The Splendor of a Turkey is Not in Her Flesh

What do you first think of when you are greeted with “Happy Thanksgiving”?Turkeys - Wild - Colorful

For many of us we think of turkey. Turkey as in “A large mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head and (in the male) red wattles. It is prized as food, especially on festive occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas (Oxford Dictionary)”. More simply put “…a large American bird that is related to the chicken that is hunted or raised by people for its meat”. We have collectively come to think of turkey as the meat of a bird used as food.

What has happened to thinking of turkey as a beautiful (or not so beautiful, depending on your opinion) bird that roams free and has a will to live his or her own life?

Wild turkeys forage on the ground in flocks, occasionally mounting shrubs or low trees for fruits. They scratch the forest floor for acorns and nuts in the fall. They line their nests with leaves and grasses. Turkeys make gobbling calls. They utter clucking calls “cluk, cluk, cut, putt.” Wild turkeys have been known to fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances. In short – turkeys are sentient beings who have habits and desires of their own.

Unfortunately 300 million domestic turkeys are killed each year for their flesh, with approximately 45 million of them being killed for Thanksgiving dinner alone. Unlike their wild cousins, domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Not just because they are so highly confined that they cannot spread their wings, but because their genes have been so heavily manipulated that the rate of growth of their bones and organs cannot keep up with the rate of growth of their flesh (for which they area raised), resulting in an inability to walk, let alone fly.

As an ethical vegan, what perplexes me is that during the very same Thanksgiving meal in which 45 million turkeys are eaten, millions of people are gathered around dining room tables sharing that for which they are grateful, yet not acknowledging that these turkeys have lost their lives so they (the people) can celebrate their thankfulness. If it was not so tragic for the turkeys it would be entertaining.

The tradition of Thanksgiving eludes me because my experience has been that most people do not know what this Holiday is really about other than a wonderful time to be with family and friends that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. There is however, great emphasis on the food that is eaten because it is “traditional” and it is thought that this is what the Pilgrims and Indians ate on that day back in 1621. But…if one scours the resources on the origins of Thanksgiving, one will find that what we are “traditionally” eating today was not necessarily on the “menu” in 1621. What is said to have been on “their” table was whatever they had harvested that particular year at that particular time. No pumpkin pie, no sugar-laden desserts, and much more than turkey and stuffing.

The origins of Thanksgiving seem to elude many as the history is a bit complicated and unclear. Religion, harvest, fasting, feasting, Pilgrims, Indians, Plymouth Rock, New England; John Hancock, Continental Congress, and more are all mentioned when one researches the origins of this Holiday. I do not claim to be expert on this issue, quite the contrary. I am unclear about the origins of the day itself and the menu. I have seen it documented that Betty Crocker actually created the modern day Thanksgiving Dinner. So what is one to really make of this Holiday and its meal?

The reason I mention these things is because I find it disturbing that this Holiday has such ambiguous origins and that the majority of the people who celebrate this Holiday rarely ever acknowledge these origins, YET, they are deeply committed to eating so many foods that involve so much animal suffering.

If we are going to ultimately overshadow the (ambiguous) roots of a Holiday and adhere to a menu that seems to be somewhat randomly selected, need we involve so much animal suffering?

In a time when many are priding the human race as evolving spiritually and consciously, must we continue to clench to this tradition? There comes a time when tradition, ambiguous or unequivocal, cannot justify certain practices. Raising 45 million turkeys, who have interests and desires of their own, simply to kill them so that their flesh can be a part of our celebration meal is one tradition whose time ought to expire.

May one day the splendor of the turkey again be seen in her eyes as she scratches the forest floor for acorns and nuts in the fall; as she lines her nest with leaves and grasses; and as she makes her gobbling calls “cluk, cluk, cut, putt…cluk, cluk, cut, putt…cluk, cluk, cut, putt”.

I am convinced we can do better. Are you? Please share how you are leaving animals off your Thanksgiving plate.

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