What has feathers, two wings, a snout, a fondness for slop and emits a bizarre noise that sometimes sounds like a gobble and other times like an oink?
If such a creature existed, the correct answer might be: a turkey ham. But there is no such animal and the pork industry believes there should not be any product bearing that name in grocery stores and supermarkets.
The industry filed suit in U.S. District Court in Norfolk this month seeking to overturn a Department of Agriculture rule that allows turkey producers to call their cured turkey thigh product by that name.
"Turkey is turkey and ham is ham and that's that," say an indignant George Hamilton, president of Smithfield Packaging Co. in Smithfield, Va., one of eight plaintiffs.
Hamilton and the rest of the industry contend the "turkey ham" label deceives consumers and takes unfair advantage of the longstanding love affair of America's ham eaters -- who last year consumed about 1.5 billion pounds -- with the nation's pigs.
It is "an obvious attempt to capitalize on the good reputation of the pork product," stated the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines.
All of which is disputed by the Agriculture Department and the turkey industry.
They point out the classic dictationary definition of "ham" is "the thigh of an animal prepared for food."
"I don't recall any mention of pigs there, do you?" asks Gerald Steinpres, executive vice president of Shenandoah Valley Poultry Co. in Bridgewater, Va., one of the largest producers of "turkey ham."
Steinpres says the turkey idustry first started producing "turkey ham" about five years ago. He and other industry spokesmen claim their product has nearly one-fourth more protein and only half the fat of regular ham.
In 1975 the Department of Agriculture agreed to let producers use the label "turkey ham." Two years later, pork interests asked the department to reconsider.
In true bureauratic fashion, the agency then launched a consumer survey. It revealed that somewhere between 40 and 54 percent of shoppers correctly understood "turkey ham" was from turkey meat, not pork, while 8 to 19 percent believed all or part came from pigs.
As a result, in its new rule that took effect Oct. 1, the department ordered producers to state clearly the ter "cured turkey thigh meat" just after the words "turkey ham." Just to make sure noboby cheats, the rule specifies that the follow-up phrase be in print no less than half the size of the words "turkey ham."