5 Disgusting Facts about Thanksgiving

Back when the Native Americans and Pilgrims broke bread over their first Thanksgiving dinner, they were celebrating their first successful harvest of the year. Nowadays, we instead look to food companies, who spend the year dreaming up "convenience" products that make Thanksgiving dinner prep easy and effortless. But scratch the surface and you’ll find trans fats, food dyes, pesticides, and preservatives that can send your kidneys into a panic. Not exactly the sustainable fare that our ancestors were gobbling up.

Fortunately, for every disgusting holiday-themed creation that lines store shelves, there's a wholesome alternative that's just as tasty. With help from Rodale.com’s Leah Zerbe, we’ve uncovered the most sordid secrets behind this iconic meal—discover them now for a healthy, happier holiday.

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#1: Drugged Turkeys

The overuse of antibiotics in crowded, manure-ridden industrial farming warehouses is creating hard-to-kill superbugs that can harm humans. Chew on this turkey statistic: The most recent report from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System found that a strain of salmonella in one sample of ground turkey was resistant to every single antibiotic tested. "The chances of successfully treating an infection with that bug are extremely poor," explains Keeve Nachman, PhD, assistant scientist and director of the Farming for the Future at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Another gross-out factor? The arsenic-based drug nitarsone is still approved for use in nonorganic turkeys.

Eat This Instead!
While proper cooking kills most germs, routine meat testing shows that you may come into contact with dangerous bacteria more than you realize. To lower your risk of buying a contaminated turkey, purchase your bird from a local farmer who raises a small flock without using antibiotic drugs. If you purchase your holiday bird from the supermarket, opt for an organic version—several studies suggest the risk of coming into contact with superbugs is lower.

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#2: Franken Turkeys

More than 248 million turkeys were grown and slaughtered in the United States in 2011, with most coming from industrial concentrated animal-feeding operations, or CAFOs. This factory-farming system creates a whopping 4.8 billion pounds of manure a year and relies on intensely crossbred birds that could never survive in nature. In fact, they grow so fast that many die of heart failure or suffer bone fractures before slaughter. They aren't even able to reproduce naturally. "Factory turkeys are all hybrid dead-end birds and will die if not processed," says sustainable farmer Frank Reese, owner of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch. "The hybrid, obese turkey suffers greatly because of its inability to support its weight on its undersized skeletal system."

Eat This Instead!
If you're in charge of preparing the Thanksgiving turkey, consider spending more on a heritage breed bird, original breeds known for their great taste. Industrial farms don't raise them because they grow too slowly and farmers have to spend more on feed. Because of this, many heritage breeds have become rare and threatened. It may sound strange, but by eating them, you're supporting farmers who will help keep these beautiful breeds from going extinct. Visit the Local Harvest online store to purchase a heritage breed turkey.

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#3: Faux Freshness

Artificial food dyes, found in everything from pie filling to cranberry sauce to bread, are made from petroleum ingredients and are a cheap way to make food look fresher than it really is. The problem is that some food dyes are linked to hyperactive behavior and may be contaminated with carcinogenic material. Check gravy, cranberry sauce, juices, and even dinner roll ingredient lists for hidden food dyes. (And while you're at it, also be on the look out for these 8 Ingredients You Never Want to See on Your Nutrition Label.)

Eat This Instead!

If you aren't able to cook everything from scratch, look for organic processed foods. The strict certification bans the use of artificial food dyes; instead, added colors come from things like spices and berry, beet, and carrot juices.

#4: Unsavory Stuffing

Based on some of the ingredients, you'd think boxed stuffing belonged in a chemical lab. The boxed stuff may seem like a godsend when time's ticking away before Thanksgiving dinner, but many familiar varieties are hiding some unappetizing secrets. For instance, popular brands contain questionable ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate, a flavor-enhancing ingredient that triggers migraines and hunger in some people. Look out for heart-damaging trans fats, artificial flavors, and propyl gallate, a shelf stabilizer that has been linked to cancer.

Eat This, Instead!
Avoid potentially harmful artificial ingredients by making your own stuffing or opt for an organic boxed version, such as Arrowhead Mills' Organic Savory Herb Stuffing Mix.

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#5: Pesticide-Tainted Spuds

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program has turned up traces of 37 different pesticides on potato samples. These include known and suspected carcinogens, along with neurotoxic and bee-killing chemicals. Potatoes routinely turn up on Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of chemical-laden produce items. Many pesticides are systemic, meaning they are absorbed inside of the plant.

Eat This Instead!
Since potatoes are often routinely sprayed with chemicals, it's best to opt for organic versions. If your farmer's market is still open, look for fun heirloom varieties like All Blue and whip up a batch of blue mashed potatoes!

Check out our complete list Disgusting Facts about Thanksgiving.


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