Free Range Turkey

Another post from the "archive." I originally published this right before last Thanksgiving. It's been getting a lot of hits lately, no doubt because it's that time of year again.

So why not get yourself a free range turkey? Maybe you agree with my last post to the extent that you want to avoid supporting cruelty to animals and you're also, like me, something of a traditionalist. But why go to the trouble of making that complicated (but delicious!) vegetable pie? Why not buy yourself a happy free range turkey?

If that's your plan, your intentions are surely excellent. But the "humane meat" alternative isn't really so simple. First of all, you have to consider where you're planning on getting your happy turkey. If you live in the country, maybe you have a small-scale "humane farm" you can buy from. Michael Pollan describes that kind of farm in this excellent article.

Polyface Farm sounds idyllic, but before you buy, think about how much of a life the turkey got to have. For tender flesh, you have to kill when animals are young. How was the slaughter done? If at an abattoir, then not nicely. There are no laws at all regulating the slaughter of poultry in the U.S.. Even if the butchering is done on site, it's not necessarily done with any kindness. In his book The Omnivore's Dilemma (great book!) Pollan describes participating in the killing process at Polyface Farm. Speed seems to be the overriding consideration, not kindness.

More likely, you don't live in the country. Your only option is to purchase a "humane certified" turkey at some place like Whole Foods. By all means this is better than getting the usual "butterball" or whatnot (do have a look at that PETA link if you're not sure). I'm a big fan of Whole Foods and do believe in incremental steps. But when you look into the facts about animal welfare at big organic farms, they're disappointing. Free range chickens and turkeys are stuffed into massive barns. They're not in cages, which is great. If they're "free range," as well as "cage free," then they have access to the out of doors. But this may not be until the bird is many weeks old, and at that point slaughtering day isn't far off. That's the inside story I get from Pollan's book and also from The Ethics of What We Eat, a very informative new book by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.

Small farms that can demonstrate truly humane practices are better than big organic. But must you eat a turkey? I'm all for good food, and wouldn't eat a "tofurkey" in a million years. I'm not 100% sure I think eating meat is inherently wrong no matter what. But 95% of what we do to animals in raising them for food is totally repulsive. I'm much happier staying as clear as I can of the whole ugly business.


s. wallerstein said...

It's a bit utopic to expect a race, the human race, who doesn't care for the lives of those around them, who don't provide basic medical care for the children of the poor, to care whether turkeys are slaughtered humanely, who execute other humans with methods ranging from non-humane injections to stoning, but I wish you luck.
I neither celebrate Thanksgiving nor eat turkey. Actually, after the last discussion in the TPM blog, I stopped buying factory-farmed fish. As to your recipe, it's a bit complicated for me to follow: I don't have an oven thermometer and we use centrigrade here. Amos

Jean Kazez said...

Amos, I'm also trying to change my ways when it comes to fish. All these things are hard, and you do have to feel somewhat hopeless considering the lack of compassion on 101 other issues. But hey, I also think compassion breeds compassion. If you can get someone to care about a turkey next thing they might care about children of the poor.

My recipe is horrendously complicated, which is part of the point. If Thanksgiving cooking is supposed to take all day, this will do the trick.

Centigrade...never could get the hang of that. I get the meaning of 100 deg. and 0 deg. but everything in between is a blur.

s. wallerstein said...

As I've made clear, I also try not to eat animal flesh, but of all the forms of cruelty and lack of compassion that I've seen, it's not the one that impresses me the most. Actually, I had a childhood trauma about eating red meat, as did my sister, and we were both happy to find excuses, like animal rights, to stop eating meat as adults. In your case, why do you place so much emphasis upon compassion towards animals (a completely valid issue, I agree) instead of compassion towards, say, children with cancer whose parents lack money to pay the hospital costs? Amos

Jean Kazez said...

You're making a lot of assumptions. For all you know, I volunteer once a week to help poor kids with cancer!

s. wallerstein said...

I didn't mean to question your motives or lifestyle. It was just idle curiosity. I've noticed that most people who have a cause (I don't have a defined cause, although maybe I have an undefined one) specialize in one or another. My sister is into global warming; David is into nonviolence; Annette, a Holocaust survivor, is into peace between Israel and the Palestinians; Paz, my wife, is into the ex-torture center, Villa Grimaldi. Just idle curiosity. Maybe idle curiosity is my cause. Amos

Jean Kazez said...

I don't specialize in that sense, really. What I actually work on depends on the opportunity that comes along...and I'm by no means the world's most admirable activist. But lately I'm very involved in a project at my synagogue having to do with the Darfur genocide.

Over the years I've worked on human rights (through Amnesty International) more than anything else. Oh yes, and trying to get democrats elected (very frustrating work if you live in Texas).

I figure I'm doing something for animals by teaching a course, being a long-time vegetarian. Plus I'm writing a book on the subject. But surely not enough.

So in fact I'm not focussed on animals in the way you were imagining. But what if I was? I think it would be no problem. There are lots of problems that urgently need attention. I don't think everyone has to sit down and decide what is the #1 problem before doing anything. People have different natural inclinations to work on different things. Doing good is...doing good. And definitely better than doing nothing.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree completely that doing good is doing good, and different people have different inclinations and should follow them. I don't think that there is any number one problem except perhaps something so general as lack of wisdom or lack of concern for others and for the world. Take care, Amos

s. wallerstein said...

Actually, the more that I think about, from my idle point of view, the cause of animal rights, especially against factory farming, has its merits.

1. It's a good cause. There is no reason why we could not live on brown rice and beans and assorted vegetables. It would allow us to feed all of humanity and it's better for the environment, not to mention the cruelty of factory farming.
2. You have to practice what you preach. If you're a hypocrite about eating meat, everyone around you notices immediately Even if you don't change the world, you can change your family's eating habits and maybe that of a friend or two, with luck.
3. There are no political interests involved. It's not the kind of cause where you finally learn that after liberating country X from fascism, it was really oil that they were after. Even in the God wars, at times I suspect that political and economic interests are fueling the debate. Whatever happened to and in Kosovo?
4. No one is funding the anti-factory farming movement. No one is in it for the money, looking for foundation grants or well-paying jobs in big international organizations like the UN or the World Bank.
Keep at it. Amos

Anonymous said...

You seem at times to have elements of ethical intuitionism in your thinking or as Aristotle puts it what seems to the good man to be good is good (N.E. X,5). Very many good people today rear animals humanely and kill them without undue pain and suffering. Sheep on the Welsh or Connemara mountains that are born there, live there, and make only one trip to town, their last, have a good life. Those farmers would resist strenuously your impugning of their ethical standing.

Kindness is due in the first instance to your own kind i.e. human kind and after that in an appropriate version to the animal kingdom. I tell Dot (dog) to get out at night and go to the toilet. She is reluctant to leave the warm room. Is that kind?

Unknown said...

I keep asking the cats to bring us one of the turkeys. Around here, they are most assuredly "free range"!

(I can't help but chortle about the time I saw Chelsea, hurtling out of the woods with a "OH NOooo! Heeeelp!!!" expression on his face - chased by two Mommy turkeys! I wonder who he was hunting? :-) )

My cats don't think there's anything inherently wrong about killing animals - and they do it in a manner that provides them the maximum enjoyment. Eddie can amuse himself for hours with a mouse. (He then leaves it on the driveway, for someone else to clean up!)

And I'd rather purchase farmed fish - it helps reduce demand for the ones in the ocean. Due to overfishing, there aren't that many left...

Mankind is a natural omnivore; meat, and the proteins we get from it, are essential to our well-being. Sometimes I think that the mass-production killing of cattle is more humane - it's done very quickly. It's not pleasant, no one could say it is.

(Why does this bring to mind that old sci-fi flick. The one where the aliens have the book "To Serve Man"... :-) )

Carolyn Ann

s. wallerstein said...

Michael, Where I live, most meat is factory farmed. I don't doubt that in the country there may be people who raise animals humanely, but I live in the city as do the majority of people in Chile. Now, is it cruel to raise a animal humanely and then kill it in order to eat it? I certainly would not do it. My moral intuition tells me that to treat a being as friend and then to kill it and eat it is, if not cruel, at least unfriendly.

Carolyn Ann: Your cat may be a wonderful pet, but the fact that it is omnivore does not affect my moral judgements. I am not a cat. I am a person, and I do believe that people have more ethical fine tuning, to say the least, than felines.

Jean Kazez said...

No time for very deep thoughts today...

but Happy Thanksgiving to you if you're in the US. And Happy Thursday if you aren't.

And to all who came to this post looking for a good free-range turkey recipe (my hit counter says many did)...deepest apologies for trying to inspire angst. I'm all for choices that are at least better, and also for thinking, looking into things, getting past the surfaces.

More when there's more time...

Anonymous said...

Good for people to know.

rtk said...

You say it is necessary to kill the animal at a tender age. No way. The steps needed to ensure an accomodating texture and minimal resistance to chewing are the very elements that contribute to its excellent taste. Soak the critter who died of old age in single malt scotch or calvados or armagnac, then smoke the tender thing at extremely low heat all day long, right up to the minute the guests are arrived, seated, and driven wildly hungry by the intoxicating odors of smoked drunken wild birds. A deep and aged Portugese wine is called for.

Anonymous said...

But where do you go to buy "old free range bird"? Well, I guess out in the woods. You look for one moving slowly?

rtk said...

Yes, in the woods. It's the one with a little limp straggling behind its extended family when they are all running away from you. Consider your shot a kind act of euthanasia. The old turkey isn't getting enough to eat and will die slowly of inadequate diet. Which is very good for your cholesterol level if you don't make up for the leanness with excessive butter.