Your Guide to a Green Thanksgiving

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Exercise your purchasing power and choose a turkey that's good for your family and the planet. Photo: Flickr/Edsel L

2. All about the turkey

Turkey is the main component for many Thanksgiving meals. But have you thought about the impact your main course has on the planet? This year, 99.99 percent of Thanksgiving turkeys will be the same breed, the broad-breasted white, and most will be produced from industrialized farming, says Vaughn.

Farming practices for most industrially-bred turkeys can be harmful to the birds and surrounding environments, she explains. And drawing turkeys from a narrow gene pool can also pose a threat to American turkey production in the future, as close breeding increases the risk of pervasive diseases and pests on large-scale farms.

READ: Is Raising Chickens Right for You?

So, do I have to skip the turkey this year? No way. Just pick out a turkey with a conscience!

Vaughn suggests heritage turkeys as an alternative to mass-produced grocery store picks. Heritage turkeys, or breeds that have been kept consistent since the mid-20th Century, are typically cultivated by small farmers for generations. Rather than pumping turkeys full of artificial additives to increase hardiness and growth, heritage farmers carefully choose different breeds with the best traits and mate them together.

Over time, heritage farming practices produce turkeys that are naturally strong, self-sufficient and resistant to disease. These breeds are typically much tastier, too.

“The people who are taking time to do this work are doing so because they’re passionate about it and they believe that it’s the right thing,” Vaughn says. “But farmers can’t do this as a community service, they need our support. They need for people to be contentious about the way that they’re purchasing.”

Check out Slow Food USA’s heritage turkey directory to find a breeder near you. But keep in mind that heritage breeds are a little pricier than your standard Thanksgiving turkey. Most grocery store turkeys sell for about $1 per pound, while heritage turkeys can cost upwards of $5 per pound.

For a planet-friendly turkey that won’t break the bank, try other alternatives like organic, free-range or pastured turkeys instead, and buy from a local farmer whenever possible, suggests Vaughn. Not sure how to decode all those labels? Consult Slow Food USA’s quick guide below.

  • Certified Organic/Certified Naturally-Grown: A turkey that has been fed organic feed for its whole life and has never been treated with antibiotics.
  • Pastured: Turkeys that have been raised outdoors with ample space to move around.
  • Free-Range: A turkey that was free of confinement for its whole life but may have been kept in a barn.
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