Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Biased Biologist: Turkey Turmoil

Posted By on November 22, 2011, 12:00 PM

A new billboard for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would like us to re-think our usual holiday meal. --- It targets the youngest and most impressionable members of our families by stating: “KIDS: If you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey?”

PETA is known for stirring up controversy. Most of the time, its tactics, while outlandish, come from a good place. Still, most people do not consider turkeys equivalent to pets. And even though the billboard says “Go Vegan,” PETA’s real problem is with factory farms -- something any thoughtful meat-eater can likely agree with.

When it began, factory farming was not a bad idea. Especially after World War II, when America’s population boomed and agricultural lands were swallowed up by cities and suburbs, factory farms gave a great return on space, time and energy. Somewhere along the line, though, consumers began prioritizing cheap, quick food over wholesome, natural food.

While factory farms made food affordable to the masses, it created new problems. Too many animals were crammed into too small of spaces with the goal of producing as much meat in as little time as possible. To avoid diseases and complications from force-feeding them indigestible foodstuffs, animals were pumped full of antibiotics, steroids and other potentially harmful compounds that bio-accumulate. Humans, at the top of the food chain, were ingesting these additives with the meat.

A factory turkey is scrawny, white, and has far fewer feathers than wild turkeys -- something a pilgrim would likely think twice about eating.

Factory farming’s practices can only be changed if we, the consumers, choose to eat less meat or to purchase more humanely raised meats. The first and most obvious option to a happier Thanksgiving turkey is to buy local. Not only can you help keep your hard-earned money within your own community, but many local farms and businesses can tell you where their turkeys came from and how they were treated. In Salt Lake City, Liberty Heights Fresh sells Ogden-raised organic turkeys for $3.29/pound this time of year. Other local providers are mentioned in this Examiner blog by Jessica Sayles. Or you can dig through Local First Utah’s business guide.

You can also find family-farm-raised turkeys online. Many farms won’t ship their meat very far, but companies like West Wind Farms will ship throughout the U.S. in eco-friendly cold boxes.

If you still decide to buy from your local grocery store. it’s often best to purchase from smaller brands and avoid those implicated in factory-farm abuses to animals.

More and more, some folks (including myself) just refuse to eat meat to avoid the problems associated with factory farms. One of the world’s famous vegans, Ellen Degeneres, works to combat the factory farming of turkeys with Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey Project. Farm Sanctuary provides lifelong homes for animals rescued from abusive environments, including factory farms.

I’m probably in the minority, but I love my Thanksgiving Tofurkey. Even if I ate meat, I'd serve it. Generally, every Thanksgiving dish can easily be made vegetarian. And yes, you'll still feel stuffed and satisfied and in need of nap after dinner. And you might even sleep with a better conscience.

U of U biology graduate Jessica Baker works as a research assistant at the U's School of Medicine. In her spare time, she annoys friends and family with factory-farmed environmental knowledge.

 

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