turkey-dinnerBy Barbara Kessler

Another Thanksgiving is upon us, and so too, the endless quibbling about the gobbler, and other food matters.

Does the big meal require a big roast beast? That is one central question. But not the only one. In today’s foodie world, navigating the eco opportunities of both the carnivorous and vegan/vegetarian pathways to celebrating this most traditional of holidays is an adventure that could leave you scratching your head in the pantry instead of chopping celery at 7 a.m., as you must if dinner is to be ready by 2 p.m..

We’ll leave the timing to you, but here are a few ideas for making feast day a little lighter, less fattening, potentially safer, better for the environment and possibly also GMO-, pesticide- and cruelty-free. You can run that holiday 5K, you can do this too!

The Main Course

First, the bird. As ever, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), a group that’s often ridiculed for its fervor but remains doggedly consistent in rejecting the use of animals for food or fashion, has got this topic covered like feathers on a heritage turkey.

The highlights are on their website in an article, Top 10 Reasons Not to Eat Turkeys.     But we’ll sum up here: Turkeys are smart and personable, why would you want to eat one? Ewwww. Furthermore, they’re raised in really uncomfortable conditions, standing around in each other’s offal etc. That’s not appetizing.

If the inhumanity of eating a turkey that was treated badly doesn’t move you (we humans have a carnivorous history) then consider the heath aspects. Turkeys are “brimming with fat,” PETA says, noting that meat eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans. Even if you cut that statistic in half to account for PETA’s penchant for hyperbole, that’s still a meaty statistic; 4.5 times as likely?!

Still not biting? How about bird flu. Does that worry you?

PETA maintains that birds kept in factory-farm conditions, such as turkeys and chickens, are a “prescription for disease outbreaks”. Of course, the avian flu has not jumped from the wild bird to the factory-farmed one just yet, and cooking would kill the virus. So, for now, this smells of scare tactic.

Still… remember the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic of 2009. It apparently originated in hog CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations)  in Mexico, and that’s according to the Centers for Disease Control, not an animal advocacy.

What’s the bottomline? You have choices:

Turkey:  If you’re looking for an ecologically sound solution, and you’re set on a turkey, seek out a fresh, Organic turkey, like one from Mary’s Free-Range Turkeys, which sells across the country (click “Find Your Local Store” on their website). Or buy from a local provider. You can find producers listed by zip codes at LocalHarvest.org. (If they’re out, remember to reserve one in advance next year. Small operations cannot afford to over produce.)

Life was undoubtedly considerably better for the organically raised bird, because the rules require that the turkey could move around and that he/she be feed organic grains, and no animal byproducts, GMO grains or synthetic amino acids.

Not Turkey: If you’re nixing the turkey, there are some great options. Field Roast,which specializes in grain meats, makes a wonderful stuffed “Celebration Roast” for this time of the year.

Tofurky, a trusted name to many veggies, makes a nicely textured roast stuffed with wild rice.

Both options cook up tender in covered dishes and can be dressed up with a mushroom or cashew gravy, or Tofurky’s pre-made gravy. No Chicken Broth also can be whipped into a light sauce for this “meat” dish, with gravy to spare for the requisite mashed potatoes.

If you’re feeling a renewed sense of warmth toward turkeys, check out Farm Sanctuary, where every year the staff turns Thanksgiving on its head, and treats the bird to a holiday meal.

Part II: The Veggies