By Sarah M. Shoffler, SFUSD Board of Directors.
Heritage turkeys are different from most turkeys sold in the U.S. Ancestors to the Broad Breasted White turkey, the most produced commercial breed of turkey today, heritage turkeys have retained some of their historic characteristics. Unlike industrially-produced turkeys, which are mostly raised in captivity, the heritage breeds are raised outdoors and roam freely in pastures. They are allowed to grow older and eat a diverse diet, so put on an extra layer of fat. These self-reliant birds are known for their good flavor due to more dark meat, and "thriftyness" or good meat yield. Many heritage breeds originated in the United States and since the 1960s have been difficult to find. Some are nearing extinction.
The Broad Breasted White turkey is so often preferred by industrial food producers because it grows quickly and provides a great deal of white meat. However, like the Broiler chicken, the most produced food chicken, the Broad Breasted White turkey has so much breast meat and such short legs that it cannot mate naturally. This bird also can't fly, is prone to health problems and cannot survive without human intervention.
Choosing to eat a heritage turkey may in fact save the breeds. By buying heritage breeds, consumers encourage breeders to continue producing the rare birds, thereby supporting their existence. To this end, the American Livestock Conservancy works to protect nearly 200 individual breeds of livestock from 11 different species. They developed the term "heritage" in order to help market historic and endangered breeds of livestock because "the loss of these breeds would impoverish agriculture and diminish the human spirit."
Slow Food's Ark of Taste, a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction, also includes eight of the heritage turkeys: Bronze, Black, Bourbon, Jersey Buff, Midget White, Narragansett, Royal Palm and Slate.
Wondering where to buy a heritage turkey? You may have to order one, but here are a few places we found carrying them:
- Some Whole Foods (the Hillcrest store was out, but La Jolla was still taking orders as of 11/12), Bristol Farms, Barons Markets (taking orders starting 11/13) have heritage turkeys available or are taking orders.
- Mary's Free Range Narragansett and Bourbon turkeys are available in a number of SoCal locations, including those listed above.
- You can order Narragansett, Slate and Bourbon turkeys online from Local Harvest.
- The Heritage Turkey Foundation also lists several heritage turkey sellers in SoCal.
Know someone else selling heritage turkeys? Please let us know: email sarah_at_slowfoodurbansandiego_dot_org.
Learn more here.