More importantly, have you bought your turkey yet? According to a survey by the National Turkey Federation, 88% of all Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day, so it’s safe to say that a LOT of turkeys are going to be purchased in the next 14 days.
And, unfortunately, 98% of the birds sold will be factory-farmed Broadbreasted Whites, which are turkeys that have been bred to produce the most possible meat at the lowest possible cost. The result of this is a bird that is too heavy to stand on its own legs. Furthermore, they cannot even mate and produce fertile eggs.
There are other unsavory aspects to raising poultry too: Turkey chicks have their beaks and talons lopped off before they’re shipped to a brooding barn. Once there, they are packed in with thousands of other birds and left in near total darkness. They’re given 2-4 square feet of space per bird and a diet of genetically-modified soybeans and corn, along with doses of antibiotics to ward off illness. The chicks are fattened to their slaughter weight of approximately 15-20 pounds in just 14 weeks, which is twice as fast and twice as large as wild turkeys. (If you’re interested in learning more about how the average turkey makes it from chick to table, click here. Be advised, it’s a bit rough.)
Environmentally speaking, this way of producing table-ready poultry takes a toll on the environment. Vast amounts of fertilizer, fuel, and pesticides are need to grow all that feed, plus there’s the methane-emitting animal waste that contaminates water supplies.
Pretty horrifying, right? Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you buy an organic turkey, you’re getting a bird that was fed organic feed — grain or grass that’s free of pesticides, hasn’t been genetically modified or irradiated, and wasn’t fertilized using sewage sludge. Antibiotic and hormone use is also prohibited.
Along the same lines, if you buy a pasture-raised turkey, you’re getting a bird that was allowed to roam outside and allowed to graze on grass. While technically, the bird wasn’t raised organic, many farms use organic practices but don’t have that official designation because the paperwork and licensing is too expensive.
And then there are heritage breeds — these turkeys are breeds that are indigenous to America and tend to be well-cared for during their lives. Most are free-range and organic. Foodies say that these birds tend to have a better flavor too. For more helpful and interesting information about heritage breeds, click here.
For a list of all of the USDA’s poultry labeling terms and what they mean, click here.
Recycla isn’t going to lie to you, organic and heritage breeds turkeys tend to be more expensive. Here, in her town in Virginia (a town that is, admittedly, rather expensive to begin with), a standard bird (approx. 10-12 pounds) is going to cost her around $75-100, which is a lot more than she’s willing to pay. (Full disclosure: Recycla and her family don’t care for the taste of turkey, so they tend to eat chicken instead.) If you are willing to spend the extra money on an organic or heritage bird, Enviro Girl has written a great post on how much her family likes heritage turkeys and how they stretch theirs to get the most for their grocery dollars.
For those of you eco warriors who are vegetarian, the Eco Women will be posting about vegetarian Thanksgiving options soon.
Tell the Eco Women: Do you eat turkey on Thanksgiving?