FeedmeMinistry Of Controversy

Fresh from the farm? Not always a guarantee.

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Matt Billings via Wikipedia Commons

I love Thanksgiving. I love cooking the meal so much, that, though we’re always invited to friends, I buy a turkey and all the fixings anyway and cook it the next day. The ritual of mixing stuffing, wrangling the slippery bird, adding too much butter to the mashed potatoes, and figuring out the other sides is way too much fun to miss.

Last year, I was very excited about purchasing a turkey from a local farm that ran a regular stand at our most popular outdoor market. The bird was a cross between a Bourbon Red and the common Broad-Breasted White, and you could immediately see the difference—as many of you have probably observed, heritage hybrids have more sharply projecting breastbones and just seem a bit bonier overall. After cooking, you find that the breast meat is more flavorful (it doesn’t taste like cotton, anyway) and that there’s a higher percentage of dark meat. My turkey cost as much as many entire TDay shopping bills, but people were lining up in the park to pick up their pre-ordered turkeys the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Months later, the farm was raided after a snowplow operator driving by noticed a horse struggling in the snow. (Some neighbors who also kept animals on their rural properties had suspected that all was not well.) Animal cruelty investigators found horrible conditions on the farm and over 600 animals were seized. Unfortunately, these situations are not all that uncommon; some people just hoard animals.

I had no way of knowing about this when I bought my turkey; the farmers market was known for careful vetting of their vendors and this farm was a couple hours away. Nobody I knew had ever been there.

This year, I went through the local co-op and bought a bird sourced from a large group of farms that follow organic practices and stress-free raising. At least that’s what their labels say, and I have to think they could be penalized for false information. I’ll dry-brine it, rub it with oil, and roast it, starting with high heat and then normal temp.

The main reason I go through all this is to get a better-tasting bird—I hate the dry flavorless meat of commercial turkeys (and don’t think brining does all that much for it)—but I’m also  trying to buy responsibly. It’s not so easy!

What do you think? Heritage, organic, tofu, or Butterball? Farm or supermarket? No matter what your tradition, happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on November 24, 2016 at 11:00 am, in the category Eat This, Ministry of Controversy.


  1. We bought a 10 lb. organic turkey at Costco this year and I thought it tasted much better than the “butterball” type we have bought in the past. It probably helped that I used a whole stick of butter, under the skin!

  2. After learning about factory farming a few years ago, we’ve slowly become mostly vegetarian. On the occasions where we do buy meat, it is from a local farm where we can visit and see the animals. They let their pigs root in the woods, and their chickens and turkeys fertilize the fields with moving enclosures. It’s not an organic farm, but they do use chemicals as a last resort. We buy our eggs from them too and milk from a farmer-owned organic company. I cross my fingers these are the best choices we can make, but you never know. It’s too often I read about some horrifying industry practice! We tend to smaller producers for cheese and such, hoping that there are better practices, but I really don’t know.

  3. Our daughter is the grocery manager at a downtown boutique market carrying locally produced meats, eggs and vegetables, etc., and it’s her responsibility to visit every farm they purchase food from to be sure it’s all it’s been labeled properly. She has had to cut off “grass fed” farms when there wasn’t a blade to be seen, and cage-free egg producers that had thousands of chickens in a warehouse that was so crowded they couldn’t move out of their own waste! Some wonderful produce comes from farms that are organic but haven’t been through the expensive process of being certified, so those goods are labeled “organically grown.” It pays to shop locally, and check their sources if they don’t do it for you.

  4. Not to promote a corporation, but I bought this year from d’Artagnan, which advertises organic-certified, free-range poultry. Not locavore purity, that’s for sure, but I reckon a national company is more likely to get caught if they’re lying. It cost a lot extra, but the quality was fully worth the money.

  5. Wow, Chris, I reached for the D’Artagnan too, but the I saw the price tag. Maybe next year! I have bought foie gras from them, so my non-cruelty credentials are pretty weak.

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