2013-11-26

Co.Exist

Could This Population Of Wild New York City Turkeys Feed The Homeless For Thanksgiving?

A Staten Island health facility has dozens of wild turkeys on the loose, and USDA has come in to kill them. It seems ideal not to waste the meat, but the issue is more complicated than it seems at first peck.

While Butterball may have a fresh turkey shortage on its hands this Thanksgiving, a psychiatric center on Staten Island has too many birds to deal with. At least that's according to state and federal regulators who have been slaughtering the wild birds, and are now considering giving their frozen carcasses to the homeless.

It's a neat idea, but like other hare-brained solutions for the homeless, the reality on the ground reveals something more complex. While some neighbors feel that the South Beach Psychiatric Center's abundance of wild turkeys create a nuisance, others don't think killing the turkeys for peace is the answer. Then there's the problem of actually eating them: The idea of serving wild turkeys that have been pecking around Staten Island their entire lives isn't too appetizing.

In 2000, a neighbor of the SBPC released his nine wild turkeys onto the grounds of the center. By 2011, they had been fruitful and multiplied to 100. Then, in August of this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, directed by New York State, started rounding up the turkeys, killing them, and storing their frozen carcasses while they were being tested for human consumption. The USDA took 28 birds to a sanctuary, but animal activists, including PETA, are still fighting to save the 30 turkeys left.

"My position is that killing them is inhumane. And it doesn't solve the root problem of the issue," says David Karopkin, the founder of the activist group Goosewatch NYC. "The government has two switches: Ignore the problem for a very long time and hope it goes away, or come in and kill everything."

Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the USDA, explained in an email to Co.Exist that the center had tried non-lethal policies, like "no feeding" signs around the grounds. But the turkey problem--including aggression, possible bacterial contamination of the facility, and "interference with emergency vehicles"--persists, she says. "Damage has continued and recently at least five chickens joined the flock, apparently abandoned there or nearby," Bannerman wrote.

And who knows if the already-dead turkeys will ever be eaten. They're still being tested, according to Bannerman:

From the time when USDA assistance was requested, it was recommended that the turkeys be processed for possible consumption. Food charities generally report a need for protein products. Because the turkeys could not be relocated, processing for meat allowed a positive outcome to the removal. The meat is being stored frozen, pending test results for heavy metals, pesticides, insecticides and PCBs.

When local news outlet PIX11 posed the question about serving the homeless wild Staten Island turkeys to Anita Fine, head of the St. Edwards Food Pantry, she balked at the idea. "I don't think I would want any of my clientele eating any of the turkeys that come from there," she said.

Seems like the homeless won't be eating any wild turkey dinners on Thanksgiving. As for the turkeys? Probably best to flee to Canada.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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