It’s that time of year again: turkey and all of the trimmings is on many Pacific Northwest menus for the holidays. A recent “Food & Health Survey” by the International Food Information Council reported that sustainability is a key factor for more than half of consumers purchasing groceries. And turkey is no exception. Humane animal welfare isn’t just good for the birds, it’s also good for consumers.

“High environmental and humane standards ultimately affect the taste and appearance of a turkey when it gets to your holiday table,” says Alan Hummel, Category Director of Meat and Seafood at New Seasons Market, with locations in Ballard and Mercer Island. “Sustainability is important at every step, from the conditions a bird is raised in, to how it’s processed and then delivered to the market.”

Why sustainability matters

Humane treatment of turkeys, in barns that are kept clean with fresh litter and room for air to circulate between animals — enough to flap wings and stretch legs — naturally reduces the bacteria leading to diseased livestock. “Birds don’t need antibiotics pumped into them if they are kept healthy,” Hummel says. About 80% of antibiotics purchased in the U.S. are administered to industrially produced livestock to prevent illness in crowded factory farms.

Turkeys raised in more spacious environments are at lower risk for health problems. The barns often have perches and straw bales, which encourage exercise and allow the birds to rest above ground as they do in natural environments. And free-range access to outside grazing and fresh air results in richer, tastier meat. “Giving turkeys access to move freely allows them to build stronger bones and muscle mass which turns out to be a more flavorful bird,” Hummel says.

You are what you eat

“It makes sense that what animals eat affects how they taste,” Hummel says. “Turkeys raised on an all-vegetarian feed blend without fillers, growth stimulants, or antibiotics naturally produce tender, tasty meat.” The organic label ensures all of these dietary considerations.

Providing turkeys with access to outside grazing and fresh air is a humane practice which also results in richer-tasting meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines free-range as having “been allowed access to the outdoors.” The pasture-raised label goes a step further, implying the bird had more space to roam, often rotating from one area of the farm to another, although it’s an unregulated term, so there are no guarantees.

Sustainable turkey processing

“New Seasons Market chooses to partner with ranchers with sustainable practices for raising the birds, processing and distribution,” Hummel says. Like many farms concerned with animal welfare, these ranches process birds on-site instead of transferring to a processing plant. This is less stressful on the birds.

The gold standard of animal welfare and environmental standards for raising and processing livestock is a top rating from the Global Animal Partnership. A Step One rating ensures adequate water and feed, minimum space requirements, beak trimming and toenail conditioning, and an 8-hour maximum transport time. Diestel Turkey Ranch, a New Seasons Market producer, is the first turkey rancher to achieve Step Five rating, which includes continuous outdoor living on a pasture by 6 weeks old and no transport time, among other things.

A succulent, golden-brown turkey is the main attraction for many holiday dinners. That kind of star power deserves the extra time and attention it takes to ensure the bird was sourced in a manner befitting its pride of place on the holiday table.

New Seasons Market is a neighborhood grocery store that believes in building community through great food. With Seattle-area locations in Ballard and on Mercer Island, New Seasons offers locally sourced and organic items, classic grocery favorites and chef-made meals.

Talking Turkey

What’s in a name?

The kind of bird is also a consideration. Organic American Heirloom is the top of line. This breed has been around for 100 years, and still produces the most tender meat with juicy, rich flavor. (American Heirloom are available at New Seasons Market locations starting November 6, or can be reserved online through November 23 at newseasonsmarket.com/reserve.)