Gobble heritage turkeys at Nov. 15 Harvest Feast

By Dena J. Smith | Emory Report | Nov. 13, 2012

For the fourth year in a row, Emory continues its unique Thanksgiving holiday tradition of saving a rare group of turkeys from extinction – by eating them.

Once again, Heritage breed turkey will be the main course at the annual Heritage Harvest Feast on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Last year it was estimated that at least 2,000 campus diners ate more than 1,600 pounds of the once-endangered animal. This year it's expected those numbers will rise and that's exactly what those who specialize in cultivating the resurgence of endangered breeds of turkey are hoping for.

"Since Slow Food USA launched the Heritage turkey project in 2002, many old and rare breeds of turkey have been removed from the endangered species list," says Julie Shaffer, Emory's sustainable food educator. "Paradoxically you have to eat them to save them. By creating a viable consumer market for these birds, we are ensuring that they will not disappear from our tables. Our mission is to help protect the genetic biodiversity of our food ways, while teaching our community about the importance of this while enjoying a delicious holiday meal."

Diners in Cox Hall, the Dobbs University Center, the Faculty Dining Room, Café Montage and Lil's Dining Hall at Oxford between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. can feast on roasted Heritage turkey in herb pan gravy, butternut squash, winter greens gratin, Brussels sprouts with apples and bacon and sweet potato grits. All of the herbs and vegetables are locally sourced from Georgia farms. A Coca-Cola cake will complete the carte du jour.

Purchasing Heritage turkeys is consistent with the University's commitment to sustainable foods. Emory's sustainability vision calls for 75 percent local or sustainably grown food in Emory hospitals and cafeterias by 2015.

Emory has been working on this endeavor with its distributor, Heritage Foods USA, which acquires the birds from the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.

"Sadly for the turkey and for us, the rise of the Broad Breasted White, the traditional turkey, means that dozens of other turkey varieties, including the Bourbon Red, Narragansett and Jersey Buff, have been pushed to the brink of extinction because there is no longer a market for them," says Patrick Martins, president of Heritage Foods USA. "But through Emory's Thanksgiving these tasty breeds are being saved. They are delicious. And Emory is the first and largest educational institutional buyer in the nation for four years running."

To order your own Heritage or locally grown turkey, visit www.heritagefoodsusa.com or whiteoakpastures.com.