Factory-farmed turkeys. Yikes! What a mess. If you missed my earlier post, I interviewed a former turkey farmer who supplied a Big Ag company. I think the single best insight from this interview was when George “Buddy” Black said,
So what can you do? If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, but want to serve up a more sustainable, healthier turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner, here’s a game plan:
- Shop organic: Organic certification assures that the birds receive organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and are raised without antibiotics or growth-enhancers like Roxarsone and Topmax.
- Shop local: Smaller, local farms usually employ more sustainable practices that can be better for your turkey and the environment. Even if these farms aren’t certified organic (since getting certified can be costly), it’s probably a better choice. Over the past 5 years of my food journey, I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to get to know your farmer and where your food comes from!
- Find a “heritage” turkey: What’s a heritage turkey? Heritage turkeys are what turkeys were before Big Ag started industrializing production with big, broad-breasted birds that are anything but natural. In fact, did you know that industrial turkeys can’t reproduce naturally, they can barely walk, and their narrow gene pool makes them very susceptible to disease? In contrast, heritage turkeys are from strong genetic stock, and they’re raised outdoors with plenty of grass and sunshine. If you’re interested, the Narragansett and Bourbon Red varieties are two great heritage turkey options. For my Thanksgiving this year we’re serving a Bourbon Red turkey from a local farm called Little Bend Heritage Farm.
- Ditch the pre-basted turkey: To help you out I did some research and called the Butterball hotline to see if they have any non-pre-basted options. Unfortunately what I learned wasn’t great news. First, all of their turkeys are pre-basted. For their regular (not “all-natural“) turkeys that means they’re injected with water, salt, spices, sodium phosphate, and modified food starch. As I discussed in my post about rotisserie chickens, the overuse of phosphates in our food is being linked to some serious health conditions. So I’d avoid these turkeys at all costs. Butterball’s so-called “all-natural” turkeys skip the sodium phosphate and modified food starch additives, but they’re still industrialized birds, and they’ve been injected with water, salt, and spices. I realize we’re all in different circumstances and places on our real food journey, but if at all possible, I’d try to avoid these highly commercialized birds.
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Finding a better bird, however, can be a bit of a challenge, especially with just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. But if you’re interested here’s what I’d suggest:
- Check your local co-op. Usually co-ops do a wonderful job of finding local, more sustainable options for all types of food. If you don’t know where your closest co-op is, use this food co-op finder website.
- Whole Foods also stocks heritage, local, and organic turkeys. So if you have a Whole Foods nearby, it might be worth the trip.
- Many grocery stores are stocking healthier turkeys so ask the butcher if they stock any local, organic, or heritage birds.
- Finally, LocalHarvest.org is a website that helps connect people with local farms. Here’s a link to their turkey page. You can type in your city and zip code, and it will help you find local farmers. Again, these local farms may be sold out for this year since the demand for higher quality turkeys is growing, but it never hurts to ask. And you can always save the information for next year. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint!
So now that you’ve decided on what turkey you’re going to buy, how are you going to cook it up? Well, to help you answer that question I thought I’d share with you my favorite, Maple Herb Roasted Turkey recipe. I’ve used it with both heritage and organic turkeys, and it’s absolutely perfect! I hope you give it a try! Or perhaps use it to customize your own recipe? I’ve also shared my favorite gravy recipe. As you’ll see it doesn’t require a last-minute panic to make it right when the bird comes out of the oven. Check it out and give it a try!Print Print
Any questions about finding a better turkey or these recipes? Just ask them in the comments section below. What kind of turkey are you planning on making? Do you have a tip to share on finding a better turkey or how to cook it up? Share it all below. And don’t feel guilty if you can’t get exactly where you want to be overnight. It’s taken me five years to get where I am today. To help you out, during the coming week I’ll be sharing more recipes for how to improve your Thanksgiving meal one step at a time! I’m convinced that together we can help each other make simple changes toward a happier healthier lifestyle.
Kitchen Resources that can help you rock turkey day!:
- Roasting pan with wire rack: I wish I had this one, but the one I have is okay for now.
- Martha Stewart’s Parchment Paper / Foil is great for tenting your turkey or other foods you’re roasting. Maximum temperature is 420F so just make sure your follow that guideline.
- Instant read thermometer: I love my Thermapen splash proof, instant read thermometer! There are lots of others that work great too—just make sure you calibrate your thermometer so you cook your food to the appropriate temperature.
- Oven thermometer: While I’d love to think all our ovens were calibrated correctly, it just isn’t so. Use this simple oven thermometer or this infrared thermometer to double-check your oven is truly cooking at the right termperature.
- A whisk that’s built for sauces is a big help when you want to get that gravy just right!
- More information about Organic, Heritage, and Sustainable turkeys: “When Talking Turkey, Does It Matter?“
- Locate a food co-op near you with this Coop Directory Service
- Locate a local turkey farmer near you using LocalHarvest.
- Here’s more information about heritage turkeys from the Heritage Turkey Foundation