One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is all the sides.  I’m already looking forward to sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and more.  But one thing Americans aren’t looking forward to this Thanksgiving is getting their turkey with a side of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Unfortunately, practices in the conventional poultry industry are putting consumers at risk. Read more

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seven years old, which means that my choice to not eat meat has been a less conscious decision than some, due to the fact that it is so ingrained. I’d like to claim that my ethics and morals have resulted in a studious stance against meat-eating, but that would be overdramatizing the simple notion that it’s just easier for me to do what I’ve always done. Yes, I do agree with carrying a lighter load on the planet, and have sympathy for animals who are treated cruelly (my seven year old heart was sad when I made the link between the Big Mac I just ate and our neighborhood cows…hence becoming a vegetarian.), but ultimately for me, cooking without meat is way less of a messy hassle than learning to.

Kim O’Donnel, author of the brand new cookbook The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into), has come to eating less meat from the opposite direction than me. Read more

As the nation’s annual food fest approaches, let’s take a moment to express gratitude for farmworkers, the hard-working field hands who grow and harvest the abundance we’re about to eat on Thanksgiving.

It’s so easy in the food-obsessed Bay Area and beyond to focus on whether our D.I.Y., made-from-scratch meals are perfect or if the raw ingredients of our culinary creations have a pristine pedigree.But enough food narcissism already: let’s talk about the plight of the people who make this holiday possible. Some food for thought:

Check out the videos from the recent conference TedxFruitvale: Harvesting Change hosted by the foundation wing of the sustainable-food focused Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO). The event, held at Mills College in Oakland, revealed in sharp relief and from first-hand accounts the back-breaking labor of those in the fields, many of whom are still exposed to life-threatening pesticides and labor in shocking conditions. But this day-long event was anything but a downer: The program also highlighted farmworker success stories and alternative ownership models to BigAg.

Read the full story by Civil Eats contributor Sarah Henry at Bay Area Bites.

Photo: Tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, by Scott Robertson

So far, 2011 has not been a great year for turkey producers. In May, an article in Clinical Infectious Diseases reported that half of U.S. meat from major grocery chains–turkey, beef, chicken and pork–harbors antibiotic resistant staph germs commonly called MRSA. Turkey had twice and even three times the MRSA of all other meats, in another study.

In June, Pfizer announced it was ending arsenic-containing chicken feed which no one realized they were eating anyway, but its arsenic-containing Histostat, fed to turkeys, continues. Poultry growers use inorganic arsenic, a recognized carcinogen, for “growth promotion, feed efficiency and improved pigmentation,” says the FDA. Yum.

And in August, Cargill Value Added Meats, the nation’s third-largest turkey processor, recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey because of a salmonella outbreak, linked to one death and 107 illnesses in 31 states. Even as it closed its Springdale, Arkansas plant, steam cleaned its machinery and added “two additional anti-bacterial washes” to its processing operations, 185,000 more pounds were recalled the next month from the same plant.

Since the mad cow and Chinese melamine scandals of the mid 2000’s, a lot more people think about the food their food ate than before. But fewer people think about the drugs their food ingested. Read more

“Heritage” has become a buzzword for discriminating home cooks wondering what bird should grace their Thanksgiving dinner table this season. But while conventional supermarket turkeys cost about $1.50 per pound, heritage turkeys can fetch up to $10 per pound, a considerable price difference that raises eyebrows for many shoppers. So, what’s all the fuss about?

Bill and Nicolette Hahn Niman of BN Ranch in Bolinas, California, have made a point of educating eaters about the value of heritage turkeys, as well as the hidden costs of commodity turkey farming. “I want people to understand the difference and why it costs more,” says Nicolette Hahn Niman, who is also an environmental lawyer and author of the book Righteous Porkchop. “Obviously, they can make their own choice, but it’s an informed choice.”

To understand why heritage birds command a higher price, you have to know that it’s not just a different breed you’re paying for. It’s the additional time and care they take to raise and the fact that heritage turkeys tend to be raised more humanely than conventional turkeys, with space to roam and access to pasture. Read more

How much do you know about your Thanksgiving turkey? If you buy your turkey from a typical grocery store–and most Americans do–you might not realize that the approximately 46 million turkeys consumed every year come from a factory farm.

But if Thanksgiving is truly about offering gratitude for what we have, it seems fitting to also be grateful to the turkey that many of us will eat for dinner. We ought to think about how that turkey lived before ending up on our tables. Read more

Many people consider Thanksgiving a marathon. For my large family who entertains all year long for the Jewish holidays, it’s more of a brief jog around the block. When I was a kid, my family of six often cooked and ate meals with my aunt, uncle and my four cousins who lived across the street. In my world, cooking a turkey feast for 20 is called Sunday Dinner.

You may think we are a family of trained chefs or, at the very least, had some extra help. But neither was the case. The adults realized early on that they had a crew of sous chefs already in-house. They may be barely three feet tall, but kids are often an incredible source of energy, creativity, and assistance in the kitchen. Read more

The ethics of meat-eating, and vegetarianism in particular, have gained traction as memes in the press lately, showing that a shift is occurring in our cultural ideas around food. Heritage breed turkeys have been selling like mad for today’s feast, and last week, Martha Stewart was standing behind the stove on her set discussing the book Eating Animals with its author, Jonathan Safran Foer, while preparing a vegetarian casserole. The dish was part of a collection of recipes for her show on preparing a vegetarian Thanksgiving (watch it at that link), and she stated on air that her daughter’s Thanksgiving was going to be a vegetarian one. (She also interviewed Robert Kenner on the program, gushing about his film Food, Inc., and Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, who spoke about the state of farming in America with his usual wordsmithery). Foer had this to say to Martha’s audience: Read more

What do the Pilgrims, George Washington, Sarah J. Hale, and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Hint: they liked heritage breed turkeys. Yes, they all contributed to the formation of the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. We all know the pilgrim story. Some may not know that President Washington offered the first proclamation on November 26, 1789, declaring a national day of thanksgiving. It was not until November 1863, after the July battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which sealed the fate of the south, that Lincoln renewed the tradition and declared the last Thursday of that month a day of thanks. Sarah J. Hale, a magazine editor, is credited with planting the idea in the weary leader’s head.

Each year from that time, with the exception of one year during the Great Depression, every president issued a similar proclamation on the same day. In 1941 the Congress formerly established the holiday we know today. So we have a long history of giving thanks, and I am grateful for that. It is an important social and civic act too little appreciated in our time. Read more

When I moved to the country this past spring, I breathed a sigh of relief for the natural environment and abundant animal life surrounding me. Gophers are everywhere—supposedly they ran the Russians out of Sonoma County—their wild escapades are evident across the dimpled landscape of the 80-acre organic farm I call home. Jack rabbits run through the olive groves and coyotes cry their lonely songs at night.

Dozens of birds encircle the farm: owls, hawks, crows, blue birds, hummingbirds, robins. Their songs and dances endlessly entertain. I’ve been graced by fox, deer, badgers, skunk, and raccoons, not to mention the neighbors’ chicken, ducks, sheep, goats, horses, llamas, and ostrich. And, I’ve fallen madly for the cows in the grassy field across the way. The glossy girls do a little jig when they see me coming with my bucket of kitchen leftovers and garden waste, which I should be saving for compost.

Nothing prepared me, though, for the wild turkey who planted herself firmly in my front yard the first week I arrived. Read more