I’ll admit, sometimes it’s easier to make food choices with blinders on. Choosing a restaurant that makes sustainable efforts is downright work let alone choosing the ‘right’ ingredients at the market. It can be a drag trying to figure out what all the labels mean, but it’s work well done especially when picking out your holiday meals. If you’ve seen the movie, Food, Inc. you know why it’s important to know where your food comes from and it’s important we have a voice in what food we eat. Our purchases are our voice. Plus, there’s nothing better than cooking food from your heart for the ones you love, even if your loved ones are nuts (that’s what the Americans tell me!)
Picking out the right turkey can be a bit confusing. Gone are the days of “fresh or frozen,” which were my choices growing up in Ireland. Today there’s a plethora of labels to go with the many different birds available for consumers. How do you know which one is right for you?
If you’re like me, you’re looking into Local Organic, Sustainable or Heritage varieties. What’s the difference? Even I was confused with all the new labels in these categories. I found a great article on the National Resource Defense Council’s site which cleared up a lot of confusion.
CERTIFIED ORGANIC Turkeys must be raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, eat only organic feed that did not contain chemical fertilizers or pesticides and they must be given access to the outdoors. Organic farming generally falls within the accepted definition of sustainable agriculture, though there is a difference between the two.
SUSTAINABLE Turkeys are usually certified organic turkeys but sometimes a small farm that is not organic-certified might be using organic guidelines and be self-sufficient by recycling all the farm’s waste. This is why it’s important to know where your turkey comes from and what guidelines that particular farm adheres to. “Sustainable” refers more to a philosophy about agriculture than “organic,” which is bound by its legal definition. Sustainable describes the practices of farmers who preserve the land, treat their animals and workers humanely and help support the local community.
There is no single set of standards for sustainable agriculture, there are several labels for which high standards have been set, which go beyond the “organic” label. I was surprised and delighted to see these labels, even more delighted to know exactly what they meant.
- Animal Welfare Approved: Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling, including a requirement that animals spend most of their life in pasture. Prohibits growth hormones; allows antibiotics only for sick animals.
- Certified Humane: Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling; prohibits growth hormones; allows antibiotics only for sick animals.
- Food Alliance Certified: Requires low- or no-pesticide policy; advocates worker welfare, habitat protection, well-managed agriculture and humane care of livestock.
- American Grassfed: Requires that animals eat grass only, and if they receive antibiotics due to illness they must be removed from the program. Growth hormones are prohibited.
HERITAGE Turkeys are like the heirloom tomatoes of the turkey world. In the States there’s a movement to bring back old-fashioned, diversified breeds from small turkey farmers. Ninety-nine percent of all turkeys raised in the US at the present time are the Broadbreasted White variety, sometimes called the Large White. While conventional wisdom would suggest that the heritage turkey might be stringy and the Broadbreasted White juicier, in a blind taste test quite the opposite turned out to be true: Heritage birds–the Midget White and Bourbon Red in particular–proved superior in flavor to factory-farm birds. I hear Jersey Buff’s aren’t bad either. Buying heritage turkeys are more expensive but think about what you’re helping to accomplish, which is helping to preserve small farms and endangered breeds while helping to break the monopoly corporations now have on our food supply. Though it might be too late to order yours for this Thanksgiving think ahead to Christmas or even next year’s feast. Bookmark heritagefoodsusa.com.