1.) Be prepared to pay more. Instead of just looking at price tags, think in terms of value. Remember that industrially produced turkeys are made cheaper through the use of antibiotics and other feed ingredients you probably don't want in your food chain. The really cheap turkeys you see in grocery stores are often so-called "loss leaders." Bargain turkeys are often frozen leftovers from the previous Thanksgiving.
Keep in mind, too, that our government heavily subsidizes industrial agriculture, making its products artificially cheap. We should all be asking our elected officials why our government isn't supporting farming that produces food that's healthful for humans, environmentally benign, and respectful to animals. Over the long term, that's the change we need to advocate for.
2.) Plan on eating less. A typical American eats more than 200 pounds of meat per year and our consumption continues to rise. On top of that, over the twentieth century, average cheese consumption went from about three pounds annually to around 30 pounds, much of which is processed cheese in Big Macs and on pizzas. (And we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic). Turkey eating has seen a similar spike: In 1909 Americans ate less than one pound of turkey meat annually; by 2005, this had risen to 13 pounds per year. Meat and dairy products from traditional farms, especially turkeys, currently cost more than factory farm products. Consider adopting this as your new slogan: Eat less meat. Eat better meat. For the next six weeks, change that to: Eat less turkey. Eat better turkey.
3.) Know your labels (and their shortcomings). Food labels are helpful but imperfect. Knowing what they mean (and do not mean) is important. The term "free range," for example, has one connotation with eggs and another with poultry meat. A "free range turkey" is not always much better than your average grocery store bird. (More on labels next week).
4.) Seek a turkey from a known source. The best way to ensure you're getting a non-industrial turkey is to buy from a source that will tell you and show you how the animals are raised, what they were fed, and from what farm or farms the turkey actually came.
5.) Ask questions, even if it sometimes seems futile. There's real power in simply asking: "Where is this turkey from? How was it raised?" If the person you ask doesn't know the answer, suggest (in a friendly way, of course) he or she finds out. If no one can give you an answer, consider seeking another source. I believe the simple act of asking this question - if enough people begin to do it - has the potential to spark a massive change in our food system.
Next week: How to where look and what to look for when buying a turkey--and how to cook it once you've bought it.