With Thanksgiving fast approaching, you’ve probably already given some thought to what dishes you’ll serve for the big meal. But if you’re going to eat traditional roasted turkey, have you considered what kind of bird you’re putting on your table? The roughly 50 million turkeys consumed on Thanksgiving, most of which are raised on factory farms, bear little resemblance in appearance or taste to what North Americans traditionally knew as turkey. And we all know the shocking reality of factory turkey farms.
But there’s a movement afoot to revive heritage breeds, moving away from the broad-breasted Butterball birds that have dominated the market for years. Heritage turkeys—a class of breeds first identified by the American Poultry Association in 1874—nearly went extinct between 1930 and 2000, says Roger Mastrude, president of the Heritage Turkey Foundation, but the population is slowly being built back up. Still, only about 1 in 10,000 turkeys raised in North America is a genuine heritage bird.
Want to put a sustainably raised heritage turkey on your table? Mastrude says there are three good ways to do so: Check your local premium grocery, buy direct from a local family farm (or use an Internet tool such as LocalHarvest), or order through Heritage Foods USA. Expect to pay more for the exceptional taste and humaneness with which it was raised, Mastrude says, and beware of imitations.
“If a turkey isn’t identified as a genuine heritage bird, it definitely isn’t one,” he says.
Take a look at the variety of turkeys available and tell us these aren’t way more exciting than the one-size-fits-all industrial Butterball.