Free Range or Natural?

When I was growing up I don’t remember there being alot of choices when in came time to buy a turkey for our Thanksgiving feast.  My mom would buy a Butterball, frozen at the grocery, and, that was that.  These days we have choices…alot of choices here is a rundown on the kinds available.


Conventional:  The majority of mass produced super market turkeys, usually frozen.  The life of these birds isn’t pretty.  Cramped living quarters, fed a diet of genetically modified soybeans and corn, injected with antibiotics to fend off disease.  These birds are genetically altered to fatten faster with abnormally large amounts of breat meat.

Natural:  This one gets a little murky…the natural bird wasn’t injected with artificial flavor or chemical perservatives, but they may have been injected with salt water and “natural flavor”.  Apparently,  a turkey can also be labeled natural and given antibiotics.

Kosher:  The Jewish law requires that these turkeys must be healthy and humanely slaughtered.  But if you are hoping your choice is environmentally friendly make another choice.

Fresh:  Often times these birds are raised by local farmers.  The only requirement for a turkey to be labeled fresh is that it must never have been stored below 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

Free -Range:  This can mean two things, that the turkey was left free to roam on a farm or that it’s factory living conditions included a small outdoor area.  The USDA only says the turkeys must be allowed access to the outside to be labeled free range.

Organic:  No antibiotics or hormones are allowed in turkeys labeled as organic.  These  birds are only fed grain or grass that is free of pesticides and have not been genetically modified.

Pasture-raised:  The real “free range” bird, these lucky turkeys are raised outside and allowed to graze on grass.  However, they may not be organic, look for additional labels.

Heritage:  These breeds are native to the USA.  Popular among locavores and foodies.  Look for additional labels.


You may be able to locally source the main event at your Thanksgiving feast.  Local farmers may be taking orders for your Thanksgiving Turkey.  A trip to your local farmers market may be just the ticket!

You can also search for sustainable farms near you via LocalHarvest and Eatwild.

Talk to the butcher at your local supermarket or specialty food stores to see what kinds of birds they are selling this Thanksgiving.  Do a little research now and place your order early, one more thing off your list and on your plate!



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