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CALIFORNIA | HEARD ON THE BEAT / FARMING and FOOD

A Natural for the Holidays : Even Vegetarians Gobble Company's Free-Range Turkeys

November 28, 1996|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As you settle down for your Thanksgiving feast today, here's a question to contemplate: What does a vegetarian do on this day of national eating frenzy centered on a roasted bird?

Some "fall off the wagon," said Gary Flanagan, president of Shelton's Poultry Inc. in Pomona, the only Southern California operation that raises free-range poultry without antibiotics, growth hormones and other drugs.

"We have a lot of vegetarians who . . . get their protein fix for the year by eating one of our turkeys," he said.

Since 1924, Shelton's has been selling fresh and frozen turkeys raised in outdoor range pens. For this Thanksgiving, the company sold about 95,000 birds. That makes it a small contributor to California's status as the nation's fifth-largest turkey-selling state, with projected 1996 sales of 23 million birds. Sales of Shelton's frozen turkeys are up 20% over last year, whereas fresh turkey sales climbed 15%. They are sold at Shelton's farm and in upscale grocery and health food stores.

As shoppers flock to free-range turkeys, even the big commercial producers are starting to get into the game. Among them is Zacky Farms, a big privately held producer in El Monte and Fresno.

Flanagan noticed another item in distributors' catalogs geared to making it easier for vegetarians to remain true: Tofurky, a tofu loaf shaped like a turkey. "They're supposed to be pretty tasty," he said, "but I have no idea. I never eat the stuff."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Golden Bird State

California is the nation's fifth-largest turkey producer. Number of turkeys produced in the state in millions: '96 projection, 23

Source: California Department of Food and Agriculture

Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times

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