Long before the Puritans decided to cop a squat on Native American land and then had the first “Thanksgiving” meal featuring turkey meat (at least as the legend goes), someone managed to discover that the turkey was a good bird to eat. Somehow, despite all logic, some hungry human looked at this rather odd-looking (okay, ugly) bird and thought, “Boy, that sure looks tasty!” Or maybe that lucky hunter was just so desperate that anything would suffice for food.
Whatever the case, turkeys found themselves on the menu and soon became the feature of Thanksgiving–comprising the main course and finding their way into just about everything else, from stuffing to leftovers for the rest of the week.
While gourmands may give praise to the first turkey eater, turkeys themselves have very little to look forward to on Thanksgiving–the Black Thursday for these birds. Even if their intelligence level is as low as it has long been held to be, even amongst (the stupidest) animals, turkeys are yet another victim of the meat industry. Unlike other commodified creatures, though, turkeys practically have their own holiday…with celebration centered on eating them!
Thanksgiving is particularly black for more reasons than the simple acts of killing and eating living beings (however ugly and dumb). Like most other commercial meat industries, the turkey industry is riddled with cruel practices, from raising to transporting to “preparing” the birds that end up on human tables.
According to Farm Sanctuary, approximately 300 million turkeys each year are run through the manufacturing meat grinder.1 Thanksgiving accounts for about one-sixth of that, around 45 million gobblers. Nearly all of them are raised on “factory farms,” which means tiny cages and (short) lives lived amidst waste, disease, genetic tinkering, drugging, and brutal treatment. Transport involves being squeezed into tiny cages and trucked any number of miles through any kind of weather. Then “processing” begins while the bird is still alive, progressing through various measures that turn a big (ugly) bird into the golden brown drumstick sitting on your plate.
I will not go into the details of this, as it saddens and sickens me just thinking about it. One example of turkey suffering appears in this video shot during an undercover investigation by PETA. And I have witnessed the horrors of poultry transport when I got stuck behind a Tyson chicken truck on the interstate. As I putted along through a cloud of feathers, staring at the scrunched up birds, I swore that I would die before (knowingly) eating an animal.
So what can you do this Thanksgiving to help turkeys live their happy, ugly little lives? Well, the easiest way is to go vegan. Skip the white meat, the dark meat, the innards, the neck, everything…. Just leave out the meat and stuff yourself on the vegetable dishes. Or if you just have to have something that tickles your palate the way turkey does, try some alternatives like Tofurky and Unturkey. While the ingredients lists will show you just how far from real, live turkeys this stuff is, at least you will be able to say “-urkey” in some way on Thanksgiving. You probably will not be able to trick your guests into believing it is turkey, though.
Going further, you can even help Farm Sanctuary’s work to improve the lives of farm animals in general and turkeys in particular by adopting a turkey. While you may not want to carry around a picture of your adoptee in your wallet to show to friends, your adoption will go a long way to prevent the wholesale heartless slaughtering of turkeys.
And as with all things that should be changed in modern society, you can write letters to poultry processing corporations, newspapers, and other media outlets to raise awareness about needless abuse. Supporting non-profit animal rights and industry watchdog organizations is also an excellent way to help turkeys. And, the easiest and one of the most effective ways to help abused turkeys: go vegan and decrease the demand for the flesh of other living beings.
After nearly four centuries, the American tradition of Thanksgiving need not continue to be a tradition of torture for turkeys. While the Pilgrims likely were so desperate for a meal that any old food would do–and food that likely was provided by their fairly tolerant Native American neighbors–we can choose kinder ways to celebrate our American heritage. So bring together all your loved ones, load up the table, and share some wonderful holiday cheer this year. But skip the turkey and give our feathered friends a reason to cheer, or gobble, as well.
Image credit: Chris Greenberg of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, via Wikimedia Commons.
1. “Turkey Industry Information.” Adoptaturkey.org. Farm Sanctuary. 2007. 16 November 2008 <http://www.adoptaturkey.org/industry.htm>.