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November 2005
Vegetarian Advocate: A Truly Happy Turkey Day
By Jack Rosenberger


By Dan Piraro

Bizaro by Dan Piraro
Reprinted with kind permission.
See for more comics.

While researching this month’s column on Thanksgiving, I dug through the unruly collection of files in my home office for about ten minutes until I located the thick manila folder that I’d sardonically labeled “Turkey Day.” Among its contents, I found a letter to the editor, written by Leslie King and published by the New York Times, in which King describes the short, nasty, life of Thanksgiving turkeys: “Each year, 40 million turkeys are crammed into sheds that allocate one square foot of floor space per bird. Beaks and toes are amputated without anesthetics to reduce damage from aggressive behavior brought on by the extreme stress. After 14 weeks the birds are slaughtered while still conscious, and butchered for our Thanksgiving dinner table.”

King’s letter is a vivid reminder why ethical vegetarians should devote special attention to Thanksgiving. To me, it is the worst secular holiday because the gastronomic centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving meal is the corpse of a turkey. Moreover, the human consumption of a headless, stuffed turkey is so tightly welded with the celebration of Thanksgiving in America, it is impossible to not be constantly reminded during the weeks before Thanksgiving. Thanks to the commercialization of how the day is celebrated, the holiday is responsible for an annual turkey holocaust.

Every November, prior to the Thanksgiving “feast,” certain turkey-specific events are bound to occur. Local supermarkets compete with each other by giving a free turkey to any shopper who, during a specified time period, spends at least $100 in a single store visit. Publicity-hungry nonprofit organizations and fading celebrities—typically male athletes whose public image desperately needs a facelift—serve turkey dinners or donate frozen turkeys to poor, needy persons or families. And the president of the United States pardons a particularly large live turkey, a state-sanctioned rite that apparently first happened in the Lincoln administration and which helps Americans feel less guilty about their participation in the massive avian slaughter that occurs prior to Thanksgiving Day.

A Happy Turkey Day
About five years ago, my feelings toward Thanksgiving improved dramatically. Why? My vegetarian wife and I decided, after participating in a Thanksgiving meal that featured a piping hot turkey served on a large silver platter, we would never attend a Thanksgiving meal in which animal flesh was served. Put another way, we agreed to stop compromising our ethical values and took control of how we celebrated Thanksgiving. Since then, we have enjoyed Thanksgiving as a totally vegetarian occasion. When we celebrate Thanksgiving in our home, we plan ahead and invite other vegetarians or near-vegetarians. When we are invited to celebrate Thanksgiving in someone else’s home, we do not accept an invitation if our hosts plan to serve any meat during the meal.

Thanksgiving is also more enjoyable because I now use it as an opportunity to speak up for the plight of farmed animals and to encourage a vegetarian lifestyle. Also, I’ve decided to quit being silent when someone urges me to “have a happy turkey day.”

Here are several suggestions on how you can make Thanksgiving a better holiday for turkeys.

Eat Right. If you are a member of a local vegetarian or animal rights group, host a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving Banquet. Or you can have a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal at your home and invite vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends. Such meals can have a lasting effect on some open-minded carnivores and ease them toward a vegetarian lifestyle. They gain the valuable experience of learning that a different way of eating is possible—and enjoyable.

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving with your immediate or extended family and it’s packed with meatheads, show some righteous chutzpah: ask everyone if it’s okay for the Thanksgiving dinner to be totally vegetarian. It’s very likely your request will be denied. However, it could be the first step toward convincing your family’s tribe of carnivores to try a vegetarian feast next year.

Speak Up. Thanksgiving is also an ideal opportunity to demonstrate against the treatment of farmed animals or deliver a vegetarian-oriented message. Like Leslie King, write a letter to the editor. Or challenge turkey-oriented promotions and advertising as being insensitive to vegetarians and condoning animal cruelty. When one of my local supermarkets offered a free turkey to shoppers who spent at least $150 during a single visit, I called the supermarket’s manager and suggested that the store’s offer was unfair to vegetarian shoppers. Strangely enough, the manager told me that she was also a vegetarian, but said that she didn’t think the turkey-only deal discriminated against vegetarians. While she had an opinion, she was unable to support it with a single substantial argument. However, I hope our conversation led her to think more deeply about discrimination against nonhuman animals.

Thanksgiving is also an ideal opportunity to protest against the abuse of turkeys and other farmed animals. It requires little effort for a local animal rights group or a group of dedicated vegetarians to stage a mini-demonstration, complete with “Holidays are MURDER on turkeys” placards, at a local supermarket or a busy throughway.

Lastly, it is a common practice for carnivores, in the days before Thanksgiving, to dispense “have a happy Turkey day” greetings like they are presidential pardons. Don’t smile and bite your lip in frustration (like I used to). Instead, firmly but politely respond with a statement such as “For turkeys, Thanksgiving is a sad day” or “If you were a turkey, you wouldn’t say ‘happy turkey day.’” If the person replies, “Well, I’m not a turkey,” you have my permission to kick him or her wherever you wish.


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