Nicolette Hahn Niman
American shoppers expect to pay more for foods raised without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and antibiotics. But when it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey the price differential understandably raises some eyebrows, with many supermarkets offering frozen commodity turkeys for around $1.50 a pound while a heritage bird costs around $7 a pound. Many consumers, especially if they haven't tasted a heritage turkey, wonder whether that splurge is really worth it.
We are purveyors of naturally raised heritage turkeys, and it will come as no surprise that we feel they are worth every penny. The dozens of chefs and customers who've told us that ours was the best-tasting turkey they'd ever eaten would likely agree. The short answer is, "You get what you pay for." For a meatier response, read on.
First, in many ways the commodity turkey is artificially cheap. In the immediate sense, industrial methods do lower production costs. These include intensive crowding in metal confinement buildings; minimal human care, made possible by total confinement and mechanized feed and water systems; and reliance on cheap feeds (often including slaughterhouse wastes and a panoply of pharmaceuticals). Government subsidies and lax enforcement of environmental laws also enable (and cheapen) industrial food production. The result of this system is water, air, and soil polluted by agricultural waste; meat with high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and animal suffering on an unprecedented scale. Although these costs don't show up on our grocery receipts, they are real and, ultimately, we all pay them.