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Your Holiday Dinner Is in Trouble

Turkey, crab, and even butter are facing shortages and price hikes

A roasted turkey sits on a plate garnished with sprigs of rosemary, cranberries, and other herbs on a wooden table.
Turkey may not grace many holiday tables this year.
Amy McCarthy is a staff writer at, focusing on pop culture, policy and labor, and only the weirdest online trends.

With the end of 2022 rapidly approaching, many of us are already planning our Thanksgiving menus and thinking about which dishes we’ll bring to the family Christmas party. Unfortunately, it’s possible that this season might force us to forgo some of our tried-and-true favorites, thanks to a slew of food shortages that are impacting everything from the price of turkeys to the availability of butter.

Although this isn’t the first time there’s been a turkey shortage in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, this year’s shortage is expected to make the birds both scarce and expensive. For years now, turkey farmers have seen major increases in costs, including food, fuel, and fertilizer due to inflation and supply chain issues. A particularly virulent strain of avian flu is also a major problem for the country’s turkey farms. More than 6 million turkeys have died from the disease in 2022 alone, and that number is expected to rise in the coming weeks as outbreaks continue.

Sandwich shops and delis are already feeling the strain, and the incessant news stories covering the turkey shortages may also impact holiday availability, causing some folks to rush to stock up on birds for their Thanksgiving table (like the guy I saw at the grocery store this weekend loading up his cart with five massive turkeys and nothing else). But while the turkey shortages were foreseeable, few predicted that even more of our beloved celebration foods would come under threat this holiday season.

The vast majority of Alaska’s snow crab harvest has essentially disappeared over the past several years. And in October, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game canceled the fishing season for the crustaceans after observing that populations in the Bering Sea were dangerously low. No one knows exactly why the population diminished so suddenly, although overfishing and climate-change-induced rising water temperatures have both been cited as potential culprits. However, one thing is clear: Crab legs, popular on celebration tables of all kinds, will now be scarce at the grocery store.

Other types of crab will also be hard to find for Thanksgiving dinner. In an effort to protect the humpback whale population in the San Francisco bay, wildlife officials have delayed the start of Dungeness crab season until at least December 1. According to Eater SF, folks who are seriously dedicated to eating Dungeness crab during the holidays will have to catch it themselves, as crabbing for sport will still be allowed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast blue crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay have dwindled to their lowest level in 30 years, though officials have not banned crab fishing in Maryland and Virginia.

As if that weren’t all depressing enough, butter, Thanksgiving’s most essential ingredient, might also be in trouble. The country’s butter supply has been impacted by a number of factors, from the war in Ukraine to milk prices to rising labor costs for milk producers. Butter costs have also increased substantially over the past year, about a dollar per pound since January, and those price increases are expected to continue to rise as Americans begin baking their pies and Christmas cookies. At present, USDA officials aren’t expecting a full-blown shortage, but they are currently asking that folks who are worried about having enough butter only buy what they need, as a rush of panic-buying would almost certainly spur shortages.

It’s unclear how widespread the impact of these shortages — and potential shortages — will have on holiday eating. But perhaps, instead of turkey, this is the year to finally consider going vegan and roasting up a Tofurkey or giant head of cauliflower. Crab legs are much harder to substitute, but maybe everybody at your Thanksgiving table will be cool with California rolls?