Turkey talk: Organic birds become Thanksgiving’s answer to health conscious appetites | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Turkey talk: Organic birds become Thanksgiving’s answer to health conscious appetites

Gregory Crofton
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Mark Cohen, owner of Overland Meat Co. in South Lake Tahoe, checks the temperature of a "natural" Diestel turkey he's pre-roasting for a customer. A turkey is cooked when the inside of it reaches 180 degrees.

“I’m going to pump you up” shouldn’t be said or done to a turkey.

But it happens and increasingly Americans are opting to eat turkeys raised in open spaces, not small pens, and not injected with antibiotics or fed animal products.

“In 2003, organic poultry, which would include turkey, sales grew 112 percent,” said Holly Given, communications director for the Organic Trade Association.

“They are so tasty. There is definitely a difference,” said Mary Ebright, who bought a 13-pound, natural turkey (similar to organic) on Tuesday from the Overland Meat Co. in South Lake Tahoe. “When you eat a turkey injected with preservatives you’re doing an injustice to yourself.”

Turkeys labeled “organic” or “natural” are given more time to grow and more space to roam, things that do cost the consumer more. On average, they cost $1.80 to $2 a pound, while frozen turkeys cost 25 to 50 cents a pound.

This year Overland saw a 10 percent increase in its turkey sales. It sells Diestel turkeys raised in Sonora that are never frozen and are classified as “natural.”

Mark Cohen, owner of Overland, said he will sell nearly 900 turkeys this year, almost of all of them pre-ordered by customers.

“Every year people are becoming more educated, even in meats, about what they’re putting in their body,” Cohen said.

Cohen said he orders turkeys raised naturally instead of organically because Diestel cannot provide the number of turkeys and size of turkeys his customers want.

But the only difference between a turkey raised organically versus one raised naturally is paperwork and certification steps required by the federal government, said Zack Smith, customer service coordinator for Diestel Turkey Ranch.

“Our turkeys are all-natural,” Smith said. “No growth stimulants, no antibiotics and no animal byproducts in our feed – it’s all corn and soy.”

Grass Roots Natural Foods is another business in town that sells organic turkeys. Jon McElroy, owner of the South Lake Tahoe natural food store, special orders about 60 birds from Shelton Turkey in Pomona.

“They come up here refrigerated,” McElroy said. “The reason we carry Shelton year after year is that people say they have a real good flavor.”

McElroy also sells Tofurky, a product made with tofu, which comes from soybeans, and Unturkey, a wheat-protein based product that comes in a package with cranberry sauce, potato dumplings and gravy.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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