Monday, 8 December 2008

Post Modern Christmas Turkey Dilemma

It’s not a good time of year for turkeys. First there’s Thanksgiving and then only a month later, it’s Christmas. Not only are supermarkets full of turkeys, but local farms and specialty butchers are advertising them as well. This time of year, turkeys are definitely an endangered species. Of course I do not mean this is the case for them corporately in terms of a species, but as individuals, they are definitely candidates for a least likely to survive the season award.

But when it comes to your Christmas turkey, does it really matter what kind you choose? Is it that important to worry about how your turkey has been raised and what it has eaten? And furthermore, does buying an organic turkey mean that you will have a better tasting bird?

The answer to all three of these questions is yes. Believe it or not, your choice of turkey not only affects the success of your Christmas dinner, it actually impacts on your family’s health and even the environment.

Most of us have been purchasing turkeys that have been intensively reared for years. Intensively reared turkeys are often kept in windowless ‘houses’ with as many as 25,000 birds in one house. I was told by a friend about a visit he made to a turkey farm and how horrific it was, picking his way amongst the very unhappy birds, who were frantically pecking at each other to try to get some space. This crowding and lack of stimulation can often cause the turkeys to become aggressive and even cannibalistic. In fact, intensively reared turkeys are often de-beaked to prevent this. Furthermore, these crowded conditions often lead to disease spreading throughout the flock. To avoid this, the birds may be preventatively medicated with antibiotics. Sometimes they are even given growth hormones to make them develop faster. When you buy and eat intensively reared turkeys, some of these chemical residues are extremely likely to be passed on to you.

An free range organic turkey is a different thing altogether. They are raised mostly outdoors with more space allocated per bird. Grain fed, they are never given feed which may contain animal byproducts, and their grain cannot be genetically modified in any way. Organic turkeys are not medicated unless they are actually ill, and this is done only as a last resort. This more natural way of life is not only better for the turkey, it is better for you, Organic turkeys generally have leaner meat, developing more muscle and less fat than intensively reared turkeys which get virtually no exercise whatsoever.

Lots of people will argue that they have been eating intensively reared turkeys for years and it hasn’t done them any harm, nor do they feel they have been deprived in the taste department. But have they ever tasted a free range bird that has been raised organically? If they are sticking to their argument, probably not. Organic turkey definitely tastes better. The meat is leaner and is a better source of protein than the intensively raised alternative.

Not only is organically raised turkey better for you, it is better for the environment because organic farming methods are less disruptive to local ecosystems and are not dependent on the use of chemicals and drugs. Organic farmers work in harmony with nature to ensure biodiversity and sustainability. It is also much kinder to the animals involved as they are raised more naturally, and allowed to develop for longer.

So when you choose your turkey this Christmas, I urge you to purchase an organic bird. It may be slightly more expensive, but not only will you enjoy the flavor more, you will also be benefitting the environment and your family’s health. It’s an investment not only in the taste of Christmas present, but also in the taste of Christmas future.

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