Emory Report
November 16, 2009
Volume 62, Number 11


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November 16, 2009
A new Thanksgiving tradition

By David Payne

On Thursday, Nov. 19, Emory is planning its annual Heritage Harvest Feast for more than 8,000 faculty, staff and students, but don’t look for the traditional ‘tom turkey’ at this Thanksgiving meal.

And for Julie Shaffer, Emory’s sustainable food educator, that’s exactly the point.

Shaffer, working in conjunction with Emory Dining, leveraged her past role as the president of Slow Food Atlanta to bring something unique to Emory: breeds of turkeys that just a few years ago were on the brink of extinction. In fact, Emory is the only college or university in the nation to partner with a national distribution network that specializes in cultivating the resurgence of endangered breeds of turkeys.

Emory wields considerable purchasing power — 1,600 pounds of turkey will be served across dining outlets on Nov. 19 alone. For the second year, all Emory Dining outlets will feature Heritage Turkeys on their Harvest Feast menus.

Heritage Turkey breeds are rare and raised on only a handful of farms. “By buying these turkeys, we are working to ensure that there is a viable consumer market for them,

so turkey farmers will continue to raise and preserve the breeds,” says Shaffer. “It is consistent with Emory’s commitment to sustainable foods and protecting biodiversity.”

Heritage Turkeys include several breeds of domestic turkeys derived from some of the oldest turkey genetics in the country, dating from the early 1880s. These birds are reminiscent of what most people think of as wild turkeys, but very different from the domestic turkeys that Americans have feasted on now for several decades.

Heritage Turkeys share three main characteristics: they mate and maintain their breeds naturally without human intervention; breeding hens and toms enjoy long productive lifespans; and the birds have a slower rate of growth before reaching their marketable weight. Overall, Heritage Turkeys are raised in a more humane manner than industrial birds.

“Thanksgiving provides a seasonal opportunity to educate within the context of a holiday filled with good food,” says Patty Erbach, senior director, Emory Dining. “There will be a significant
educational component associated with Emory’s Heritage Harvest Feast, including comparison taste-testing between Heritage and industrial turkeys, plus little-known facts about the turkey, and the rest of the sustainable-sourced menu.”

“The holiday season gives us a moment to learn how our personal and institutional purchases can contribute to a more sustainable food system,” adds professor Peggy Barlett, chair of the Sustainable Food Committee.
How do these turkeys taste? According to Patrick Martins, former president of Slow Food USA and the founder of Heritage Foods USA, which provides Emory’s turkeys, diners should expect turkey meat that is richer in flavor and moister than the typical turkey sold at the grocery store. “These turkeys are raised outdoors and allowed to be active and healthy, so the birds are stronger and have more textured meat,” says Martins. “Expect to use a knife to cut the bird.”

Adds Shaffer, “Over 45 million turkeys will be sold this Thanksgiving alone, and if we can provide a great holiday meal while educating diners about how they can preserve a breed of turkey, then that’s a legacy Emory can be grateful for.”