25 November 2010

Heritage Turkeys: A Breed to be Thankful For

Cooking is one of the oldest arts and one which has rendered us the most important service in civic life.
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

T
is the season for eating. Starting with today’s groaning buffet table ~ loaded with a perfectly basted turkey, butter and cream mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, bacon-sauteed green beans and pumpkin pie ~ there is something about this time of year that makes even this serious foodie extra gleeful.

And this in spite of developing an intolerance for dairy products of any kind! But just because I can’t eat it, doesn’t mean I no longer cook it. After all, a real chef does not live to cook just for herself ~ although I confess there have been times I have bought and prepared and eaten in luscious solitude some delectable items that most of my friends would not have appreciated fully.

Generally speaking, however, this time of year is about practicing the culinary arts in order to feed others. Honestly, I can’t get that excited over a melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin unless someone else is there to eat and moan over it with me. Good eating is a lot like love or sex ~ meant to be shared with someone in order to reach maximum pleasure and emotional health and growth. Doing either alone is just. . .well, sad.

So what did you serve today? Turkey? Ham? Roast goose? A Filipino friend of mine and his family had salmon for their Thanksgiving dinner. My family usually has both a turkey and a ham. As a foodie who is also into sustainable and organic living, I constantly research and read up on sustainable agriculture and what products to avoid in the supermarket when I can’t buy from local farms. This year, I found out some horrific facts about turkeys. And although you have already bought yours and are busy consuming it, I hope that you might think twice before cooking a turkey for Christmas.

Have you heard of Heritage Turkeys? Aha! Didn’t think so. Neither had I ~ until I read an article in the Boston Herald online. It profiled a couple of Heritage Turkey farmers in the northeast and provided some interesting and horrifying facts about the turkeys that will be gracing the majority of American tables today.

“The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization devoted to preserving historic breeds of farm animals, defines a heritage turkey as one that grows slower, lives longer and — perhaps most importantly — can mate on its own without human intervention, something the mass-produced turkey can no longer do.”

Wait. Did you just say that the turkey we are eating today can’t mate on its own anymore? That’s right. Since the 1960s, the Broad Breasted White turkey has been genetically engineered to produce large amounts of white meat in a short amount of time: Broad Breasted Whites mature in half the time of Heritage breeds. And since they are mass-produced, most aren’t organic or free range. Well, how could they be ~ they can no longer run or fly, much less mate!

Forgive me, I have a great respect for science, but not when it plays with my food. An animal whose very genetic make-up has been messed around with so that it is essentially trapped in its own body and can’t even reproduce on its own is just plain wrong, not to mention unpalatable. Fortunately, a stalwart minority of turkey breeders were rescued from the Matrix and are now working hard to bring back the Heritage breeds: Narragansett, Bourbon Red and the Standard Bronze to name a few. Because of them, these breeds are experiencing resurgence.

But the real test is in the eating. I for one will be ordering a heritage turkey for my 2011 Thanksgiving feast and I hope you will too. Visit Heritage Turkey Foundation, Heritage Food USA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for more information.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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