Every year it happens. The annual holiday bonanza that begins around Halloween and continues throughout New Year’s Day is filled with parties, celebrations, lots of friends and family, and of course food. And of course, the star of the average American holiday meal is the turkey. Though we’re all used to making wise choices when it comes to purchasing groceries—we seek out locally-grown, or organic products and we’re willing to pay a bit more for them—when it comes to the turkey, eyebrows get raised. Before you bring out the serving platter, make your choice of the right bird for your family.
That frozen turkey at your local mega-mart won’t set you back a whole lot, and with the cost of a locally-produced, sustainably-raised heritage bird can reach $8 a pound (or more), it’s easy to understand why consumers wonder if the splurge is really worth it. In a word, the answer is yes. But why?
First, those inexpensive turkeys are artificially inexpensive. They’re raised in an environment meant to produce a large number of very large birds, very quickly. Before sale, the birds are injected with a solution of water, salt, preservatives, and other additives. And that’s before you start considering the environmental impact of conventional farming.
But what about those special birds?
The top choice, from an ethical, environmental, long-term impact and even taste viewpoint would be a locally-raised heritage bird from an organic or sustainable farm. Which is great, if you have that available. If that’s not an option, look for locally-raised birds from a sustainable farm where the farmers are working to preserve the land and treat their animals, and their farm workers, humanely.
If you don’t happen to have a local farm around, then do a little research. Chances are you’ll find a local grocer, specialty store, organic grocery or food co-op that’s offering holiday birds. Poultry labeling can sound a bit confusing, but look for terms like organic or sustainable for starters. You can also look for terms like Animal Welfare Approved, Demeter Certified Biodynamic, Certified Humane, Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits, Food Alliance Certified, and of course, USDA Certified Organic. Looking for zero antibiotics? Look for terms like No Antibiotics Administered, or Raised Without Antibiotics. Free Range and Free Roaming are pretty much meaningless terms. A bird can be called “free range” even if it’s crammed into a small open space with dozens of other birds. All these terms mean is that the bird was cage free. It doesn’t mean the conditions were humane. To learn more about these terms, take a look at the Natural Resources Defense Council site.
OK, but how do they taste?
In taste test after taste test, heritage birds win out over conventional ones for flavor and texture. They can seem a bit drier than their conventionally-raised, saline-solution-injected counterparts, but brining your bird and careful cooking solves that little problem very quickly.