By now many of you have already shelled out the green for your Thanksgiving turkey. If you want a fresh, pasture-fed, organic bird like I do, you shelled out a whole lot of it.
This year, a regular ol’ factory farmed, fresh (never frozen), bird will run you about $2.79 per pound in San Diego. A free-range turkey goes for $3.99 per pound, and an organic, pasture-fed turkey is $5.49 per pound.
Not sure you can justify the extra cash? Let’s not forget that food is medicine, and it’s what your entire system runs on. But how does the whole cost benefit analysis actually break down for poultry?
First of all, consider fresh versus previously frozen or frozen turkey. Natural grocery giant Whole Foods’ website informs shoppers that, “USDA guidelines allow use of the word 'fresh' only when turkey has never been stored at a temperature below 26 degrees Farenheit (minus 3 degrees Celsius) … Additives like sodium erythorbate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and salt are not allowed on fresh turkey, and that's a major health advantage for you.”
Whole Foods also goes on to encourage buying a certified organic turkey, one that’s given feed without “unwanted contaminants.” I bet they do, says the cynic with the price tag in their hand. But what kind of contaminants?
Well, poultry that’s fed a diet high in grain and corn, like factory-farmed (the usual grocery store variety) turkey is, ingests incredibly high amounts of pesticides and genetically modified food. These grains contain very little of what turkeys are naturally meant to eat and can also contain garbage and unhealthy meat by-products. Although these cheap feed grains mean that meat and dairy prices are lower for consumers, they also result in lower nutritional content. In general, grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy are lower in omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat), and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA (CLA’s help to fight against cancer and cardiovascular disease), with higher levels of fat than products from animals raised on grass.
Also, pesticides are known to “bioaccumulate” (or build up) in the fatty tissues of animals, and when these animals are eaten, the pesticide buildup may be transmitted to the consumer. This exposure to pesticides increases people’s risk of developing cancer, and is also known to have long-term effects on our reproductive, nervous and immune systems. The nonprofit organization Breastcancer.org recommends staying away from these chemicals that cause female farm workers to have a higher risk of breast cancer, and opt for organic food—especially meats, dairy, and certain fruits and veggies.
In addition, to combat the unhealthy living conditions of the ridiculously close quarters on factory farms, a range of antibiotics are also added to the birds’ feed and water. Turns out it's pretty unhealthy for a bird to spend its whole life in a giant warehouse, so close to the thousands of other birds there it can barely move and eating food products it was never meant to eat. But rather than provide these animals with more sanitary living conditions or a proper diet, these operations simply feed their cows a steady stream of antibiotics, causing our population to become more and more resistant to antibiotics as well as being linked to a host of other problems regulating yeasts in the body.
Finally, additives to boost production and the company’s bottom line are also added to the birds’ feed and water. Among those commonly used is arsenic (which can cause a variety of health problems in humans, including warts, sore throat, cancer and poisoning). Arsenic is used to promote growth and prevent disease, but after this poisonous substance has been consumed by poultry, it ends up in their meat, their feces and eventually in water supplies near the poultry farm.
This is why Whole Foods encourages buying poultry with access to pasture, saying, “The words 'free ranging' or 'free roaming' as allowed on labeling by the USDA do not provide enough assurance about turkey quality since poultry are only required to have access to the outside in order for these terms to be used on packaging labels. Access to the outside might not involve any natural pasture access whatsoever or any reasonable or healthy outdoor lifestyle for the turkey. So look for organic turkey that is described as 'pasture fed,' or contact the producer to find out exactly how their birds are treated.”
Going back to cost, if you don’t have the money for something, no one knows better than I, you just don’t have it (hear that credit card companies?)! But I would suggest, as comedian Bill Maher does, that eating bad food is costlier in the long run than any hundred-dollar turkey. When you compare the price difference for organic poultry vs the health care costs of getting cancer in America, organics win every time. An organic pasture-fed Thanksgiving: It’s good for the bird, good for the country.