Food writer M.F. K. Fisher once considered the oyster, but now, as Thanksgiving approaches again, we must consider the turkey.

No, Butterball is not a heritage breed.

Today’s industrial turkey is the Broad-breasted White. Generally, this variety is sterile, a side effect of having been bred to produce a disproportionate amount of white meat in as little time as possible. The turkeys have disturbingly weak immune systems, are often ill-treated, and tend to have a comparatively bland flavor. Click here to read more about commercial turkeys.

Heritage breeds, on the other hand, are ancestors of the Broad-breasted White. These include Slate, Bourbon Red, White Holland, and Bronze turkeys. They have richer flavor and more brilliant plumage, making them attractive choices for both farm and table. They tend to be a bit more expensive, but they also take longer to raise than those at farm-factories. At present, there is also less of a demand.

This year, consider ordering a heritage variety for your Thanksgiving dinner–but do it quickly! Most breeders have an ordering deadline.

See our website for more information, or contact the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy at to find a breeder near you.