Thankgiving Turkey

Not All Turkey is Created Equal

November is finally here, and that means it is time to talk turkey. Before you start arguing over whose stuffing recipe is the best, you need to make the even harder decision of what kind of turkey to buy. Sure you could get the free turkey you earned from the supermarket, but is that frozen brick of colorless meat really what you want to serve next to your smorgasbord of locally grown and hand made sides? I didn’t think so.

Not to worry, there are plenty of other options for you to choose from. But just like the rest of our food supply, there are so many labels and each one means something different. So to save a little time and confusion during this stressful holiday, I have laid it all out for you so you can make the best decision for you and your family.


Heritage turkeys refer to a group of about ten breeds of traditional turkeys, including the Narragansett and Bourbon Red. Traditional means they are the breeds of turkey that were around before scientists in the food industry started breeding turkeys to grow larger and faster, developing the breed known as the broad-breasted white. These birds claim to have better flavor than the more popular variety found in the supermarket. However, buyer beware, there are no legal guidelines to “heritage” labels.


These turkeys are raised on land and fed with organic feed. They can not be given any hormones and must have outside access. These turkeys are usually the broad-breasted white variety and follow strict USDA organic food standards, which includes prohibition of the use of genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge for fertilization.

Free Range

These are broad-breasted white variety turkeys that are allowed access to the outdoors. Because they are not confined to a cage, their diet is slightly different as they may intake insects and seeds. This can sometimes give their meat a different taste.


This type of turkey is again a broad-breasted white variety. What makes them different is their feed has not been genetically modified. They are also kept in an environment that is non-GMO as well. That means the ground they walk on, or cages they stay in can not have any genetically modified material on or in them.

Type of Turkey Organic Feed Outdoor Access Antibotic Free Hormones Non-GMO
Typical Store Bought Turkey No No No No No
Organic Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Free Range No Yes No* No No
Non-GMO No No* No* No Yes
Heritage No No* Yes No No
*Guidelines do not require that these standards be met to earn these designations. However, some producers of these types of turkeys do meet these standards. Check with your farmer/grocer to see if their turkeys do.

Know Your Bird!

Each farmer and producer are different. Mass produced Organic and Free-Range turkeys may have to be given access to the outdoors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they make an active effort to get their turkeys out into the sun. These labels also do not mean that they do not participate in cruel and stressful practices such as overcrowding, debeaking, and despurring.

Some companies are happy to do the bare minimum they can just to slap a label on a turkey in order to fool you into thinking they have high standards. Don’t be fooled.

The best way to ensure you are getting a turkey that meets your standards is to ask questions:

If your grocer cannot give you answers in a sincere and timely manner, you may want to shop elsewhere.

At Earthlight, we take pride choosing our Thanksgiving turkeys and providing you with complete transparency as to the quality of our birds. We will have Mary’s Organic and Non-GMO Project Certified (a first!) Free Range turkeys available for purchase this Thanksgiving Holiday.

Mary’s is a family-owned farm in California with a commitment to animal welfare. Their turkeys are free-range, gluten and preservative-free, and are never given antibiotics. They also boast a Global Animal Partnership Animal Welfare Rating of 3, which means they give their birds an enhanced environment with features like shaded outdoor areas, room to preen and fully extend their wings, and even spaces so that each bird can have some alone time. The result is a high-quality turkey that you can feel good serving to your family.

So if you want to know more about your turkey, just ask! Getting your holiday centerpiece from somewhere that can answer your questions is the first step in the right direction to a healthy meal that reflects your values.

Remember, not all turkey is created equal.

Anna Mahoney is a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition from Rutgers University. In her practice, she focuses on bringing her patients back to health through Chinese Medicine, nutritional counseling, and overall wellness care. In her personal life, she is a passionate cook, musician, yogi, and athlete. Anna lives in New Jersey, with her husband, John, and their dog, Betty. Anna blogs at The Green Banana.