Historically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest's abundance with
a meal whose roots go back more than 300 years. It is one of those rare
occasions when people pay attention to the reality behind the main course.
Americans who ordinarily think nothing of eating hamburgers, steak or
chicken nuggets, suddenly realize that an animal must lose its head if
they're going to eat turkey at Thanksgiving.
Turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving because the wild variety
existed then in great numbers. Flocks of over a hundred were common. For
centuries before, Native Americans had managed this ecosystem in a way
which produced an abundance of the things they needed in order to live,
including many delicious plants and animals. The early English settlers
were astounded by the bounty of the "New World."
Turkeys are truly American birds. Domesticated breeds descend from birds
taken from North America to Europe by the early Spanish colonists. The
English settlers brought back domesticated turkeys with them, as well as
guns, European agriculture and export forestry. Fifty years after the
first Thanksgiving celebration, wild turkeys were rare in Massachusetts
colony. By the time of the American revolution, hunting and habitat
destruction had pushed them to the brink of extinction. Turkeys were known
only as domesticated birds at that time, and amusingly, were thought to
have originally come from the country Turkey.
Recently, wild turkeys have been quite successfully reintroduced to the
Northeast which attests to their fitness for this ecosystem and to
changing land uses. We see many wild turkeys along the Wilbur Cross Parkway
and in New Haven parks. We also hear and see them on our farm.
The four, broadbreasted-bronze turkeys we're raising spend a lot of time
hanging around the yard these days. They are so gentle and beautiful.
They greet visitors and follow them. The three toms clearly display their
rank with different degrees of coloration on their ever-changing head
ornaments. They spread their magnificent feathers, many with a gorgeous
metallic sheen which changes from copper to bronze to burnished gold in the
sunlight. They peck idly at plants and things in the soil, but mostly,
they just hang out. Visitors ask us "Are they pets or are they food?"
We raise a few turkeys each year to serve at festive celebrations. This
Thanksgiving, we're thrilled to be able to share with our parents and our
We would never buy turkey from the store. Before we raised our own, we
bought from local farmers. That was after we learned about the industrial
conditions under which supermarket turkeys are raised and processed, not to
mention the negative effects of those large-scale enterprises on small
farms and the environment.
However, once we had tasted our own, very-fresh, free-range turkeys, about
the only other option for us would be to roast a stuffed squash.
Baby turkeys arrive at the feed store as day-old hatchlings in July, about
the same time the wild babies hatch. With proper care, and a bit of luck,
the little balls of fluff become pretty big about now. When they're gone,
they'll leave behind a richly fertilized yard, pleasant memories and some
truly delicious meals.
"Thanksgiving savings" screams the headline on the full-color supermarket
flyer. On the front page, frozen turkey is 59 or 69 cents a pound
depending on brand, Fresh turkey is 68 or 89 cents a pound and frozen
Grade A Turkey Breasts are 99 cents a pound. This is a different kind of
abundance. These turkeys, produced by industrial agriculture seem cheap in
the store. However they take advantage of many costly energy, agricultural
and tax subsidies, and they leave behind big environmental and social
Even supermarkets realize that some people might be interested in
alternatives to industrial turkeys. Its flyer suggests: "Native, Fresh,
Locally Raised All-Natural Turkeys." I learned that a fresh turkey from a
farm in Avon or Easton, raised more naturally, in smaller batches, costs
twice as much per pound as the advertised brands. The Connecticut birds
eat different feed and probably have more fresh air and sunlight than the
brand-name ones. They also aren't injected with oil to make them juicy.
Their realistic price might actually allow the farmer to earn a living in
It is critically important that we become more conscious of our food
choices and their effects.
This year be thoughtful as well as thankful at your celebration.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 153, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT).
Their collection of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a
Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135,
Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU,
public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at
http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are available
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