Organic Consumers Association

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Thoughts on Thanksgiving & Turkey by Jill Richardson

Yesterday I popped into Whole Foods to get some cash (I use them like an ATM... pay $1.50 for tea, get cash, and it's cheaper than the fee I'd pay otherwise) and I left all disgusted. The place was mobbed, and the woman behind me in line was buying a big, ridiculous turkey and a plastic bag full of sweet potatoes (I fully support the sweet potatoes, but why the plastic bag?).
The current state of American turkeys seems to be a bit of an overall metaphor for what's wrong with our country to me. Please indulge my overactive imagination and talk turkey a little bit with me.
OrangeClouds115's diary :: ::

Turkey - and in fact most of our traditional Thanksgiving foods - is indigenous to this continent. Cranberries were initially known as craneberries (for their flowers' resemblance to a crane) by the first Europeans in North America. Sweet potatoes were first domesticated in South America 5000 years ago before heading north. Of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, perhaps the only one you frequently encounter outside of the U.S. is corn, although I don't think I've found it in the form of cornbread elsewhere in the world.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been my favorite holiday - less tainted by commercialism than Christmas (which I don't celebrate anyway) and a good excuse to get my mom to cook the traditional foods I love - but the more I learn, the more disgusted I get.

Take the turkey itself. The 46 million turkeys that are having a really bad week are almost all broad-breasted whites. This fast-growing bird is industry's answer to our demand for more more more breast meat. OK, they say, you can have all the breast meat you want, and you can have it cheap, so long as you didn't want flavor too.

Or perhaps we can give you the flavor along with the breast meat, by shooting up your bird with saline solution and vegetable oils. And then you can watch Food Network and learn to brine your bird, to add flavor and moisture as well. And the good news is that turkey is only up about 9 cents per pound over last year!

In fact, after correcting for inflation, the average Thanksgiving meal has not increased in price in 20 years! But who benefits? Not consumers. And not turkey producers either, actually. So is the answer nobody? Or is it Hormel, Butterball, and Wall Street? Right now I doubt even they are doing well.

The broad-breast white represents, to me, our mechanical view of the world and how it has come back to bite us. We've taken an icon of America - a bird that Ben Franklin wanted to make our national bird instead of a bald eagle - and turned it into a frankenfood. At this point it's not actually genetically modified (although just give 'em time because GM animals and clones are legal now), but it's just as bad.

The development of the broad-breasted white began in the 1960's. Let's find a bird that is cheap to raise, aesthetically pleasing when dressed and has bigger breasts than some of the falsies I see around Los Angeles. Voila! The broad-breasted white. Shove it into a factory farm, remove it from its natural diet of grasses, grubs, and bugs, shoot it up with antibiotics and supplements, stuff it full of grain, and you're ready for Thanksgiving.

The only problems are the massive quantities of turkey manure you're left with and the turkeys' inability to mate. That's right. This unnatural critter cannot perform the ultimate natural function by itself: mating. And they are so sickly that the turkeys Bush will pardon this year probably will not see a second Thanksgiving, even though they are living pampered lives. Give these birds a few years without any artificial insemination - even if we weren't eating them - and the entire breed would be extinct.

This is no vegetarian rant, by the way, as I don't look at the "alternative" - Tofurkey - in a better light at all. It's just another processed food. Give me real food. I want cranberries, and not out of a can. I want sweet potatoes, and hold the marshmallows! I want brussel sprouts. And for the omnivores who need their turkey, I've heard absolutely excellent things about heritage turkeys.
Heritage turkeys are what we SHOULD be eating to celebrate the cuisine native to our land. They do not grow as quickly as the broad-breasted whites, but they can survive outdoors for many years and they can breed all by themselves, without help. Fancy that! (I hear they taste better too.)

Perhaps there are flaws to pasture-raised heritage turkeys like these. You suffer some losses, like when a neighboring badger eats one for lunch. They poop all over the place. But at least there's no smell involved, and they fertilize your land. Plus, you don't need a compost pile when you've got a bunch of turkeys running loose - they eat your food scraps, and your pest insects.

The broad-breasted white seems to me to be an appropriate (if pathetically sad) icon for America's big holiday this week. It represents our culture of bigger, faster, cheaper, consequences-be-damned. It's the Wal-Mart of food. Our environment's worse for it, our health is worse for it, and we aren't even really enjoying it. What's the point?

And yet, for all of their efficient (if crappy) turkey production, look at how well producers are doing. They are scaling back production in the next year to attempt to raise prices. Heritage turkey producers, on the other hand, can make up to $60-$80 per bird and their turkeys are so in-demand that people have to reserve them well in advance if they want one for Thanksgiving.

America, please, wake up this Thanksgiving. Not just about turkey, but about the entire ridiculous consumer culture in general! Bigger, faster, cheaper, and disposable is NOT better - for our health, for our environment, for our economy, or for our happiness!

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