Friday, November 23, 2012

Decrying the Industrial Turkeys

Garance Franke-Ruta:
Unless you have gone out of your way to order and buy a heritage bird, this is the type of turkey you just ate on Thanksgiving: a Broad Breasted White. It is the only turkey breed still widely raised for the market, and it is a troubled creature. Wild turkeys have feathers colored iridescent red, green, copper, and bronze -- colors memorialized in crayon and tempera-paint images on the walls of every elementary school in America each fall. Heritage breeds like the Jersey Buff, the Narragansett, and the Bourbon Red grow feathers in an array of striking patterns and can range from tawny to black. All those shades have been bred away by the turkey industry, because feather buds (the pin feathers) are less noticeable under the skin of a plucked bird if they are white. With short legs and wide breasts -- the better to serve up white meat -- Broad Breasted White turkeys do not fly and can't even reproduce on their own.
As the New York Times described it in 2001:
After years of selective breeding, only one breed of turkey, the aptly named Broadbreasted White, remains in large-scale production in the United States. For about 30 years, it has been the breeding stock owned by the three major companies, Hybrid Turkeys of Ontario, Canada; British United Turkeys of America in Lewisburg, W. Va.; and Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms, Sonoma, Calif. A blowzy specimen with short stubby legs, its disproportionate supply of white meat has come at the expense of taste and texture. It's stupid to boot.
The joke about turkeys drowning in the rain may actually have some basis in fact. Glenn Drowns, secretary-treasurer of the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, and owner of the Sand Hill Preservation Center in Calamus, Iowa, a preservation farm, is infuriated by the degradation of the turkey. ''The commercial guys say they have to keep the turkeys in buildings because they'd drown in the rain,'' he said. ''It makes my blood pressure boil. Next year I'm going to raise some of them to see if they are that far gone.''
She wants to know why the White House goes in with the turkey lobby and always gets a Broadbreasted White to pardon.  I too would like to know if turkeys would drown in the rain.  I believe that is a rural/urban legend.

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