As someone who stopped eating animal products nearly a decade ago, it’s difficult for me to imagine celebrating my blessings by gathering with cherished friends and family members around the corpse of a smart, social – and badly abused – bird.
Meat-eaters will likely protest and claim that no Thanksgiving meal can be “complete” without a turkey at the center of it, but I’m not buying it. Carving out a new Thanksgiving tradition isn’t hard. Just eat something else.
When they’re not forced to live on filthy factory farms, turkeys spend their days caring for their young, building nests, foraging for food, taking dust baths, preening themselves and roosting high in trees. They are loving, protective parents. In the wild, turkey chicks stay with their mothers for up to five months and a mother turkey will courageously defend her family against predators. Animal behaviorists tell us that turkeys are intelligent birds with distinct personalities who enjoy the company of others and have a keen awareness of their surroundings.
For turkeys on factory farms, the situation is vastly different. Like chickens, the 250 million turkeys raised and killed for their flesh in the U.S. every year (more than 45 million will be killed for Thanksgiving dinners alone) have no federal legal protection.
They are crammed by the tens of thousands into filthy, windowless sheds, where the ammonia fumes burn their eyes and lungs. Fatter turkeys mean fatter wallets for farmers, so these gentle birds are bred and drugged to grow so large so fast that their legs can’t even support their own weight. Many turkeys become crippled as a result and live in chronic pain. Others die of heart attacks or exhaustion because of the unnatural strain that their enormous size puts on their internal organs.
When the birds are just 5 months old, workers grab them roughly by their legs and throw them into large crates. Many birds suffer broken bones in the process. At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are hung upside down by their weak and crippled legs. Their throats are cut, and their feathers are scalded off – often while the birds are still conscious.
It’s hardly a festive or auspicious way to show gratitude.
Fortunately, creating a Thanksgiving celebration that everyone – including our feathered friends – can enjoy is easy. The traditional dinner already includes plenty of fruits and veggies. What most people call side dishes – mashed potatoes, maple roasted acorn squash, stuffing, green-bean and sweet-potato casseroles, cornbread and cranberry sauce – can easily be made vegan and amount to quite a meal. You can also cook up hearty new main dishes, such as pumpkin stew, veggie pot pie or wild-mushroom stroganoff.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try that vegan holiday staple Tofurky, a savory meat-free roast filled with wild-rice stuffing and topped with delicious “giblet” gravy?
Whatever you choose, I hope you’ll agree that giving thanks by eating a slaughtered bird who had family members, too – though he or she likely never got to share a nice meal with them and had very little to celebrate during a short and deprived life – is no way to honor the essence of the holiday. Create a new Thanksgiving tradition by treating animals with compassion and treating your loved ones to a lovingly prepared vegan feast.