I’m not giving thanks
When I first arrived to the U.S. years ago, I did not know much about Thanksgiving. The impression I got from the people around me, and the media, was that the primary focus of the holiday is food, more specifically the turkey. As someone who considers chickens and turkeys as birds, not food, I felt aversion towards that holiday and it has been that way ever since.
I hate listening to NPR radio and hearing segments such as ideas on how to prepare the turkey or, what I just heard, an interview with Butterball’s (which multiple undercover investigation in their factory farms revealed horrific abuse of turkeys) hotline staff members who answer questions about turkey cooking. I detest seeing anything to do with turkeys (as food) on TV, including the grotesque pardon ceremony, which was aired on PBS a few minutes ago. Coming across turkey recipes on the NYT Facebook page, is beyond upsetting to me. And, I find it ironic that holiday decorations and cards have images of turkeys (I recently asked my local Whole Foods store to remove a chicken “decoration”).
I’ve wondered how Thanksgiving, which started as a harvest celebration, digressed into a holiday that causes suffering and death to tens of millions of sentient and intelligent birds.
A few words about turkeys: according to people who spent time with them in sanctuaries, they are sensitive, social and intelligent. Mother turkeys protect their young ones and risk their lives to save them. When threatened the mother sounds a warning cry to her babies that means run for cover. She may also attack, or pretend to be wounded to distract predators from her offspring. Turkeys like to listen to music, especially classical, and they love to be snuggled and petted for long periods of time. Wild turkeys have a very complex, social life, as the film My Life as a Turkey has documented.
All this natural wonder is brutally shattered by humans in a process that churns up the beautiful birds into dead meat on Thanksgiving plates.
I can’t bear watching videos or reading about how animals are “raised” for food, but I did it again before writing this post and my heart aches as I write it. I did not include the most disturbing facts about how turkeys are raised, but here are a few details about their “production” procedures that are common.
In industrial farms thousands of these intelligent and sensitive birds are packed into dark sheds. The Farm Animal Welfare Council recommends providing adult turkeys each weighing 20 kg with 891 cm2, despite the fact that each needs 1700 cm2 simply to stand without touching another bird. Male turkeys can reach 50 pounds at the age of five months, and they have a hard time walking. Lighting manipulations used to optimize “production” can result in blindness from buphthalmia (distortions of the eye morphology) or retinal detachment.
At the “modern” slaughterhouse, turkeys are hung upside down by their legs, electrocuted, and their throats are slit. To learn more about the crowding, disease and neglect, painful mutilations, breeding and sexual violation (yes, that too) of those sensitive and intelligent birds, you can read here.
Knowing that, I ask myself, how can this immense cruelty mark the spirit of this important American holiday? How eating tortured dead birds can be a symbol of giving thanks?
And finally, those of you who love the companion animal in your lap or sitting nearby, I’m sure you’d be horrified to consider eating him or her. If you choose to eat a different animal, like a turkey, who has many of the shared characteristics that you’ve come to love in your companion animal, please tell me, how do you reconcile it?
 Farm Animal Welfare Council. Report on the Welfare of Turkeys. Tolworth, U.K. 1995; 13-15
 Ellerbrock, S. and Knierim, U., (2002). Static space requirements of male meat turkeys. Veterinary Record, 151: 54-57