Advocate: A Truly Happy Turkey Day
By Jack Rosenberger
By Dan Piraro
While researching this month’s column on Thanksgiving,
I dug through the unruly collection of files in my home office for
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
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
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
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