So I was on my way to the mall the other day, and I pulled up to a stoplight and right next to me was this truck…filled with turkeys! (The picture is the real deal.) It was a long light, so I not only had the chance to take a few pictures, but also to look some of those turkeys in the eye. It was not a pretty sight. They were cramped in, dirty, shaking, and had the vacant stare of the doomed. Worse, the vacant stare of those who don’t even care that they are doomed because anything would be better than what they were living right now.
They say turkeys are stupid, and that may be the case, but I’ve looked different turkeys in the eye and have seen keen intelligence and even humor. OK, I’m not talking about the wild turkeys in my ‘hood whom my neighbor feeds and who chase my car when I drive by. That’s just weird. I’m talking about the luxuriously pampered organic heirloom breeds that we raise on my mother’s farm and butcher right before Thanksgiving then cook until crispy and make gravy and, well, yum!
I’ve heard people say that organic poultry isn’t as big as “conventional” poultry, but that’s often because organic farmers kill their birds when they’re smaller so they can charge a similar price for a full bird. On my mother’s farm, where we aren’t counting the cost of feed, those turkeys get so big that we sometimes have to kill them a bit early just so they can fit in the oven. One year, I cooked one that was 28 pounds. It was huge. I’m telling you, a bird that size doesn’t leave much room in the oven to cook anything else at the same time.
Anyway, I have some pictures of the turkeys from last year back when they were cute babies and then when they were almost full-grown and standing behind my own cute babies the night before my daughter’s wedding. And here is my question: Which one would you rather eat? (Will the vegetarians and vegans please sit this one out? Thank you!). Assuming the Native American philosophy that when you eat with gratitude (they started the whole thanksgiving thing, remember?!), you are absorbing the spirit of that which you eat—the energy, the life, the pleasure, the pain, the sickness and health—which would you rather eat?
I know I’m spoiled. My grandparents built that turkey house, and it’s been in use for more than 60 years. I can tell you the turkeys raised in it taste delicious. And certainly, in these tough times we should all be thankful for whatever we can afford. But sometimes I wonder if by choosing what we can afford, we ingest the spirit of suffering that occurs when food is raised cheaply. And what is the price of that?
I’m a vegetarian but I actually go to great lengths to purchase the most sustainable turkey I can for my family. Sure, it’s much more expensive, but it’s become a tradition….the Thanksgiving turkey is my holiday gift to the family. Since no one is growing heritage breeds locally (that I know of) here in eastern PA, I purchase from Ayreshire Farm in Virginia (mine just arrived yesterday via FedEx Overnight). The birds were pastured, happily eating bugs and grass and running around, supplemented with organic grain, and butchered on-site at the farm under Animal Welfare Approved guidelines. It’s as stress-free as possible for the bird, which makes me happy, and my relatives tell me these are hands-down the best-tasting turkeys they’ve ever had.
Preserving the genetic diversity among heritage breeds is important to me, and as a vegetarian, I understand that the only way to do that is for people to eat them. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the sustainable farmers who raise these incredible breeds, and for my wonderful family members who happily eat them! And, of course, I’m most thankful that the birds were able to live a dignified and wonderful life.
I choose organic for all the reasons you mentioned. It is a no brained as far as I an concerned!!!!
I buy our Thanksgiving bird from Mountain View Poultry. They’re up north of Allentown in Walnutport, PA: http://www.localharvest.org/mt-view-poultry-farm-M9424
255 South Best Plaza
Walnutport, PA 18088
Last spring I brought home a turkey poult with the intention of raising it for my family’s own Thanksgiving dinner. Soon after bringing The turkey home it became known as Turkey Lurkey and my best outdoor friend. All summer long she supervised every outdoor move I made, yard work, cleaning the hen house, feeding the other animals. She was always there as my faithful companion, placing her body close enough to rest against mine. There was know way that I was going to be able to eat this sweet, gentle, bright girl. My husband would just roll his eyes at me evertime he saw me sitting with Lurkey, petting her head or rubbing her under her wings (her favorite). When she began to lay eggs, my husband began to feel differently because she now had a “job” on the ranch, and we could justify her hearty appetite. Well, sadly, we lost our sweet girl to a predator, recently. I t was a sad loss for all of us. My thoughts about turkeys have been for ever changed by our experience with our dear Turkey Lurkey. There is so much more there than a stupid bird and I am glad to have raised her with such respect. I believe raising any animal with appreciation for what they give us in return is the least we as humans can do!
Amen! Choosing organic heritage turkeys is the way to go. Respect for all living creatures, whether you are going to eat them or not, is the humanistic thing to do. Just because they are animals doesn’t mean that they are stupid, (some of them are smarter than some humans I know), so it doesn’t give any of us the right, or carte blanche, to treat them unethically. Remember, we were given dominion over all of the animals in the world, and we need to treat them with deference and care for them in a just and ethical way. Think about how you would feel being treated thusly, then make a change for the better.