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Proper Green: Heritage Turkey, The Original White Meat

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Is a heritage turkey right for you? Make the common turkey a thing of the past.


Dear Proper Green,

With Thanksgiving around the corner, is there an alternative to a broad-breasted white turkey?

-John, Brooklyn, NY

Dear John,

To our readers who don’t talk turkey, the broad-breasted white breed is a breed of turkey found in supermarkets across the country. They were developed by large-scale turkey farmers to churn out the maximum amount of breast meat, while using the tiniest amount of feed, in the shortest time possible[1]. As is the case for many animals that are factory-farm raised, the turkey’s quality of life is poor and sometimes inhumane — and the environment takes a back seat, too. Factory farming accounts for up to 37% of methane emissions, which is 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (and the EPA estimates that factory farmed animals generate up to 3 times more waste than Americans[2]!).

There are alternatives better for the turkey and better for the environment. You might look for organically-raised or cage-free turkeys, or look for a heritage turkey. Heritage turkeys have seen a resurgence over the past decade[3] thanks to their growing popularity among eaters like you. What differentiates a heritage from its popular counterpart is how it’s raised — to be more specific, they’re only classified as a heritage breed if they meet three criteria specified by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy:

  1. They’re able to breed naturally with other turkeys — nothing artificial.
  2. Heritage turkeys must grow at their own rate and develop naturally — again, nothing artificial here, as they would be grown without the use of artificial growth hormones and chemical agents.
  3. They must be able to survive anything Mother Nature throws its way — a broad-breasted white has no chance of surviving on its own because of the environment it lives in. Better turkeys come from better environments.

With that said, here are some things to consider before you buy your turkey:

  • Size and Pricing: Thanksgiving is a time when many friends and family come together, so consider how many mouths you will have to feed in addition to having enough for the all-important Thanksgiving leftovers meal. Heritage turkeys fall on the pricey side, so consider your budget for the entire meal first.
  • Moral Stance: Consider what you’re trying to accomplish when buying a turkey — if you’re looking to support humane practices and avoid GMOs, then going heritage would be your best option and might be worth the cost. If it’s out of your range but you still want to make a choice that’s more sound than your standard broad-breasted white, you’ll need a…
  • Backup Plan: If buying a heritage breed is not an option, think about other ways you can green your Thanksgiving dinner and still get what you want. Check out your local farmers market, and seek out organic, cage-free, and/or free-range turkeys, which will help the environment, the turkey, and your wallet.

If you’re interested in buying heritage, visit Local Harvest for more information.

SOURCES

1 HowStuffWorks.com
2 Humane Society
3 HuffingtonPost

When it comes to Thanksgiving, what’s important to you when buying a turkey? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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About the Author
Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more

  • Dona E. 27 days ago
    I'm a vegan except for eggs/dairy, where no animal is harmed for the food I eat. Vegetarian except for chicken/turkey since 12 years old until food poisoning 5 years ago from too old chicken!!!! :-( I respect everyone else and their food choices, but they can have all the bird meat they want.....not me!! Vegan/vegetarianism is better for the earth!
  • Dolores M. 27 days ago
    Let the Turkey live and go vegetarian!
  • tommy b. 28 days ago
    Today
  • Ken H. 3 years ago
    All things natural... simply the best way to live!
  • Brandon P. 3 years ago
    Having heritage breed livestock is very important to help ensure bio-diversity. Thanks for the great article!
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