Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Your Green Turkey Options - Take That Butterball and Stuff It

The pollution is exceptionally bad this morning, hazy, pink and thick. Very disturbing.

So I just picked up my natural locally raised turkey for the big day tomorrow which set me back a whopping $2.99 per pound. I had ordered a "fresh turkey" assuming it would be organic but no one asked me, so I got a "natural" one instead. The organic one would have set me back $4.99 per pound.

Meanwhile, the grocery stores are selling "specials" at .49 cents per pound. A financial person would call me nuts. A vegetarian would say I'm cruel. An environmentalist would say "right on". (yes, I know the most environmentally thing to do is not eat meat at all, but I have a family to feed so I stay local, local local) But it did get me wondering, "Is it worth it?"

The piles of turkeys you see in the traditional grocery store, most notably Butterball, are of one commercial type - the Broad-Breasted White (BBW) variety, bread over the years to create super sized breasts. Bred to grow very fast (with a little help from hormones), they are fed genetically modified corn and soy meal and if were allowed to reach adulthood, would not be able to fly (because of big breasts) or enjoy a little nooky (because of big breasts). Over 400 million birds are raised each year, an over whelming number in the south, in huge factory settings and crowded cages, requiring vitamins and antibiotics to ward off disease that comes with crowded conditions. (the industry will tell you to keep you safe from salmonella but we know better) An investigation into these factories was captured on video and if you can stomach it... warning - I had to stop after 3 seconds. Then you have companies like Butterball that add insult to injury and inject saline, sodium and other stuff into the big breast to keep it moist after it has been frozen for so long.

So what's a green turkey lover to do? One other option is to buy the new(ish) heritage types that are making a nice comeback, part of the heritage livestock movement. Heritage turkeys were the old fashion variety of turkeys before the "industry" settled on the BBW and went crazy over breeding its big breasts. Just like there are many breeds of chickens (like dogs and cats), there are many breeds of turkeys that were bred and registered. Some of these were a result of mixing European turkeys and a little American Wild. Buyer beware though, any farmer can take a nice heritage turkey and still feed in genetically modified corn and soy, and still give it antibiotics.

Other terms to consider are "pastured" "free range" and "natural". Pasture raised does indeed mean the turkey enjoyed the great outdoors, hopefully eating just grass but with no guarantee of anything else. "Free range" is a joke, meaning they have access to an open door, during limited times, to a possibly tiny outdoor space. Big deal. "Natural" usually means not fed any antibiotics or hormones, but the rest of all of the above conditions may apply.

There are some quick sources that can take you to local sources for turkey. Eat Wild promotes eating pastured raised animals. Local Harvest can give you the nearest turkey farm given your zip code. Plus they have much more general good farm, food, co-op and CSA information. The new Eat Well Guide is a fantastic source for looking up organic food.

So after doing all this research, I have come to the conclusion that the $2.99 per pound price is indeed worth it. (especially since one website had organic turkey for $10. per pound!) I would have preferred organic since there is no indication of what the turkeys were fed, but I now know better. I did look up the farm from where my turkey came, and it does say no "drugs" and all, so that is good.

I am still a reluctant meat eater (Fast Food Nation did it to me) but have narrowed myself to eating organic (or no antibiotics/hormones/GMO's) and animals that enjoyed a good life and were humanely treated. I live where hunters eat their own meat which I much sooner endorse than cruel factory raising conditions. Call me a product of my environment. I enjoy watching many a wild turkey feed in my field knowing they have been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and were part of the human condition that preceded the early settlers.
Happy (green) Thanksgiving.

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