Bourbon Red Turkey

Was Your Turkey Fed Vegetarians?

Today, roughly 88 percent of Americans will be eating a turkey. That means 46 million turkeys consumed. But we have a burning question. What does vegetarian fed mean? Was your turkey fed vegetarians? Fed by vegetarians? Or maybe, contrary to its omnivorian nature, fed a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian Fed

Left to their own devices – at home on the free range – these birds eat a richly varied diet. Worms, bugs, leaves, grasses, fruits, berries, seeds, and more. But on the turkey farm, they get turkey chow. Old-style turkey chow had animal protein in it. The new wave, though, is to feed turkeys only plant-based protein.

That way, the marketers can slap a seal on the bird that says “vegetarian.”

Apparently vegetarian has such a good vibe that the vegetarian-fed seal, together with no hormones and no antibiotics, really gooses the sales for these birds. Plant-based meat. You can have it both ways!

Nonetheless, it’s a good thing to eliminate animal byproducts from turkey feed. The reason is simple. It takes away a potential vector for disease. Animal ingredients in livestock feed introduce the risk of transmitting animal diseases to humans. Salmonella and mad cow disease come to mind.

Righteous Buzzwords

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a bit skeptical about the righteous buzzwords used to market food. Buying a vegetarian turkey doesn’t make you a vegetarian. If you really want to be a vegetarian or a vegan, we recommend that you do it thoughtfully. Not by buying into ultra-processed food fads that pretend to be meatless meats or mayo-free mayo. Instead, focus on real, whole foods that can be both nutritious and delicious. Develop a healthy pattern of plant-based eating that works for you. It takes a bit of thought and commitment.

On the other hand, if you’re having a turkey for the holidays, don’t be misled by meaningless labels like hormone-free or all-natural. There’s nothing special about hormone-free turkeys because it’s illegal to give growth hormones to any turkey. All-natural is a marketing term that doesn’t mean a lot. For instance, it doesn’t guarantee that the bird got no antibiotics.

A more meaningful label is USDA Organic. Turkeys with this seal received no antibiotics. Period. Other quality standards apply, but antibiotic-free is the most important one. Other turkeys are still getting a lot of antibiotics. Finally, you might want to look for the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW label. This is the only seal that receives the highest possible rating from Consumer Reports for animal welfare certification.

Click here and here for more on shopping for a better turkey.

Bourbon Red Turkey, photograph © Marji Beach / flickr

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November 28, 2019

3 Responses to “Was Your Turkey Fed Vegetarians?”

  1. November 28, 2019 at 9:38 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Tofu-my is sounding better by the minute. Lol! Thanks for this wonderful summary talking turkey. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Ted.🦃🦃

  2. November 28, 2019 at 10:22 am, Allen Browne said:

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

  3. November 28, 2019 at 6:06 pm, Linda said:

    I hate when non-vegetarians presume to tell vegetarians how to eat. I have been a vegetarian for 46 years. I eat plenty of natural foods. However, I also eat ultra-processed faux meat and vegan mayo sometimes. Like most people, I grew up eating animal products. I didn’t give them up because I disliked them. So if I crave a comfort food from the past, I like that there are options available. I don’t pretend they are good for me, but people eat for many reasons beyond fueling the body.

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