In December of 2011, animal welfare advocacy group Mercy for Animals released a gruesome undercover video of turkey abuse at a plant that raises poultry for Butterball. That footage led to a raid of the plant being videotaped, as well as several arrests and criminal charges for employees who were involved.
But it seems Butterball -- which raises a full 20 percent of the total turkey sold in the country every year, and 30 percent of the turkey eaten on Thanksgiving -- hasn't learned its lesson. Because today, Mercy for Animals released another horrifying video detailing turkey abuse at several Butterball plants in North Carolina.
The disturbing video is embedded above. It's not the most graphic animal abuse video we've seen, but you should still exercise caution before deciding to watch it. It's quite grainy and is in black and white, but you can clearly see workers kicking and throwing birds around the plant. At one point, an employee callously notes that he's seen maggots crawling all over the birds.
Mercy for Animals is encouraging people moved by the video to consider eating a vegetarian turkey substitute instead of a bird on Thanksgiving next Thursday. Another option is to opt for a turkey raised more humanely, on a smaller farm. Many of the latter have added benefits in terms of flavor, compared to the Broad-Breasted Whites raised by producers like Butterball. Click through the slideshow below to see several heritage breeds:
The Bourbon Red is noted for two things: its handsome red features and its excellent, full flavor. It's known as one of the <a href="http://heritageturkeyfoundation.org/articles/Turkey Article 13.htm" target="_hplink">best-tasting heritage turkey breeds</a> stil in existence. Bourbon Reds have the potential to grow up to around <a href="http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/bourbon.html" target="_hplink">23 pounds for the toms and 12 pounds for the hens</a>, though many are smaller than that in practice.
Onyx-feathered turkeys are some of the oldest breeds in the world; they were domesticated from wild turkeys brought back to Europe by the first Spanish explorers in the New World. They're sometimes known "Black Spanish" and "Norfolk Black", in honor of two places -- Spain and England -- where they were popular in the 1500s.
Unlike most heritage turkey breeds, Royal Palms were bred primarily for their looks, not their meat; as such, they're too small and gamy to be very good eating.
The Narragansett -- originally bred in Rhode Island, as its name implies -- <a href="http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/narragansett_turkey/" target="_hplink">dominated the New England turkey market</a> long before anyone had ever heard of Broad Breasted Whites. It's larger than some other heritage breeds, with 18 pound females and 30 pound males, but it's still a wee thing in comparison to a Butterball. Michael Pollan chose to cook a Narragansett for <a href="http://heritageturkeyfoundation.org/articles/Turkey Article 04.htm" target="_hplink">one of his first heritage turkey meal</a>, and loved it. "The leg and thigh meat in particular was delicious: rich, moist, and tender, with a flavor more reminiscent of duck than turkey," he writes. "Indeed, simply by virtue of having a flavor, this represented a completely different order of turkey."
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy calls <a href="http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/slate.html" target="_hplink">the light-blue Slate breed of turkey</a> "less well documented and more variable in type and color than any other variety."
Midget Whites are one of the newest breeds of heritage turkey: they were developed by University of Massachusetts researchers in the 1960s, by crossing <a href="http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/midget_white_turkey/" target="_hplink">Broad Breasted Whites and Royal Palms</a>. The birds are very small, but are said to have excellent, deep flavors.
Bronze turkeys are actually the first step on the perilous road to the Broad Breasted White; the latter's predecessor, the Broad Breasted Bronze, was directly bred from a Standard Bronze. But the original is still a imposing -- it's one of the <a href="http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/american_bronze_turkey/" target="_hplink">largest breeds of heritage turkey</a>.