How to Have an Organic Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a time of giving. However, what many turkey consumers forget is that our delicious meal (and the traveling we do to enjoy the meal) takes away from the quality of our environment and has a very large carbon footprint. If you haven't already purchased your bird, it is not too late to find an organic Thanksgiving turkey that is sustainably produced. Here are some DOs and DON'Ts to consider when purchasing your bird:
- DON'T purchase a conventionally grown turkey, if possible. Conventionally grown turkeys are selected to efficiently produce meat at the lowest price possible. This method has the largest environmental impact of all the various methods for raising turkeys, is the most inhumane, and endangers turkey breeds that are raised using sustainable practices.
- DO consider purchasing a Heritage turkey. Heritage breed turkeys are grown for a longer period and are raised using a range-based production system. They have a bigger flavor because of the extra fat they develop during their longer lifetimes. They also have a higher proportion of dark to white meat because they get more exercise than confined turkeys. Their organic diet is more varied than a confined turkey because they can graze on insects and grasses, keeping the turkey healthier and providing more flavor.
- If you can't purchase a heritage turkey, DO look into organic and sustainable turkey options. Organic turkeys are certified by the USDA and must be raised using healthy practices that do not use antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic turkeys also have access to the outdoors, so they can potentially vary their diet to include grasses and insects. While the "sustainable" label is not regulated by any agency, farmers raising birds sustainably often go beyond the standards required by the USDA and work to protect not just their birds, but also their land.
- DO beware of the label "free range." While free range turkeys must spend a certain amount of time outdoors every day, birds that do not venture outside can still be labeled free range.
- DO buy local turkeys. Not only will you be supporting local agriculture, but you will most likely be able to find a farm that uses sustainable practices to raise their birds. Search for places to purchase local turkeys in your area using Local Harvest's local turkey finder.
By purchasing a local, sustainably raised bird, you can drastically reduce your Thanksgiving carbon footprint. According to the Center for Food Safety, 915,000 barrels of oil are needed to produce and ship all the turkeys Americans eat. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, a report published by the University of Manchester in England found that a turkey meal for eight people produces approximately 44 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. 60% of these emissions come from the life cycle of the turkey alone, which can be drastically reduced by purchasing a turkey that is sustainably raised. Furthermore, half of all methane emissions are from CAFOs.
Already purchased your bird? You can still reduce your Thanksgiving meal's carbon footprint by purchasing local ingredients for your other dishes. Many of the ingredients can be found at farmers markets, or you can find organic options at grocery stores. Every little bit helps to reduce your meal's environmental impact, and by purchasing local and organic ingredients, you may also find that the quality of your meal improves. And don't forget to compost your table scraps and save your leftovers!