Gobble Gobble: Talking turkey from a vet and welfarist's POV
Yesterday I made my first pickup from my local farm cooperative’s stash. Over the summer, I’d signed up for a winter’s supply of fresh, organic veggies raised by local growers here in South Florida. It got me to thinking: some parts of the country probably offer the Thanksgiving bird this way, too.
Imagine picking up your freshly slaughtered, humanely-raised bird the day before the holiday—right where he or she grew up and scratched the ground, bullied its brothers and picked at its own s---. (That is, after all, what domesticated turkeys do—they are not easy to romanticize.)
I would happily engage in this kind of cooperative. Maybe I could…um…offer the farm’s dog some services for the privilege of having this hundred-buck bird grace my table next holiday. I certainly have no goats to offer, especially now that I’ve been told Poppy’s too small for safe breeding. And I don’t think there’s anyone in this area doing the turkey thing anyway (not that I eat my bird here, either—I’d then have to fly it to New York.)
In spite of all the pitfalls when it comes to the practicalities (not to mention the realities of gallinaceous living) it’s an idealistic notion, this healthy, humane, economically viable and environmentally sound version of a turkey. The farthest I ever to this is when I join the ranks of the 2% of US consumers who purchase free-range birds (like the kind I order every year from the Union Square Whole Foods in Manhattan).
But “free-range” means precious little, I’ve read. It simply means that these birds have access to the out-of-doors, not that they’re packed into their enclosures any less like sardines or that their water is clean or that they don’t live on a pile of guano six inches deep. “Free-range” might as well be a marketing ploy designed to lure the likes of me into paying thrice the price for a glorified chicken.
Since I have no workable alternatives (as an out-of-town turkey girl who simply gets on the phone two thousand miles away), I’m at the mercy of the Whole Foods’ butcher. Antibiotic-free I can get. Hormone-free is another easy hurdle. “Organically” grown? Ditto that. But humanely raised? I was told they could get me a fancy Heritage turkey but they “cannot guarantee it had a happy childhood.”
The last thing I’d expect from someone who’s charging me over a hundred bucks for overpriced fowl is this brand of New York humor. In poor taste though it was, it’s still pretty funny. And this butcher was right. What do any of us know about how our birds lived and died? Unless we show up at the farm and pick out “the loud one,” “the fat one,” or “the brown one,” then watch it get its neck snapped, we’re all in the same boat, it would seem.
So it was that after the Whole Foods crack I resolved to work things out for next year. I sat down to a little easy online research and quickly found the “Eat Well” guide. These people include humane treatment as one of their criteria, finding turkey growers who free-range their birds in a variety of conditions. It also considers a variety of other factors: environmental, sustainable, antibiotic usage, etc. Hallelujah!
Though it helps you find birds (among other meats and produce items) in your area by finding farms, retailers and wholesalers who carry all kinds of sustainable products, there’s still a lot of homework to be done once you whittle their list down to your zip code. That’s because the list relies on the seller’s self-reported methods. I’d still recommend a call or a site visit, depending on your degree of interest in humane treatment, but this resource is a GEM!
This year it’s Whole Foods, next year, maybe it’s a locally grown Heritage bird I’ll pick out myself. Who knows? Regardless, you can be sure I’ll keep you posted.
P.S. While we're at it, why don't you tell me what YOU do to find humane meats...