Doing My Part For Biodiversity

I’ve been a vegetarian since college, but there have been a few times where I’ve made an exception and ate meat (for example, I needed to show Kim, who was raised in the Northeast, some real bar-b-que when we were in Texas). Another exception we just made was having turkey last week for Thanksgiving.

A friend from New York was coming to visit, so Kim decided to do a big spread, instead of the low-key thing we usually do. Since our friend had made it clear that tofurkey wasn’t an option, Kim suggested we get a heritage turkey. I had just read Barbara Kingsolver’s book about growing her own food for a year, including a heritage turkey, and was interested in the idea too.

The idea of heritage food (also referred to as heirloom foods) is to bring back some of the animals or plants that have been almost driven to extinction due to industrial agriculture standardizing on a small number of food varieties.

One argument for supporting heritage foods is that they just taste better because farmers often pick varieties based on factors other than flavor (for instance, the most common turkey variety is picked because of the quantity of meat* and white feathers).

Another reason to support a wider range of food types is that increased biodiversity is a good thing. If we rely too heavily on any one crop or animal then it would be bad if something were to happen to that variety. For instance, the article on monoculture agriculture has a section called Catastrophic crop failure and lists the Irish potato famine as an example when “a single genetic variant becomes susceptible to a pathogen or when a change in weather patterns occur”.

This is all to say that buying a heritage turkey for Thanksgiving helped create demand for farmers to preserve a range of different turkey varieties to create enough of a supply of the animals. Or to quote from the place where we got the turkey: “The best way to save the old time poultry is to return them to our dining tables.” This is hardly a call to go out and eat a bunch of rare animals, but I might make an exception like this again next year.

* This variety grows so big that they can’t breed on their own (and if I remember Kingsolver’s book correctly they also have trouble standing up when they are fully grown). This explains why one of the selling points on the Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch’s site is that their turkeys can mate naturally.

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