Let’s Talk Turkey

Choosing a Better Turkey PLUS Recipes for Maple Herb Roasted Turkey & Homemade Gravy

In Let's Talk Turkey Bruce Bradley shares how to find a healthier turkey PLUS recipes on how to cook it perfectly!
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,

Big Ag ... lets greed overtake ... quality products. Their bottom line is all about quantity not quality, and maximizing profits.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 you food comes from!
  3. 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 Naragansett 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 (sorry, they’re already sold out of turkeys for 2014).
  4. 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.

Finding a better bird, however, can be a bit of a challenge, especiallywith just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. But if you’re interested here’s what I’d suggest: (more…)