The day of the feast approacheth, but you've still got time! If in good conscience and in solidarity with all those suffering turkeys in factory farms, you don't want to serve an unhappy, un-green gobbler to your friends and family, don't fall for greenwashing labels such as "free range," which is deemed "not a meaningful label" by Consumers Union's eco-label watchdog site. Many of these turkeys never leave the barn and some, like their conventional cousins, have their beaks and claws removed to prevent injury in crowded conditions.
So consider obtaining an organic and humanely raised fowl for the occasion. It does cost more to buy certified organic, but the richer taste (in our opinion) and personal health benefits are worth it. And, if you buy a bird with a third-party humane certification, you'll help increase demand for birds who’ve had a real life and a death that, if not by definition cruelty-free, was torture-free and as painless and quick as possible.
Which turkeys are the most environmentally benign? Look for pasture-raised, antibiotic-free turkeys raised near you at Local Harvest; even better if they bear the USDA Certified Organic label, which means they were raised on all-vegetarian, certified organic feed (no mad turkeys in these parts!). But when it comes to a bird's, well, lifestyle, while the organic rules require that livestock have access to the outdoors, and enough room in which to lead a natural life conducive to their species' needs, there's no guarantee that animals actually do spend time in the open air. For that, look for the Certified Humane, Food Alliance and Animal Welfare Approved labels.
Visit or call your local supermarkets or butchers, and ask whether they have certified birds; if the answer's yes, grab or reserve one now. Our local Whole Foods butcher promises they'll have plenty of organic turkeys up to T-Day, but advises that, if you want a smaller specimen (10-12 lbs.), reserve one now. If you can't locate turkeys with these labels, Sustainable Table has a list of questions you can ask retailers, or poultry farmers at your nearest farmers market, to determine whether the turkey was humanely raised and fed a green diet. If enough people ask for something, the store will likely try to find it. You can also order an organic turkey from Diamond Organics and they'll ship it to your door.
Or, you can throw up your hands, stay out of the kitchen and use the search engine on Chefs Collaborative to find a sustainable, eco-friendly restaurant serving Thanksgiving near you!
This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com in November 2009.