With Thanksgiving just over a week away, I couldn't resist a quick post on Bon Appetit's recent interview with Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA, who makes the case for making a serious investment this holiday in the prized poultry that crowns your holiday table. It might sound a little outlandish when most good-sized turkeys run you well under half the $140 pricetag, but Martins makes a solid case. When you break it down, it's $8 per person or per pound, which sounds a lot better. Heritage breeds are free roaming, which translates to better health (leaner), better taste and better environment and production processes. Not to mention you're furthering sustainable farming and ensuring that an artisanal, storied breed of animal keeps going. It's still pretty darn pricey, but you might think of that $8 as a way to give thanks in a slightly different way this season. And you might be pleasantly satisfied. In case you missed it, here's the full interview below.
Patrick Martins likes happy animals--particularly endangered, humanely raised pigs, cows, and turkeys--and not just because they taste better. He believes their happiness is a moral imperative. As co-founder of Heritage Foods USA, his mission to save heritage breeds of livestock and the family farms that raise them began nine years ago, when a few hundred of his heirloom turkeys fanned out across the country. Today, that number is closer to 7,500, and every last one is raised by a farmer who shares Martins's passion.
Why did you start with turkeys?
It seemed like a single item that everyone in the country could get behind to support the small farmer. And it was a project that revolved around a single day, so it made it easier to find a sustainable source--to say, "We have to get 800 of these things raised for a single day in November."
What's the argument for a $140 turkey?
It ends up coming out to $8 a pound, or $8 per person. That's cheaper than Applebee's and almost as cheap as a McDonald's value meal.
What makes a happy turkey?
It has room. That's the biggest thing. It can walk around. No living creature should be forced to spend its entire life in a box. That should shoot through to the heart of every American. We live in a country that is wealthy, that is trying to improve itself, that is like a moral beacon to the rest of the world. We cannot keep animals in boxes. Period. With turkeys, if their instinct is to roost--to wrap their talons around something and fall asleep--they should be allowed to roost. A happy animal is one that is allowed to fulfill its God-given instincts. And walking is a natural instinct.
Do you cook the turkey at Thanksgiving?
Yes. I stuff it with an absurd amount of herbs. Like 20 sprigs of rosemary, and I just stuff it everywhere. And then I cook it to its appropriate temperature, which is about ten degrees less than what the USDA says. It really doesn't need anything else.
Do you feel like you're hounded by this perception that artisanal, slow food is an elitist thing for rich foodies in big coastal cities?
The sustainable food movement likes to point out that we can't feed public schools with only sustainable food. And it's true; we can't yet. But there are probably 3,000 corporate cafeterias in America. The sustainable food movement should be a part of those cafeterias and feeding wealthy private schools and universities. We need to bring sports arenas and music venues into this discussion. That's where the battle needs to be fought. So I don't believe in holding the sustainable food movement accountable for the poorest people in the world--yet. Maybe in a hundred years.
Why save heritage breeds?
Heritage breeds are part of our diverse food supply, and we must preserve what diversity is left.
What would you like to see happen in the meat industry next?
I'm a big believer in prepared foods--even with cheap cuts--like ground beef. I'd like to see an entrepreneur or a famous chef take [ground] beef grown in a sustainable way and make a burger franchise. Like In-N-Out, but across the nation. Give people convenience and service and cheap prices and be sustainable.
Another option is to serve cheap cuts cooked well from trucks in every neighborhood in America. I guarantee that a great chef making [street] food with good ingredients would be the downfall of any fast food outlet.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more on Thanksgiving, from simple side dishes to gorgeous gravy boats.