Rumors that the turkey legs sold at Disney’s theme parks are in actuality emu meat have long been in circulation in the online world, and the claim got a boost when it was reference during a 9 March 2017 segment on TBS’ Conan talk show:
In the segment, actor Zachary Levi (who voiced the character Flynn in the Disney film Tangled) said:
“The turkey legs at Disneyland, I’ve come to find out, are not actually turkey. They’re emu legs. Shocker right? No I swear.
I have friends that have worked for Disneyland, and I was talking about how the turkey legs tasted more like ham than they tasted like turkey, which is already befuddling, and they said, ‘Well, they’re actually emu. Those are big, big old emu legs.’ So if you’ve had a turkey leg at Disneyland, you’ve eaten an emu, folks.”
This false rumor had already been addressed in the press multiple times, as in a 2012 the Orlando Sentinel short item about emus:
(For the record, Robert Adams, executive chef at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom confirms the turkey legs are not made of emu. “We hear that all the time,” he says. “They’re real turkeys. It’s what they are.”)
In 2013, the New York Times ran the same claim by a turkey industry expert, who disclaimed and noted that many consumers were confused because the turkey legs sold in Disney parks are typically bigger than what people are used to seeing in their Thanksgiving dinners:
Just about everyone who comes into contact with these legs seems to have two questions: Are these really from turkeys? If so — if they’re not emu or ostrich, two urban myths — then why are they so big?
People are accustomed to Thanksgiving turkeys, which are female birds, or hens; the males, called toms, are bigger — up to 50 pounds apiece — and their legs are the ones that Disney serves, said Keith M. Williams, a vice president at the National Turkey Federation, an industry trade group.
In March 2017, the Orlando Sentinel revisited the rumor, citing a wildlife expert, a food expert, and an executive chef at Disney who explained why the rumor wasn’t credible:
A emu leg is eight times larger than a turkey leg, said Tim Williams of Gatorland, which had emu at its attraction. “If you’re going to walk around with an emu leg in a theme park and chew on it, you’d have to get a cart with wheels to push that thing around. They’re huge,” Williams said.
Theme park legs don’t taste like emu, said Andrew Zimmern, the “Bizarre Foods” guy. “The meat would be a little more beefy,” he said. “Emu has the consistency of turkey leg but the flavor of roasted veal. It’s got mild beefiness to it and a little more metallic.”
But why are they so dang big then? The size can be attributed to a worldwide increase in turkey demand, said Disney’s Robert Adams, who five years ago was executive chef at Magic Kingdom. Consumers mostly want white breast meat, so growers are raising bigger turkeys, he said.
The relative costs of emu versus turkey also makes rumors about the sale of emu legs at Disney parks implausible, as reported in 2015 by National Geographic:
Emu meat is also costly for consumers, who generally buy the products online or at local stores. A pound of emu costs anywhere from $25 to $30, whereas even the most expensive cut of beef costs an average of $8 a pound. When emu came onto the scene, there were too many birds and not enough buyers willing to pay such high prices.
By contrast, an annual Thanksgiving cost breakdown puts the price of turkey at under $1.50 per pound, making emu meat 16 to 20 times more expensive (and as such, far too expensive to sell as a realistic turkey substitute).
Finally, the sale of emu meat falsely identified as turkey at Disney theme parks would fall afoul of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which prohibits the sale of mislabeled meat.