Give thanks to this turkey

Photo: istockphoto.com/Philip Loyer
Over the years the holiday turkey has become a dry and tasteless affair. But you can go green and get some the flavour back. Manufactured gobblers North Americans are consuming close to 400 million turkeys a year. That's a lot of gobblers to produce so to keep up with demand, large scale manufacturers have streamlined production, settling on the broad breasted white turkey, revered for its white meat and huge breast. But pity this poor turkey. Two days after hatching in an incubator, its upper beak and toenails are snipped off, and it's shoved into a heated room with up to 10,000 others to spend day and night under bright lights, resting on wood shavings and gorging on fortified corn-based mash. Franken-birds Dubbed "turbo-birds," these birds have been so genetically and chemically modified they no longer resemble turkeys found in the wild. Six times the normal weight, many of them end up with broken bones from the excess weight or die from heart attacks. Most are killed at the tender age of five or six months, having never seen the sunlight or had the simple pleasure of running around. Even their deaths are without dignity. Once at the slaughterhouse they are hung upside down and put on a conveyor belt before being dipped in scalding water. It's no surprise their meat is dry and tasteless. Guilt-free turkeys You don't have to go vegetarian (although it's recommended as a way to cut down on our carbon footprint) but you can buy a turkey that has been raised humanely. Organic turkeys have to meet the stringent standards set by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) or CFIA (the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) that include an organic diet, pesticide- and herbicide-free bedding and grazing areas, and food free of hormones or antibiotics. These turkeys can be any breed, including the broad breasted. Antibiotic-free turkey is similar to organic and has not received antibiotics. Free-range turkeys have been confined to a cage but got regular exercise and their diets were augmented with grubs, worms and grass. A legal definition or standard for free range does not currently exist in Canada. Save a breed "Beyond organic" is the legacy or heritage turkey. In 2002, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), a non-profit dedicated to protecting breeds of farm animals from extinction, and Slow Food, a global organization dedicated to preserving artisan foods and production practices, joined forces. They began working with farmers to save four of the best-known heritage turkey breeds before they became extinct: the Bourbon Red,Jersey buff, Narragansett bay and standard bronze. Buying one of these turkeys is actually helping to promote the breed by creating a market for the bird. The ALBC had reported winter show breeding populations of "heritage turkeys" are up 25 percent. Fresh vs. frozen Fresh is always better. Turkeys need about three days of ageing to make them tender but most frozen turkeys have been thrown on ice immediately after being slaughtered. If you do find yourself the proud owner of a frozen gobbler then you should try brining, a method of soaking your unthawed turkey in salt water before roasting. What's Cooking America offers step by step instructions on how to brine your turkey. And for those who want to avoid the bird altogether, there is the famous tofurkey, a popular vegetarian substitute for the traditional turkey. You can find recipes for this tofu turkey and other vegetarian suggestions for Thanksgiving at VegWeb.com. Happy Holidays and enjoy your meal. Shelagh McNally is the editor of Green Living Online.