By Lisa Browdy
The standard turkey that will show up on most Thanksgiving tables is called the Broadbreasted White. It was bred, like most commercial animals, to grow quickly and produce a lot of meat. However, by the time it becomes an adult its breast is so heavy it can barely stand or move, and if it was raised on a factory farm it lived in stressful, crowded conditions and was probably fed lots of antibiotics to keep it alive and well.
After seeing the film Food Inc. and reading lots of Michael Pollan books, I have endeavored to eat less meat, and when I do get carnivorous, to make a good faith effort to purchase meat that was raised in as natural and humane a way as possible. And since this is the first year that I've gotten to host a Thanksgiving dinner, I got familiar with several different turkey choices.
Standard "Butterball" Turkey (as low as $.99 per lb. with coupon at Jewel): Advantage on cost, especially if feeding a big crowd. Its taste and texture is likely to feel "traditional" and familiar. But it was likely raised ages ago in crowded, stressful conditions, pumped up with up to 7 percent water, and frozen solid in storage
Kosher Turkey ($2.49 per lb. at Trader Joe's): Kosher birds are pre-brined before freezing, which adds flavor and moistness. I can rest assured the birds died humanely (the Jewish laws require it) but there's no telling how they lived and what food or medication it was raised on.
Organic Turkey ($3.49 per pound at Whole Foods, order before Nov. 21): Getting pricy, but the bird is fresh, not frozen, and I know that its feed, the farm, the processing plant, and the distribution network have all followed national organic standards. It has been given access to the outdoors and hasn't been given hormones or anything genetically modified.
Heritage Turkey (about $9.00 per pound from Heritage Foods): The larger birds have sold out, only 8-12 lb birds remain. If you have read Barbara Kingsolver's lovely memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (and you should,) you will know the logic behind procuring Heritage birds. These are the turkeys your great grandparents ate, but because they are not the heavy-breasted fast-growers, they don't give farmers (or consumers) a big bang for the buck. I would imagine they would have the gamey, authentic taste of something you went out and shot yourself.
If you'd like to make your Thanksgiving a bit more healthy, sustainable, and clean, check out the Thanksgiving tips at the Slow Food USA website.
I picked the organic turkey. Which Thanksgiving turkey will you choose?
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