As Americans everywhere prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, the topic of conversation sometimes becomes spirited and quite naturally turns to food. What family favorites will be prepared for the annual feast? Who will bring the side dishes? The desserts? Will we eat before or after the football game?

The cost of the meal is another topic often brought up for debate.

Every November since 1986, the American Farm Bureau Federation has computed a national average cost for 16 food items used to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal-turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings.

Media coverage of the survey results is extensive. Hundreds of stories are written, many with a local angle on prices consumers found at their local grocery stores and the meals they're planning to make.

Some stories include responses from consumers to the AFBF average cost, which was $42.26 for a dinner for 10 this year. Overwhelmingly, stories about the cost of the Thanksgiving dinner are positive, touching on how family and friends gather together for the meal, and the abundance and affordability of food enjoyed by most Americans.

Even news outlets across the pond are interested in food trends here in America. BBC News online posted a story on the foods Americans are likely to prepare for Thanksgiving and what it will cost.

Also of note this year, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest grocery chain, piggybacked on Farm Bureau's national survey. The company issued a news release on Farm Bureau's survey results and trumpeted that shoppers could save 10 percent by buying the ingredients for the meal at its stores.

But from time to time, the Thanksgiving survey has been reported on in less-than-glowing terms by skeptical reporters. It's interesting that many of those stories could best be described by food-related terms or metaphors. For example, Farm Bureau and its economists have been: grilled about where the numbers reported in the survey come from, skewered for consistently reporting the cost of the same survey items year after year, and roasted for typically reporting "only" nominal yearly price increases.

Simmer down, nay-sayers! "Enjoying a wholesome, home-cooked turkey dinner for just over $4 per person is an amazing deal, any way you slice it," says Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist.

Cyndie Sirekis is a director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.