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The Truth About Turkey

00:00 November 04, 2013
By: David Vicari

The average American Thanksgiving - a basted bird, some sweet potato what-have-you, and tons o' pie, but perhaps the most certain scene is that of the meal's aftermath. I can picture it now, a dog pile of family scattered on the floors and sofas of homes nationwide, snoring while football keeps the television aglow. This is the effect of tryptophan.
Tryptophan, an amino acid found in common foods, is extremely prevalent in turkey. While it has scientific claims to elevate mood, regulate appetite and help you sleep better, it is best in small doses. The human body uses tryptophan to make proteins, the B-vitamin niacin and the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. These proteins are essential for cognitive thinking, anti-depression, and curing insomnia, but an extensive study of tryptophan dosed pigs resulted in organ damage and increased resistance to insulin. It is best to consult a physician before taking tryptophan supplements, which are available over the counter. But wait, if you thought tryptophan induced sleepiness was the only thing to fear, think again.
The holiday provides a widespread panic of supply and demand. Understanding that very few still venture out into the wild, shotgun clad, to kill their own turkey poses an issue with over-farming. In the commercial 'big-meat' farming arena, the average 12 year life span of a turkey is never met as nature intended, as most are raised to be slaughtered at anywhere between 5 - 7 months. By that young age, if the health of the birds is not desirable, chemicals are entered into the equation. From the start, selective breeding for size and accelerated growth is an issue. The birds are not bred for health and are therefore more susceptible to diseases from confined farming operations.
The living conditions are less than acceptable; alarmingly cramped and filthy in most cases. Overcrowding provides the turkeys less than 3 square feet of personal space. Without the use of anesthetic, their beaks are filed and toes oftentimes removed in an attempt to reduce aggravated harm to the pack. Think about it - if you had to live in quarters this confined, chances are you wouldn't get along too well with your neighbors. Due to injury induced fights among the birds and susceptibility to illness, antibiotics are the industry's preventative measures. These antibiotics, transferred when eaten, wipe out natural intestinal bacterias important in the digestion process, as well as reduce the ability to ward off diseases.
In a Consumer Reports study, 257 samples of supermarket ground turkey meat were tested in which contamination levels from fecal bacteria, salmonella, or staph was discovered in virtually every one. The fecal bacteria proved resistant to one or more antibiotics important to human medicine, affirming the idea that the use of antibiotics in farm raised poultry is detrimental to our health. Neither the poultry farming industry, nor the government agencies that police it, are ready to face the reality that less use of antibiotics and safer living conditions for the animals is the best way to reduce food-borne illness. Financial loss continues to fuel the lack of reform in the industry.
Not all turkeys come from these hellish conditions, but that doesn't suggest they are any safer. Of the same Consumer Reports study, meat raised without the use of antibiotics had the same levels of basic contamination. This is why it is so important to cook poultry thoroughly. Any animal, free range or not, is going to be quite dirty. Reading the labels of market bought meats will supply a better understanding of the means by which they were raised and processed. Key words to look for include, organic, no antibiotics or hormones, and free range. And if you don't want to go out and hunt your own wild turkey, sourcing product from independent suppliers, where the approach isn't so much about the money as it is ethics, is a logical start.
High Tail Farms out of Hammond, LA is a small farm supplying pastured poultry to the New Orleans area. The farm was started by Anthony Cipolone and Kaela Trosclair whose flock of urban raised ducks eventually outgrew the confines of their yard. They decided to buy some land in rural Hammond and expand their operation. Utilizing most of the nine acres as pasture, their meat and produce projects have grown to a much larger scale. In addition to ducks, they've added turkeys to the farm, while their extensive fowl assembly also includes chicken and quail. The chicken, duck, and quail eggs have become a big hit among NOLA bakers and cooks. The farm prides itself on their ethically raised and humanely processed standards. All of their animals have free access to pasture and are supplemented with whole grains and high quality feed.
On the topic of commercial turkey breeds and standards, Anthony informs, "It's possible to raise a commercial breed on pasture - like the Broad Breasted Whites - without needing massive antibiotics. A lot of small farmers are doing that now. There seems to be a movement amongst small farmers to go back to the heritage breeds to raise for meat. These breeds are generally healthier and don't need any antibiotics if cared for correctly. They can also be bred and hatched on the farm. Currently, we're working on establishing our heritage flock of Bourbon Red turkeys." The newlywed couple intends to maintain sustainability and their educational service admitting, "We like showing people the farm so that they can see for themselves that there are alternatives to how we can produce our food and that the trade off on happy livestock is actually better tasting food." Individuals can place orders by emailing the business: [email protected]
In restaurant news, the turkey burger is always a winner on menus. But the turkey + duck + chicken burger - the turducken - is a jaw dropper. I had my first at Saint Lawrence on North Peters in the French Quarter. Chef Caleb Cook opened the kitchen with the holy trinity sandwich on the house offerings. Now that Chef James Cullen has taken over the position, a change to the menu, at least in that clucking regard, is not in the foreseeable future. A hefty patty laced with the basic L.T.O. plus housemade pickles gets artisan with a smear of green apple remoulade. The duck cracklins finish the burger's composition while dirty rice completes the dish.
On the note of turducken, one can satisfy their craving in hot dog form at Dat Dog. A link chock to the wings with meaty flavor is served in the restaurant's notably fluffy steamed and toasted sourdough buns. The tinge of sweetness in the bread takes the flavor combo to the extreme. Having the ability to dine patio-side in what most of the country knows as chillier months, the Magazine and Freret locations cater to the outdoor diner in space and design. Fans keep the bugs at bay and picnic style seating takes formality out of the experience while lending intimacy.
Milk Bar pulls at the heartstrings of holiday lovers with their Christmas in July sandwich - a creative combo of roast turkey, spinach, tomato, brie and mozzarella served with cranberry sauce. For $7.95 it is worth the price for the nostalgia alone. The roast turkey and swiss po'boy is reminiscent of a day after Thanksgiving sammy, dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and mustard. If you don't mind mixing meaty flavors, the gravy, normally paired with the roast lamb po'boy, is excellent on the turkey.

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