The turkey: no Thanksgiving feast is complete without it. There’s always a debate about what you should stuff it with, how you should cook it, how long you should cook it and who gets to break the wishbone. But there’s one more really important question you should be asking, one more step that needs considering before you even bring that bird home to ensure you and your family have the best Thanksgiving turkey this year.

Where did that turkey come from?

Everyone wants to impress family and friends by dishing out a fabulous feast, right? What most people don’t consider that majorly affects the quality and taste of the bird is where that turkey came from and how it was raised. The most important step in preparing an unforgettable feast, the step that comes BEFORE the preparation, is buying the right turkey. 

factory.farmed.turkeyWhen you buy a turkey from your local supermarket, there’s a 99% chance that it came from a factory farm. Factory farmed and conventionally raised turkeys are often injected with salt, water and other preservatives during processing to extend shelf life and cut costs. The birds are raised in cramped, unsanitary conditions with no fresh air or sunlight. The primary focus of the producers are to promote maximum breast grown with minimal grow time, resulting in disproportioned birds that are often too meaty in the chest area to fly, reproduce or even stand up.

For some people, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the way your food was raised. Most people have no idea where anything on their plate came from. But what if turning that blind eye makes you sick?

In 2011, Cargill, one of the countries largest meat producers, recalled 36 million pounds of turkey products due to possible salmonella contamination. That particular outbreak of salmonella, a strain known as Salmonella Heidelberg was resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. In 2000, an outbreak of listeria in Cargill turkey meat was suspected to be the cause of four food-poisoning related deaths and three miscarriages, causing 17.6 million pounds of meat to be recalled. Cargill is also frequently charged with environmental and occupational lawsuits and fines, such as the $7.7 million they were ordered to pay after misleading Arizona officials about emissions from the company’s mill and the 218,000 gallon spill of toxic brine into the San Francisco Bay at Cargill’s salt operation in California. 

Turkeys that are raised better, taste better. Heritage turkeys are raised in smaller flocks, given access to the outdoors and allowed extra grow time. They provide more flavorful meat and are not injected with salt or preservatives. Turkeys that are pasture-raised with access to vegetation also have a higher omega-3 content than factory-farmed turkeys. Organic turkeys are only fed certified organic feed (that means no GMOs or antibiotics).

So when it comes time to buy your bird, go for fresh, organic, pasture-raised turkey. No, you may not be able to find one of these turkeys at the grocer right down the street, but if you put in just half as much effort in finding the right turkey as you do preparing the turkey, I guarantee your guests are going to have a meal they’ll never forget. You will feel good about knowing where the food you’re serving came from and under what conditions it was raised. And that’s something we can all give thanks for.

First, ask your local grocer if they have any organic, free-range birds available and you might get lucky. If not, I’ve rounded up some links that will help you find the perfect turkey for your upcoming feast.

Find a turkey from a local farm near you: Local Harvest

Whole Foods: Pick what turkey is best for you and reserve it. Order online and pick up in store.

Find out more about Heritage Turkeys:

Mary’s Turkeys: find a store selling free-range, organic and heritage turkeys.

Order online and get an organic turkey shipped straight to your house from Organic Prairie, Williams-Sonoma, or Grass-Fed Traditions.