Category Archives: Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkeys in a Pen

What that label really means: Thanksgiving Edition

If you’re hosting the annual Thanksgiving feast this year, you’ve been doing a lot of shopping. You’ve probably grabbed some sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cans of pumpkin and maybe some green beans.

But when you approach a refrigerated section of the store piled high with turkeys, you’re suddenly inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on. Pretty soon, your head is spinning, so you grab the nearest one. As you head to the checkout line, you wonder if you’ve just made an ethical choice or been duped.

This scenario has become part of the Thanksgiving experience for many shoppers. If you’re like me, you may have told yourself that, someday, you’ll learn what all those labels actually mean. Well, today is that day. Because this is your guide to the utterly confusing world of turkey labels — a glossary for the wannabe informed Thanksgiving shopper.

What you might think it means: The turkey was slaughtered this morning (or maybe yesterday) and was rushed to my local grocery store, where consumers like me will taste the difference!

What it actually means: “Fresh” has nothing to do with the time between slaughter and sale. Instead, it means that the turkey has not been cooled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was never frozen. Above 26 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat can remain pliant — you can press it in with your thumb.


What you might think it means: This bird was killed at a younger age than most turkeys and is therefore more tender and delicious. Maybe it also suffered less.
What it actually means: The bird was likely killed at the same age as most other turkeys. According to Daisy Freund, an animal welfare certification expert at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, most commercial turkeys are slaughtered at 16 to 18 weeks, compared to the roughly 10 years turkeys live in the wild. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not define “young” for turkeys, but it requires that turkeys that lived more than a year be labeled as “yearling” or “mature.”


What you might think it means: The turkeys have been raised in a “natural” environment, wandering around in the woods or on a farm, scavenging food and gobble-gobbling their cares away.
What it actually means: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed. But Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, says the term isn’t helpful at all. “It has nothing to do with whether the turkeys got antibiotics every day, were living in filthy conditions or were confined indoors,” she says. Her organization is campaigning against the use of the term, which they feel misleads consumers. The Food and Drug Administration also has admitted it’s a challenge to define the term and just asked the public for help.

On that note, let’s pause for a minute to answer a basic question — how exactly are most turkeys in the U.S. raised?

“The vast majority of turkeys are living in crowded houses — football field-sized sheds that are entirely enclosed — by the tens of thousands,” says the ASPCA’s Freund. 

She says the 30-pound birds typically have their beaks cut to prevent them from injuring or killing one another, and are allotted an average of two square feet of space. “It’s like living your entire life in Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” she says.

Meanwhile, Freund says, manure often piles up beneath the birds, and ammonia hangs thick in the air. Many turkeys are routinely given antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. Plus, modern turkeys have been selectively bred to mature quickly and have extremely large breasts (for more white meat). Many have trouble standing and are incapable of having sex — their large chests get in the way, Freund says.

To be clear, turkey producers must still meet basic safety standards and the meat should be safe. But terms like “natural” may be misleading consumers about how the birds are actually raised.


What you might think it means: These turkeys roam freely on a farm, pecking at the lush grass and getting more exercise than I do.
What it actually means: In some cases (on some small farms), it does mean what you’re picturing. But Rangan says in the vast majority of cases, “free-range” turkeys are raised in the standard, crowded houses. The only difference, she says, is that these birds must have “access to the outdoors.”
But the word “access” is broadly used. “If the animal never even went outdoors, but you sort of opened and closed the door every day, that would suffice to label the bird as ‘free-range,’ ” she says.


What you might think it means: This turkey had a better life than most, because at least it wasn’t stuffed into a tiny cage.
What it actually means: This turkey’s life was probably the same as most, because turkeys are not raised in cages. The conventional practice — which accounts for well over 95 percent of all commercial turkeys, according to ASPCA — is to raise them in open houses. So, calling a turkey cage-free is sort of like calling a cantaloupe cage-free.

What you might think it means: This turkey is a higher grade of meat, and is more delicious and healthy.
What it actually means: Basically, nothing. The USDA grades beef cuts with words like “prime,” “choice” and “select,” but premium is not one of their designations and these graded terms are not used for poultry anyway.
 A company can label any kind of turkey as “premium.”

No Hormones Added
What you might think it means: This bird is healthier than most because it wasn’t pumped full of the hormones that turn some turkeys into the Incredible Hulk.
What it actually means: Once again, this term is misleading. By USDA law, turkeys (and other poultry) are not allowed to be given growth hormones.

Humane/Non-Certified Humane

What you might think it means: Finally, a bird that has been raised according to an ethical set of principles. It was probably treated fairly and lived a decent life. Maybe it even got to kiss its loved ones goodbye.

What it actually means: If there is no certifying agency, which there isn’t for this term, the label is probably meaningless, says Rangan from Consumer Reports. That’s because the USDA allows companies to come up with their own definition of “humane” and it gives its seal of approval if the company meets its own standards. In these cases, “it probably just means they met the conventional baseline,” says Rangan.

That’s most of the virtually meaningless terms. Let’s move on to some labels that have at least some significance.


What you might think it means: The turkey was raised according to a stricter set of hygiene standards. It was probably kept cleaner and healthier.
What it actually means: The turkey was probably raised in the same crowded house conditions as most turkeys. The only difference is that it was slaughtered according to a set of kosher principles.


What you might think it means: This turkey enjoyed a lush supply of greens and grains, replicating its natural diet.
What it actually means: The bird probably ate what most turkeys eat: corn. But these birds have not had their diets supplemented with animal byproducts, which does happen in some settings. The irony, though, is that turkeys are not natural vegetarians. In the wild, they eat a variety of bugs and worms, along with grass and other plants.

Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered
What you might think it means: These birds were never given any antibiotics of any kind.
What it actually means: These birds were given drugs only if they were sick, but not for growth promotion, feed efficiency or to prevent disease. That means their producers are contributing less to the risk of antibiotic resistance and to “superbugs”— a serious health concern. However, Rangan suggests that consumers look for the USDA label with this term, to verify that the companies have been inspected. And she points out that the label does not mean the birds were raised in more sanitary conditions — only that they were not given routine antibiotics.

What you might think it means: These turkeys were raised on a steady diet of organic vegetables, green smoothies and Bikram yoga.

What it actually means: To meet the requirements for the USDA’s Certified Organic program, animals must have some access to the outdoors (though there’s debate about whether or not most organic turkeys actually go outdoors), be fed only organic feed (non-GMO and grown without chemical pesticides) and must not be given antibiotic drugs on a routine basis. Rangan says organic conditions are “significantly different” from conventional conditions. And yet, she says, organic lags behind the conditions enjoyed by humanely raised birds.

Which brings us to the final section.

There are three main organizations that have publicly available standards for “humane” treatment. Birds bearing these labels typically are granted real access to the outdoors, eat a diverse diet and have the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild. You can read more about the specific criteria by clicking on each name.

Animal Welfare Approved

Turkeys with this label come from farms that have been audited at least once a year, and have met criteria for animal welfare, environmental protection and community well-being. According to its website, “Provisions are made to ensure [the animals'] social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological well-being.”

Certified Humane

This is also a label with clearly defined parameters for animal and environmental care. Its website says, “The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices.”

Global Animal Partnership, or GAP

This is a rating system with six different levels, ranging from less crowding (level one) to animals without clipped beaks spending their entire life on the same farm, with enhanced access to the outdoors
 (level five-plus).

To summarize, here’s a cheat sheet:

Labels that mean very little: Fresh, Young, Natural, Premium, Cage-Free, Free-Range, No Hormones Added, Humane (not certified or USDA certified)

Labels that mean something specific: Kosher, Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered, Vegetarian-Fed/Grain-Fed, Organic

Labels that mean the birds were raised humanely: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, GAP

And there you have it. This information has certainly enlightened all of us at and put us to work on a whole new shopping mission for Thanksgiving 2015! We love to understand exactly what a label is telling us … what’s hype and what’s highly important. As soon as consumers understand labels, they know how to find what they’re looking for and that means they know exactly what’s in their food.

Kind of like our website and our app. Funny how that works.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Fast Food Thanksgiving from Popeye’s

One of the biggest buzzwords of the 21st century thus far is “busy”. It’s extremely fashionable to be “busy” and it appears that the busier you are, the trendier you are, hence the term “just too busy”.

And out of this trend the continual need for all things convenient is sustained. We’re “too busy to iron clothes” so wrinkle-releaser was invented. We’re too busy to vacuum, so now we have robotic vacuums in various shapes and sizes that run around our floors on their own picking up dust. We’ve been too busy to mash our own potatoes for quite awhile now and we’ve been provided with an array of different boxed, dried instant products to choose from that supply us with a not-quite-reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

And today, discovered that it appears that we’re too busy to prepare our holiday meals as well! According to Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, we can leave the preparation of our Thanksgiving Turkey to them! It seems that we’ve been able to do that for about 13 years now (if not longer).

The idea of ordering a holiday meal for delivery is nothing new. As a society, we’ve been avoiding actual cooking for years. But would you actually order your Thanksgiving turkey from Popeye’s?

If you read the reviews from various internet sources, the answer is apparently a resounding YES! from hundreds of consumers. The Cajun-style fried holiday turkey from Popeye’s is rumored to be a very tasty bird. People look forward to ordering it every year for their holiday meal. ?????

Thanksgiving dinner from a fast food chain. Well … not exactly.

O.k. the bird is being offered for order from Popeye’s. Between 9 and 11 pounds, pre-cooked (flash-fried in the description) and $39.99 at specific locations. We did a little web hunting and discovered that the turkey appears to be coming from You can Google Popeye’s fried turkey and you’ll find more than a few links that put the two together. If you order the turkey from CajunGrocer, you’ll pay about $12 more for it than if you order it directly from your participating Popeye’s.

Details on the turkey are difficult to discover. The Popeye’s website is pretty understated about this promotion. The only thing you’ll find is a participating store locator. When you input your zip code you’ll get a list of locations with a Cajun Turkey icon next to the address. There is no nutritional information or ingredient list for the product itself.
So we headed on over the ( Here we got just a little more information. It states that prior to cooking the turkey is injected with a Creole butter marinade (no ingredients are included). We’ve also read that the turkey is rubbed with a spice blend. But that’s about all the information we can find here. Clicking the Nutrition Information tab simply brings us to a list with no accompanying data. And right next to the entry “Ingredients”, we find “cajun fried turkey.”

Honestly, finds this a bit suspect. We generally like transparency when it comes to our food and can’t help but wonder why we’re not getting it here. Nutritional information for the Popeye’s Cajun Fried Turkey should be available on both the Popeye’s website and the website.

And honestly, we can’t wrap our heads around the concept of Thanksgiving dinner from Popeye’s. No offense intended. This turkey gets rave reviews. And it technically isn’t from a fast food place. But even so … it’s just not working for us. And if Popeye’s wants us to attempt to get with their Thanksgiving program, they can send us the ingredient list soon. Maybe then we’ll give it a try!

Our Thanksgiving Table: Roast Turkey … the holiday centerpiece

We’re getting closer to the big day and as we do, our thoughts turn repeatedly to the centerpiece of our table — the roast turkey!

There really isn’t much that compares to the aroma of a golden brown turkey roasting away in the oven on Thanksgiving morning. And then there are the leftovers! The possibilities are endless … turkey sandwiches with gravy, turkey pot pies, turkey and stuffing casseroles are just a few of our favorites.

Gather round our table where the turkey is the Thanksgiving day main event. But sadly, the centerpiece of our meal can inflict a heavy dose of fat and calories on the holiday dinner. The typical roast turkey prepared in the traditional manner supplies about 400 calories per serving with 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat and 994 mg of sodium.

Did the pilgrims actually include a turkey in their original Thanksgiving feast? The jury’s out on this one. It appears that in Massachusetts in 1621 there were plenty of wild turkeys keeping the colonists company. So it would certainly seem natural that a bird would be part of that original dinner thanking God for the harvest and for the colonists’ survival in the new world (which was not an easy feat). The pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving for three days – so we’d have to assume that more than one wild turkey was included. That was quite a feast!

While we love the roast turkey, we also love the rest of the meal and want to enjoy it in its entirety without worrying about compromising our healthy lifestyle in order to do so. That can become difficult when most of the side dishes we love so much are very high in calories and fat, as well as sodium. So what can we do about keeping our turkey at reasonable fat and calorie levels, without sacrificing any of that marvelous flavor? We’d also like to make sure that we keep our favorite, old-fashioned aromas wafting through our homes in the morning hours of Thanksgiving day.

This healthier recipe will ensure both the flavor and fragrance of a winning roast turkey. The apples and onions help to keep the bird from drying out, so that you’ll achieve that moist texture that’s so important.

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 1 10- to 12-pound turkey
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus a few sprigs
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus a few sprigs
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus a few sprigs
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 1/2 pounds small onions, peeled and halved lengthwise, divided
• 1 tart green apple, quartered
• 3 cups water, plus more as needed

• Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 475°F.
• Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavity.
• Place the turkey, breast-side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan; pat dry with paper towels.
• Combine oil, chopped parsley, sage, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the herb mixture all over the turkey, under the skin and onto the breast meat. Place herb sprigs, half of the onions and apple in the cavity. Add 3 cups water to the pan.
• Roast the turkey until the skin is golden brown, 45 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven. Cover the breast with foil, cutting as necessary to fit. Add remaining onions to the pan around the turkey. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue roasting a thermometer registers 165°F, 1 to 1 3/4 hours more. If the pan dries out, add more water.
• Transfer the turkey to a serving platter (reserve pan juices and onions for gravy) and tent with foil.

This will make for a great turkey day experience for everyone. Flavorful and moist for less than half the calories and fat of a traditional recipe. The apples really add to the flavor and aroma of the bird. We love adding this healthy option to the Thanksgiving table and can’t wait to sit down to this year’s better-for-us feast!