For many of us, Thanksgiving is about indulgence. Around this time of year, I’m usually flying down to visit my parents in Florida, where we prepare a feast and eat much more than we typically would. Thanksgiving, not unlike the other major holidays, has become more about buying certain things assigned to that holiday and subscribing to a ritual that makes us feel good (indulging in the company of friends and family) under the guise of goodwill. And maybe that goodwill isn’t just a guise, but as we all try to act out that famous Norman Rockwell painting, accurate history just doesn’t seem to matter. Consider what historians have recently discovered – that Spanish-speaking, Catholic settlers dined on bean soup with the Timucua Indians almost a half-century prior to the famed 1621 Plymouth celebration (which incidentally did not have a single factory farmed Turkey at the table – and no cranberry or potatoes). So how is it that 500 years later, this holiday has become a showcase of nothing but Turkey? It is know as “Turkey Day”.
Last Thanksgiving I warned, “It’s Me or the Turkey,” vowing to never again sit at a table where the body of an individual whose existence was thankless is set out on display. A bird whose morbidly engineered body: painfully detoed and debeaked without anesthesia, forced to live in one sq-foot of space, pumped full of drugs and hormones – is somehow turned into the centerpiece of gratitude. An individual whose life is not considered valid. How is it that this abstinence I have asserted is seen as “radical”, yet the processes by which this dead body arrived is not? How is it that talking about the truth of turkey farming is avoided like the plague, yet putting the product of that truth in our mouths is so enthusiastically embraced?
Every year almost 300 million turkeys are slaughtered in the US. Of that, 46 million are specifically killed for Thanksgiving. Having been bred to grow at alarming rates (twice as fast and twice as large as their ancestors, often causing heart attacks), commercial turkeys are slaughtered after only 14-18 weeks. Many of them die of exposure during transport to the slaughterhouse, and when they arrive, many are not properly stunned prior to slaughter. Turkeys and other poultry are specifically excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter. Finally, as the birds who have not been stunned avoid the automated blades slitting their throats, they are often boiled alive in scalding tanks. Even “free-range” turkeys are no better off. In an industry where maximum output and profit are king, it is no surprise that suffering by individuals who fall between the cracks is so easily overlooked. As much as we’d like them to be true, our delusions of these birds having come from peaceful, Utopian farms must be shattered.
As Johnathan Safran Foer says in his new book, “We can not plead ignorance, only indifference”.
Given what we now know about food production and factory farms, where 99% of animal products come from, it’s difficult to rationalize eating turkeys in a symbolic gesture of thankfulness. The scientific community recently re-wrote the book on bird-brains, revealing how incredibly intelligent turkeys and chickens actually are, shaming the community that capitalized on their perceived stupidity. We also know that the environmental consequences of raising animals for food is greater than the entire transportation sector. We know that we don’t need to eat a Turkey any more than a Twinkie, yet the sentimentality of tradition persists, and so many of us purchase the anonymous, plastic-wrapped, frozen body of a creature and gather with our families around it like some sort of shrine that we are entitled to, never giving a second thought to who he or she was, and what his or her perception and experience of this world was like.
Please take a moment to watch the short video I produced for Farm Sanctuary featuring actress Ginnifer Goodwin as she considers this “tradition based on cruelty” while hanging out with some rescued Turkeys at the sanctuary in Orlan, California.
So what’s the alternative? Can Thanksgiving be Thanksgiving without turkey? Here are some tips on a conscientious celebration and ideas for a truly thankful holiday:
• Sponsor a Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary Turkey, or a Farm Sanctuary Turkey (or both!)
• Check out my recipe for Pumpkin Pockets with Smoky Seitan, Mushroom Mousse, & Braised Apple, or check out my recipe page for other ideas!
• More compassionate and delicious Thanksgiving recipes from VegCooking.com: