So you’re gearing up for Thanksgiving, the time when supermarkets practically—and sometimes, literally—give away turkeys in order to get you to shop in their stores. And unless you’re preparing for a vegan holiday meal, you’ll need to get your poultry order in stat. But then you look at the prices: This time of year, conventional turkeys can be purchased for as little as $.39 per pound, while at Williams Sonoma, a heritage turkey can ring up at nearly $200. Is it worth the price?
I think an organic heritage turkey is worth the investment. It’s free of pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics and GMOs—and it tastes better, too. It comes down to more than taste. According to Consumer Reports, conventionally raised turkeys may be given daily doses of antibiotics to increase weight gain and prevent disease. And as I’ve shared in the past, a full 80% of antibiotics are given to factory farmed animals like these, which result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that now affect more than two million Americans and kill more than 23,000 people each year.
Yet despite what you might read online, turkeys are not given growth hormones: According to the Los Angeles Times, treating poultry with hormones has been illegal since the 1950s. However, if their packages read “basted” or “self-basted,” they might be injected with (probably GMO) partially hydrogenated soy or corn oil to increase flavor.
Although turkeys are indigenous to North America, today’s conventional birds have been bred for size—not evolutionary success. Because of this, they’re unable to reproduce naturally—with the exception of heritage turkeys. Here are the different types of heritage turkeys available for your Thanksgiving feast:
USDA Certified Organic turkeys are fed without pesticides, chemicals fertilizers, GMOs or synthetic ingredients—including antibiotics.
Non-GMO turkeys are raised without GMO feed.
Vegetarian-Fed birds live on a veggie diet.
Cage-Free turkeys are allowed out of their cages for 51% of their lives—but there is no restriction on how large that “outdoor” area should be.
Free-Range means the birds are not confined to cages—but that doesn’t mean they’re ranging on grass.
Pastured turkeys are raised without cages on grass and insects.
Day-Range means the birds are pastured during the day, and cooped at night without cages.
Kosher turkeys don’t have to be raised in a certain way; the way that they are slaughtered makes them kosher or not.
Simple, right? I know: Not so much. In my family, we go with a USDA Certified Organic, pastured, heritage turkey. It’s once a year, and to me it’s worth the investment to avoid antibiotics, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, GMOs and other synthetic ingredients. And yes it’s subjective, but we think it tastes better, too.
Photo: Modern Farmer