Butterball, heritage, free-range, Tofurkey, cold turkey. Thanksgiving turkey just isn’t what it used to be—it’s a complex beast comprised of nearly as many cultural values as nutritional values. Not only does it not look or taste the same as it did on that first Thanksgiving, but it is now the centerpiece of holiday ethics discussions as much as it is the central dish on many American tables. That bodes well for reinvigorating our local food systems—as long as the discussions are not replaced by polemics and polarization.
As Americans become more and more conscious about what they put into their bodies, it makes sense that the need for factory-farmed meat—which is as bad for your health as it is for the Earth—is not what it used to be. Many people are choosing to eat less meat or abstain entirely, causing demand to level off. Common sense says that trend would lead to factory farms tapering production—when people don’t want something, you don’t make a lot of it. Alas, as we already know, little about modern animal agriculture makes sense. Which is why we’re stuck with this latest bit of absurdity from the U.S. meat industry.
Put simply, despite the fact that people are eating significantly less chicken, the U.S.'s chicken inventory is up more than 13 percent since last year. Any other business that ignored consumers' desires would be forced to suffer the consequences of their negligence, but not chicken growers. The USDA, which already buys millions of dollars of meat per year for the school-lunch program, has agreed to purchase the extra $40 million worth of chicken in order to "provide support to the broiler industry," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In 2009, the government bought $60 million in surplus turkey.
Joining the ranks of celebrities who are sort of vegan, Bill Clinton has announced that to lose a bunch of weight and get his ticker in better shape, he's adopted a plant-based diet. Now, instead of snack foods and burgers, he's a sort-of-pescetarian. Specifically, he's dairy- and meat-free—occasionally treating himself to a little fish. He eats lots of plants, drinks almond milk with protein powder, and he's a new man because of it.
Now, he weighs what he did in high school. But that's not why he did it. He did it for his heart, pointing out that according to research, 82 percent of the people who have gone on such diets have had full recovery in heart health.