I’ve been a bit delayed on writing posts because my husband and I went to Costa Rica last week. I’m going to write a post on that later, so look out for it!
What’s immediately important is the upcoming holiday. I want to start by acknowledging that for indigenous people in the United States, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning. The United American Indians of New England state that “Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.” Instead of celebrating this holiday, they participate in a National Day of Mourning to honor their ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today in a world that seeks to oppress and remove their history. So, it’s already a very troubling holiday. For more reading on this, because it’s so important, please check out this article on how to decolonize and honor Native Peoples at Thanksgiving, to start.
Still, next Thursday, people will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. For millions, turkey will be at the center of the table.
It’s estimated that 46 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving each year, according to data from the National Turkey Federation. For perspective, consider this photo below:
Birds slaughtered for Thanksgiving represent 18 percent of the 244.5 million birds raised for food in the U.S. annually, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As I mentioned in the past, birds grown for food are given the least amount of legal protection of all animals – the conditions they live in and die in are appalling.
Turkeys bred for Thanksgiving rarely set foot outdoors, according to Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s first shelter for rescued farm animals. Because birds are bred to have large breasts, they cannot mate naturally. Can’t even bang! The female turkeys have to be artificially inseminated, which is just as gross as it sounds. Let me walk you through the process – the Merck Veterinary Manual states that farmers must use the thumb and forefinger to “milk” the tom turkey (jacking the turkey off….), then the farmer injects the hen’s oviduct with semen using a syringe. This process can be repeated up to 25 times and after that, she’s typically sent to slaughter. She is “force-molted” to prepare her body for another round of artificial insemination. This involves keeping her in a dark room with no food or water for 72 hours. And some people think vegans are extreme, SMDH.
The eggs are sent to an incubator. The chicks hatch within a month and are subjected to painful procedures like debeaking and de-toeing (cutting off a newborn chick’s beak and toes with a shear, a hot blade, or an electrical current without anesthetic). This is done because the birds are kept in such close confinement, they end up pecking each other out of mental distress. Removing their beaks and toes assures that they won’t peck.
Turkeys reach “full weight” at four or five months of age and are packed into crowded shipping trucks, often victim to rough handling that leaves them with fractured limbs. Due to stress, many birds die in transport.
This is a sad life and sad end for these very social and smart birds. See below:
Now that you know how the birds end up on your table, what can you do about it? Perhaps we should reassess how we celebrate gratitude?
If you want your dinner choices to match with your values for kindness, non-violence, and compassion, consider a plant-based meal!
Folks forget that it wasn’t until recently that turkeys made their way, much to their dismay, to the centerpiece of the holiday. Thanksgiving today, despite it’s white-washing and incorrect narrative, is a celebration of food, family, and gratitude. You can be thankful for what you have without killing others, even if it’s “traditional”!
After all, as one of my favorite internet memes states, “Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.”
Time for new traditions! When we see turkeys as individuals—who, like humans and other animals, value their own lives and don’t want to die—we see that eating their flesh is indefensible.
If you are attending dinner at someone else’s house:
- RSVP well in advance and let the host know you’ll be bringing a plant-based dish to share (this is usually easier, especially with older relatives, to let them know that they do not need to create anything special for you – no need to send Aunt Betty into a tailspin, wondering what “seitan” is)
- Make WAY MORE than you need because people will want to try your “whacky vegan food” (it’s just plants, bro, calm down)
- If you are comfortable, ask the host whether traditional foods can be veganized. Sometimes it’s as easy as using almond milk and olive oil in mashed potatoes instead of butter and cow’s milk
- Have some one-liners ready for curious relatives. Oftentimes, the hardest part about deciding to live more compassionately is the questioning. When asked why there’s no turkey on your plate, you can answer honestly (“For the environment/health/ethical reasons/the animals”), or you can say that it’s too much to get into over dinner, but you would be happy to talk about it another time.
If you are hosting:
- Try vegan spins on your favorite family recipes.
- Don’t be shy about inviting others to join your feast. Offer to give everyone’s Thanksgiving a plant-based makeover this year!
- Try upping the gratitude factor by rescuing a turkey this year. I just donated to Luvin Arms sanctuary in Colorado – do a search and you’ll be sure to find a farm animal sanctuary near you!
Here are some great recipes I’ve found that I’ll be including in our Thanksgiving menu: