Cage-free turkey? I’ll take one that’s malarkey-free

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

What are you having for Thanksgiving dinner this year? How about turkey with all the trimmings — plus a nice side serving of weasel.

That’s the news from the folks at the ASPCA, who are highlighting the many weasel words turkey producers use to con Americans into thinking our Thanksgiving main dish had a wonderful, healthy, sun-dappled life packed with fresh air and exercise, extended spa treatments, yoga lessons, journaling his innermost inspirations and stimulating discussions of the French Renaissance before expiring peacefully in his sleep in what is purely an extraordinarily convenient holiday coincidence.

Let’s say you’re strolling through your local Food DepotWarehouseMart and you pass by the frozen bowling balls of poultry in the big discount freezer bin. Your conscience darkens and your soul sinks at the thought of the deprived, grim Dickensian existence your poultry surely endured. Instead, you decide to cough up some extra cash for a bird labeled, “young, hormone-free and cage-free.”

Feeling better? Yeah, well not so fast, hippie. That label, while leaving you guilt-free, also is truth-free.

I’m shootin’ for no gluten

First off, notes Daisy Freund, director of farm animal welfare campaigns for the ASPCA, every single turkey sold in the United States is young, which makes sense. Why would a turkey grower breed and keep turkeys around until they could file for Social Security? On top of the extra expense, he’d also have to listen to the old birds carp about how all the chicks just stand around barnyard staring at their smartphones.

Likewise, turkeys sold in the United States are never raised in cages and the USDA prohibits the use of hormones on turkeys.

“By law, turkeys aren’t getting hormones on these factory farms, so that’s a completely meaningless term, but we see prices getting jacked for this, which is really a shame,” Freund says, adding that seven in 10 consumers are willing to spend more for humanely raised poultry. “They just want to know where to put their money, and they’re being misled.”

I’ve read that barnyard turkeys typically have the brains of a golf ball or, if you prefer, more than half of the current Republican presidential candidates. I’m not particularly concerned about the quality of life of either, but if you’re seeking to support better standards for the first kind of turkey, the ASPCA notes that there are three certifications that have real standards and represent significantly better breeding conditions for your Nov. 26 entree: Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership and Animal Welfare Approved.

No dignity for green beans

For the rest of us, it’s nice to know that the typical frozen supermarket toe-crusher we’re used to is cage-free, young and hormone-free, although as the parent of a teenager I am quite unused to the idea of seeing “young” and “hormone-free” used in the same sentence.

If you need to feel any better about the source of your giblet gravy, just remember that this is the time of year when turkeys are at their rock-bottom lowest prices. Generally, any protein under $3 a pound is a good buy. Whole frozen turkeys are usually less than $2, but do come with all the carcass parts you won’t use. But now, the turkey that’s regularly priced at $1.59 a pound at my supermarket is on sale for $0.59, about 37 percent of the regular price.

That’s despite headlines screaming about all-time high turkey prices because of outbreaks of avian flu, which don’t seem quite so dire when you learn that the “high” was $1.38 a pound for frozen turkeys about a week ago, according to the USDA. Add the fact that, this time of year, supermarkets use turkeys as a loss-leader to bring in customers who’ll stock up on pumpkin pie spice and canned fried onions for that green bean casserole abomination. And not only is turkey remaining a huge bargain, but one that’s worth stocking up on to use throughout the year.

So go with the cheap birds and if anyone tries to con you into spending more for a turkey raised on green tea and Oprah reruns, reply with these two perfect Thanksgiving-time words.

Just tell ’em: “Stuff it.”

Twitter: @BrianOCTweet

(313) 222-2145