The statistics show South Africa imported 27 222kg of turkey, both as whole birds and in pieces, in the past year.

But, if this seems to be a big number, there is insufficient demand to sustain a single turkey farmer in the country. The last turkey farmer, Sinzani Turkey Farm, situated in the Brits area, closed down in 2012 – 2013, according to the South African Poultry Association (Sapa). “There are no commercial turkey producers in South Africa at the moment,” it says.

Why hasn’t the turkey caught on?

“The main reason is that the demand for turkey meat in South Africa is seasonal and production costs are very high,” a source at Sapa says.


The outsize bird is pricey compared with the much smaller chicken. A turkey from Pick n Pay will set you back R60 a kilogram; chicken from this retailer is just R35 a kilogram.

The turkeys that make it to our shores are frozen, mostly from Brazil, but also from Canada, the United States and Chile. Woolworths sources its turkeys from Ireland.

“In general, South Africans do not eat whole turkeys throughout the year, so the quantities that are brought in are purely to meet seasonal demand,” said George Southey, manager of food distributor Merlog Foods. This is mostly for Christmas and, to an extent, for Easter.

“The meat remains a popular centrepiece in the festive season spreads of many South African households and consumer demand has remained steady over the years,“ said Shoprite in response to emailed questions.

“Shoprite and Checkers stores have adequate volumes of turkey in stock for the upcoming festive season, with its frozen whole turkey imported from Brazil in various sizes to allow customers to choose according to their budget and number of guests.”

Chef and cookbook author Lesego Semenya says: “The majority of South Africans didn’t really ever have a culture of eating turkey, but in families that did follow this American trend, a lot are turning to more local-themed menus for Christmas.”

A survey of the Mail & Guardian newsroom found a single party planning to cook a turkey this Christmas.

He warned: “If you get it wrong, it’s very dry. You have to cook it for hours. Sometimes your timing is wrong so everybody is sitting, waiting for turkey — it’s in the oven and it’s not done. It’s nerve-wracking.”

Tsogo Sun chef Matthew Foxon says: “For turkey to be delicious it takes prep time, such as brine the breast and slow roast with fat or butter under the skin.”

Wits University anthropologist Robert Thornton says what makes Christmas is not a certain bird, but the feasting aspects. The celebration has, since the 19th century, moved from being centred on the birth of Jesus Christ to being at the mercy of commercialisation.

“Christmas is a global celebration — as a commercial, feasting and gifting adventure,” he says.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business journalist at the M&G

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories

The Portfolio: George Tatakis

The Greek photographer is on a quest to document traditional costumes around the country

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Iraqi rivers under threat from dams in Iran and Turkey

This year, an unprecedented fiscal crunch caused by low oil prices forced the government to suspend infrastructure investments. But new dams alone won’t save Iraq’s waterways, experts warn.

Time is not on our side in Libya

Simmering tensions could see the country partitioned between east and west

The pandemic has shifted patterns of conflict in Africa

Although the overall rate of conflict has remained steady in Africa during the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, the nature of this is changing in subtle but significant ways

Quiet contemplation this Easter

From church services over WhatsApp to eating with family and listening to chilled music over Instagram, South Africa is going to have a very different long weekend, grounded in sharing and caring
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it

Ghost fishing gear an ‘immortal menace’ in oceans

Lost and illegal tackle is threatening marine life and the lives of people making a living from the sea

In terms of future-telling failures, this is a Major One

Bushiri knows how to pull a crowd. Ace knows a ponzi scheme. Paddy Harper predicts that a new prophet may profit at Luthuli House

Facebook, Instagram indiscriminately flag #EndSars posts as fake news

Fact-checking is appropriate but the platforms’ scattershot approach has resulted in genuine information and messages about Nigerians’ protest against police brutality being silenced
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday