It’s that time of year again; time to plan your Thanksgiving menu. Whether you’re in charge of cooking everything, just show up with a pie or simply plan to watch football while eating your way into a tryptophan-induced food coma, there’s one thing everyone has in mind: turkey. And since it might just be the only day of the year that you sit down with a large roasted bird and a dozen ebullient friends and family members, you’ll want to do it right.
But what exactly does that mean when it comes to shopping for a turkey? There are so many options these days. Though it might seem easier to dismiss buzzwords such as “heritage breed,” “local,” “organic,” “free-range” and “heirloom” as mere fodder for an episode of Portlandia, they are actually important things that could lead you to a healthier and more delicious bird.
Here's why you should consider eating a heritage bird this year, and a few farms that sell them:
Pitman farms in Sanger produces Mary’s Turkeys, a name you might recognize from the poultry department at your local Bristol Farms or Whole Foods. The family-run farm supplies poultry to some of L.A.’s best restaurants. But Mary's aren't the only organic turkeys on the scene.
Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora is another family-run farm offering organic heirloom turkeys for hungry Angelenos. Both of these California farms offer an array of free-range options, but the most intriguing of all is Mary’s flock of Narragansett heritage-breed turkeys. These old-timey fowl were near extinction in the 1990s but, thanks to Slow Food USA, various other poultry enthusiasts and small farmers across the country, these original American turkeys were successfully bred and populations were restored.
But what exactly makes these turkeys better? First and foremost, it’s their flavor. Most turkeys on the market have been artificially bred over the years to have larger breasts. These man-made turkeys are so unnaturally large-breasted that they develop leg, cardiac, immune and respiratory problems.
Heritage turkeys, on the other hand, taste the way they would have before any of this agribusiness nonsense began in the 1920s. They have more rich, dark meat, which makes them gamier, tastier and all-around better. Unlike broad-breasted turkeys, they still mate naturally, have a slow growth rate, live long lives and can run and fly. And if you want to encourage farmers to continue preserving these beautiful symbols of American tradition, consume them, and they’ll breed more.
Unlike other endangered species, the best way to rescue the heritage turkey is by eating it — and that's something to be thankful for.