11/23/2011 08:31 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Turkey: Which Would You Rather?

So I was on my way to the mall the other day, and I pulled up to a stoplight and right next to me was this truck...filled with turkeys!  (The picture is the real deal.) It was a long light, so I not only had the chance to take a few pictures, but also to look some of those turkeys in the eye. It was not a pretty sight. They were cramped in, dirty, shaking, and had the vacant stare of the doomed. Worse, the vacant stare of those who don't even care that they are doomed because anything would be better than what they were living right now.

They say turkeys are stupid, and that may be the case, but I've looked different turkeys in the eye and have seen keen intelligence and even humor. OK, I'm not talking about the wild turkeys in my 'hood whom my neighbor feeds and who chase my car when I drive by. That's just weird. I'm talking about the luxuriously pampered organic heirloom breeds that we raise on my mother's farm and butcher right before Thanksgiving then cook until crispy and make gravy and, well, yum!

I've heard people say that organic poultry isn't as big as "conventional" poultry, but that's often because organic farmers kill their birds when they're smaller so they can charge a similar price for a full bird. On my mother's farm, where we aren't counting the cost of feed, those turkeys get so big that we sometimes have to kill them a bit early just so they can fit in the oven. One year, I cooked one that was 28 pounds. It was huge. I'm telling you, a bird that size doesn't leave much room in the oven to cook anything else at the same time.

Anyway, I have some pictures of the turkeys from last year back when they were cute babies and then when they were almost full-grown and standing behind my own cute babies the night before my daughter's wedding. And here is my question: Which one would you rather eat? (Will the vegetarians and vegans please sit this one out? Thank you!). Assuming the Native American philosophy that when you eat with gratitude (they started the whole thanksgiving thing, remember?!), you are absorbing the spirit of that which you eat--the energy, the life, the pleasure, the pain, the sickness and health--which would you rather eat?

I know I'm spoiled. My grandparents built that turkey house, and it's been in use for more than 60 years. I can tell you the turkeys raised in it taste delicious. And certainly, in these tough times we should all be thankful for whatever we can afford. But sometimes I wonder if by choosing what we can afford, we ingest the spirit of suffering that occurs when food is raised cheaply. And what is the price of that?

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