Friday, November 16, 2012

Talking Turkey (Compassionately)

These are rescued turkeys at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. I took the pics on my visit there this past June. Now that the holiday which takes hundreds of thousands of these birds' lives each year is upon us, I am reflecting upon my visit with them.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that our culture has made almost entriely into a celebration of the eating of a turkey's flesh as a symbol of affluence and a celebration of family values. As such, it is a annual challenge for vegans. Many of us sit down to have a meal with family -- sometimes for the only time of the year. It can be a great opportunity as vegans for us to help those around us to learn about the reasons behind our choices, though it is also a time when some of us earn lifelong scars from bullying by our companions.

Let's just remember to hold onto our gratitude for what veganism gives us, and seek support from our fellow vegans (especially if our families or other friends are not supportive).

Our local vegan meetup has two thanksgiving potlucks so far - one in Portland and one here in my area (nearer Bangor). Hopefully these events will grow not only locally by nationally. If you don't have a vegan meetup in your area, maybe you could start one thru

And let's stand up for the turkeys! For those of us who are animal rights vegans, the holiday is not just about our plates.

We in Maine may be used to seeing free, wild turkeys flocking up and eating in the fields and roadsides this time of year. Unfortunately, turkeys bred for consumption are as unethically genetically modified and as cruelly treated as chickens. If you ever wondered why they are white unlike their wild ancestors, it is because consumers like white meat. The pigment in turkey feathers colors their flesh and therefore breeders had to leech it out. And this is nothing compared to how they are treated. You can check the recent Butterball cruelty scandal for an example if you have the stomach (the concept of "having the stomach" is an interesting link between our compassion and our diet, by the way). PETA and Mercy for Animals have recently exposed undercover abuse footage which is so horrible I won't go into it here. But considering that Butterball alone slaughters an average of 50 000 turkeys a day to feed our cultural appetite, it seems fair to report turkey's day to day experience (as found at

"Butterball turkeys are killed using a process that involves hanging live birds by their legs, shocking them in electrified water so that they become paralyzed (though they still feel pain), slitting their throats, and then running them through a tank of scalding-hot water for defeathering.

Because Butterball's current slaughter method gives workers access to live birds, the animals often suffer when desensitized workers become frustrated or bored, as was the case at this Butterball plant and the other plants that PETA has investigated.

Even though they constitute more than 98 percent of the land animals eaten in the United States, birds are excluded from coverage under the only federal law designed to protect animals during slaughter, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). "

Please note that these practices are standard and not the "abuses" recently uncovered. I know these aren't fun facts to have in our skulls. Yet they are the truth and may help us to remember why we are vegans when we are challenged by those around us. Hopefully we can be role models by finding peaceful, factual ways to educate them and to hold that balance when faced by defensiveness or aggression.

Farm Sanctuary holds an annual Celebration for the Turkeys, where rescued birds on the farm are given dinner by visitors instead of being dinner. The sanctuary also has an "adopt a turkey" fundraiser this time of year that is a great way to engage in activism.

Let this be our vegan battlecry: Thanksgiving is for the birds! 

Have a happy and peaceful holiday season


  1. Exactly! I enthusiastically second everything you said! I told Chris I want to get a couple of turkeys to add to our flock. (Aka Mama's Pretty Birdies). I wonder if there is a way to rescue birds destined to be food in our area. I think it warrants some research! I'll take mine alive and well, kthanx! Just as long as they are nice to my Chickens, and Guinneas! :)

  2. ask christina...she adopts from farm sanctuary and she has a little farm animal group of her own. good idea! of course I imagine keeping an eye on the swap book you'd see some that need saving too