Campus News

November 22, 2010

Emory's Thanksgiving feast helps save an endangered breed

It may seem counterintuitive to encourage eating an endangered breed to preserve it. But that is what Emory has been doing for the past two years with its purchasing power by creating a viable consumer market for Heritage turkey.

Attempting to preserve the endangered breed, Emory served approximately 1,900 Thanksgiving lunches made with Heritage turkey meat at its third annual Heritage Feast on Nov. 18. Meals were offered to students, staff and visitors at Cox Hall and the Dobbs University Center, and in Lil’s Dining Hall at Oxford.

“Emory is in a unique position to educate its students about protecting biodiversity this Thanksgiving due to its large international and out-of-state student population,” says Patty Ziegenhorn, senior director of food service administration. “Many students don’t make the long and expensive trip back to their home states and countries, and many will experience Thanksgiving for the first time on campus.”

Heritage turkeys are breeds of domestic turkeys, predecessors to the white broad-breasted turkey most Americans eat. “Heritage turkeys look and taste slightly different than common supermarket turkeys,” says Julie Shaffer, Emory Dining’s sustainable food educator. “They are grown at a slower rate and are prized for darker, firmer meat with richer flavor.”

Attempting to preserve endangered breeds is becoming a customary business practice on Emory’s campus. In October at the annual Sustainable Food Fair, students and staff were able to sample beef from one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the U.S., the Pineywoods breed. At the fair, hungry students and staff were able to sample this distinctive entrée in the form of mini beef tacos, accompanied by salsas made from local, organic vegetables.

Resurrecting heritage breeds is a slow process since their numbers are small in the United States, says Ziegenhorn. “Emory hopes to increase its numbers so these breeds will always be available to consumers, even if limited to annual events.”  

Emory has been working on this endeavor with its distributor, Heritage Foods USA. Purchasing Heritage turkeys is consistent with the University’s commitment to sustainable foods. Emory’s sustainability vision calls for 75 percent local or sustainably grown food in Emory hospitals and cafeterias by 2015.  

“Emory is ahead of its time as a university in understanding that the only way to support small family farms is to buy from them,” says Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA. “Emory was the first university to support heritage breed turkeys and genetic diversity in the poultry supply through its support of the Heritage Turkey Project. Through eating heritage turkeys, we will save them!”

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