Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Knowing Your Thanksgiving Turkey

I just had the pleasure of ordering my very first all-natural, humanly treated turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of a frozen supermarket "self-basting" bird this year, I'll be roasting and serving two fresh birds from Whole Foods Market. The best part is that Whole Foods actually publishes the name of the farm and I can do a little research to make sure I'm getting what I'm paying for.

I've always been one of those wishy-washy cooks, bordering on "earthy crunchy" but not really ready to fork-over the money to make the big switch to all-natural, humanely treated, organic, and all that jazz. I visit my local farmer's markets and buy when I can. And I've read a lot recently about such topics, specifically Mark Bittman's Food Matters. Mark makes a great case for knowing where your food comes from and eating less meat not because it's more humane but because it's outright healthier for you (and he backs-up his arguments). Nonetheless, up until now, I still wasn't ready to make the jump. It's just too pricey.

Recently, my wife and I sat-down to watch Food, Inc. While we're still not financially prepared to go 100% organic/local/all-natural/humane/etc, that movie really lit a fire under me to start making little changes where I can. Specifically, I'm frustrated by all of the mechanization, industrialization, waste, and general all-around R&D and manufacturing processes that are involved in producing basic everyday "grown" ingredients like veggies, meat, and grains. I'd always blamed the problem on the highly-processed stuff like boxed treats, cereal, 100-calorie packs, and cookies (which I admittedly love). However, even chicken, beef, fish, pork, and plain old carrots and celery are produced in a way where we're just not eating what we think we are anymore. Everything's a manufactured and patented product. It's sad and it's sick.

Knowing we were close to Thanksgiving and that I was cooking dinner this year really got me thinking about the Turkey. I honestly couldn't bear to know that I was contributing to the breeding conditions our poultry goes through in this country:
  • Something I'm going to eat spent the bulk of its short life wading knee-deep in its own poop, standing so close to its neighbor that it couldn't go anywhere.
  • The birds are kept in 100% darkness for their entire lives. Fresh air is piped in.
  • Hundreds of birds die every day just because they can't hold-up their own body weight and keel-over and get trampled by their peers.
  • They're fed all kinds of crap their bodies just weren't made to eat (other animal parts, and human manufactured "feed") and have to be given antibiotics because they're standing around in said poop all day.
  • Some poor farmer in the middle of America's heartland is breaking his own moral code, losing money, and following "big business's" nasty farming practices because he really has nobody else to buy his product.
  • Our tax dollars pay to heavily subsidize our food because it costs more to grow it than we're willing to pay for it. Talk about silly, wasteful, circular logic.
All of PETA's cruelty arguments aside, that's just not right. Actually, it's outright gross and disgusting. Who wants to eat anything produced under these conditions?

That's when I started exploring other options. Honestly, I'd prefer to purchase my bird locally, but it'd take a ton of phone calls to track-down a local producer that: a) Still has bird reservations this late in the season; b) Uses "free-range" growing practices; and c) Has a price I can afford. Unfortunately, there's just no central place for that info and I don't have the time or energy to call around, then drive across the state on Wednesday to pick-up my bird on some farm. I'd love to, but it's just not practical.

The option I turned to is Whole Foods. Granted, Whole Foods is a giant of its own and my food's going to travel far to get to me (from Pennsylvania, to be exact), but at least I know where it came from and know how it was *not* treated. And, because they carry the buying power of the "big guys," Whole Foods can bring such a bird to me at a cost that's 50-60% more than the mega-mart instead of quadruple the price. Being unemployed, that's a big thing for me right now.

I highly recommend everyone see Food, Inc. and take just one step to make a change. Get yourself a local or humanely treated natural bird this holiday season. One step may not seem like it's helping much, but it does. In the end, when sales drop, 'ole Butterball will get the message and start taking better care of its gobblers and we'll be all the happier for it while snoozing away in that tryptophan-induced nap after Thanksgiving dinner.

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