How to suck the joy from Thanksgiving

By Greg Stevens

Corey Torres is what some would consider an extreme naturalist. He has recently relocated to Orlando from New Orleans, where he lived with a dog, two cats, a fish, ten chickens and a snake. Until moving to Orlando, he refused to own a car because of the damage cars do to the environment.

Naturally, he has some advice about the dangers of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.

What is the best kind of turkey to get for Thanksgiving dinner?
Obviously, the best choice for a healthy and humanitarian Thanksgiving wouldn’t involve animal at all. I’ve not had turkey on Thanksgiving in nine years and I’ve been just fine. There are plenty of alternatives out there.

Tofurkey sells a “turkey” stuffed with a dressing and “giblet” gravy on the side. I don’t care for this particular “turkey” because it just doesn’t taste like it. But Quorn does a great tasting “Turk’y roast”. It is made from a fermented fungus, and imitates turkey remarkably well.

Quorn brand "Turk'y roast", made from fungus.

Quorn brand “Turk’y roast”, made from fungus

But having turkey on Thanksgiving is important to a lot of people.
If you have to eat a turkey for Thanksgiving, I would go with a pasture-raised turkey, or a locally-farmed turkey. Actually it would be best if you raised the bird yourself. That way, you know what went into the bird, and what you’re going to get out of it.

You don’t want a bird that’s been forced to eat GMO feed to fatten it up for this one special time of year that we slaughter millions of turkeys. When we think of GMO’s, we think of vegetables and that type of stuff, but don’t often consider GMO animals. Most people probably couldn’t tell you what GMO stands for: genetically modified organism.

Anyway, some birds have been altered so much so that their lives are absolutely miserable. Take a boiler hen for instance, these birds get so fat, so quick that they can barely walk. Their lives are a short eighteen weeks (if that) and they are slaughtered because they’ve reached their full potential, because that’s when they’re most tender.

What if people don’t care if the turkey is miserable?
There are still lots of health risks when you talk about turkeys that were raised on GMO feed.

When talking about the GMO’s that aren’t produced for human consumption, a good case to bring up would be one that I read about that happened in 2000. This company, Starlink, was producing a corn that wasn’t cleared by the FDA for human consumption because of potential health risks.

Well fields were cross contaminated because you have this mutant version of corn that’s bigger, stronger and more resistant taking over normal corn. It can be hard to keep it under control. It was also used in the same storage containers, etc., so cross contamination was a major issue. Anyway, it showed up in some very widely consumed products and caused severe allergic reactions which caused the company to recall lots of products.

But why would this make it bad to eat the turkey?
The usage of GMO crops will surely result in more herbicide usage. We are developing crops that can tolerate pesticides and herbicides, so surely an increase in this process will result. Then there is the mutation to resist the chemicals, the same way antibiotic resistance happens. There is a good article summarizing some of the problems with GMO crops called Impacts of Genetically-Modified Crops and Seeds on Farmers.

That articles says that some people “worry” that this tolerance will evolve “over time”. Is there any evidence that it actually has?
I think since it is only a two decade old process, there is still much to learn. I also think we should err on the side of caution.

Even if GMO feed is bad for the environment, why would this make it bad to eat the turkey?
Well, speaking of antibiotic resistance, that brings me back to turkeys. The farming practices involved with poultry are known to place thousands of birds in close quarters, small cages and pump them full of antibiotics in order to prevent disease. Those antibiotics are then transferred to the people that eat them, very much the same way that rBGH is transferred to humans through milk. So then we cycle back to the whole resistance thing, with bacteria, viruses and disease developing resistance to antibiotics and essential medicines.

Is there actual evidence that antibiotics in turkeys have lead to health problems in humans?
Actually, there is! There was a study in August of this year in the UK called “Scientists quantify number of human deaths due to antibiotic use in chicken production“. In this case they are talking about chicken, but it’s the same point. According to the study, about 280 people die every year in the UK from blood infections caused antibiotic-resistant superbugs from chicken.

In the US, the FDA has even issued a warning about the use of too much antibiotics in foods.

So, if you’re going to eat turkey, make sure it is free-range turkey that you raised and killed yourself so you don’t get any super-antibiotics or super-diseases in your system. 

A healthy Thanksgiving dinner.

A healthy Thanksgiving dinner

Let’s move on to the popular Thanksgiving side-dish: cranberry sauce.
Ah, cranberry sauce. Yuck! I say the healthiest way to consume cranberry sauce is to skip it altogether.

I never did understand the concept behind this Thanksgiving tradition. Cranberry sauce from a can isn’t a sauce at all but a gelatinous, can-shaped glob of nastiness. Ingredients can vary depending on the brand, but most include water, high fructose corn syrup, cranberries, artificial coloring, corn syrup and/or gelatin. Gelatin comes from the prolonged boiling of animal bones and skin, by the way, so is not vegetarian friendly.

But really, where does this stuff belong on a Thanksgiving plate anyway??? If I must give an answer on this, I would say homemade is the way to go. It’s a very simple process and you can pick up organic cranberries from any health food store around this time of year. Boil them in water and sugar, when they pop the mixture will thicken and bam, cranberry sauce.

Come on. High fructose corn syrup and gelatin may be kind of gross, but is there evidence that they are actually harmful?
I’d say if you want to possess popular American characteristics such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc., then high fructose corn syrup isn’t bad for you at all. There have been all kinds of studies on this.

What is the safest way to make stuffing, or “dressing” since you are from the south?
I like to use Pepperidge Farm Stuffing or Cornbread Dressing, if I don’t want to go through the whole process of getting day old bread, toasting it and seasoning it, etc. It does have some negatives, though.

The good thing about this brand is that it uses unbrominated, unbleached wheat flour.  You need to make sure that however you make your dressing, you use unbrominated flour. Bromine inhibits your body from absorbing iodine which is essential for proper thyroid function.

Another thing you have to be careful about in dressing is hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. This process heats the oil anywhere from 500 to 1000 degrees and injects a metal into it, anything from nickel to aluminum, to help change the molecular structure making it more dense.

The problem with this product is the same way that the oil becomes thick and viscous, so too does your blood. This makes it harder for your heart to pump it, which is one thing that can lead high blood pressure.

Are the small amounts of bromine that you get from flour really causing thyroid problems in people? Or is that just a ‘suspicion’?
It is scientific fact that bromine inhibits iodine reception in the thyroid. I don’t know if there is evidence that bromine in flour specifically has caused thyroid problems.

Any other cautionary tales for Thanksgiving side-dishes?
Sweet potatoes! How can you mess this up? Bake them, mash them, add butter, brown sugar, and bake. Enough said.

Just don’t go adding marshmallows or other junk on top of them. Leave them the way nature intended. If you add marshmallows then you are just adding gelatin and high-fructose corn syrup again.

The same “usual suspects” that we’ve seen before.
That’s right. Why would you need that?

So, let me make sure I understand this correctly. Your standard commercial Thanksgiving dinner is going to include pesticides, GMO’s which may be treated with special pesticides, antibiotics which could reduce the effectiveness of medical antibiotics and lead to super-bacteria, high fructose corn syrup that will give you diabetes, gelatin made from boiling animal bones, bromine that will destroy your liver, and heavy metals that will make your blood so thick that your heart can’t pump it any more. 

But it’s so yummy.
The fact is that we are surrounded with these harmful ingredients. They’re in almost everything we eat. Unless you’re eating an entirely organic and unprocessed diet, you’re going to consume at least one of the aforementioned ingredients. After eating them for a lifetime… it will affect you in some way, whether it be drastic or subtle.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!