The Last “Traditional” Thanksgiving

In the beginning, God created turkeys…well, that’s not exactly true—turkeys evolved in North and Central America somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve million years ago, during the Miocene/early Pliocene epoch—but it makes for a good story.

Turkeys are intelligent, highly social and easily distressed when isolated or kept from their familiar surroundings. Adults can differentiate between friends and possible foe, and have been known to go into attack mode to drive off outsiders. Benjamin Franklin described the turkey as “a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Their size, showy feathers and territorial disposition make turkeys an easy target for anyone with a weapon and an unwholesome urge to kill. Native Americans have a long history of feasting on turkeys that began well before the first Thanksgiving—the California turkey was hunted to extinction over 10,000 years ago. Meanwhile, modern human’s industrialized abuse of turkeys is nothing short of barbaric. Man has become so proficient at playing God with the turkey that nowadays the once proudly feathered bird is hardly recognizable. The vast majority of domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers because their pin feathers are less visible to the feaster when the carcass is “dressed” (glib jargon meaning butchered and mechanically plucked).

Any compassionate creator would be appalled by the unimaginable scale of institutionalized abuse of turkeys on factory farms or even on pseudo “free range” feel-good farms. Yet, each year turkeys are depicted—appearing at ease or even pleased with their plight—in inane commercials meant to soothe any holiday shopper who may have inadvertently stumbled onto the ugly truth about the suffering and cruelty inherent in the meat industry.

If you’re feasting on the flesh of one of the 45 million turkeys slaughtered this Thanksgiving season, please take a minute to consider the unnecessary suffering your meal caused and make this your last “traditional” Turkey-kill Day. Next year, try celebrating the life of the turkey while you feast on Tofurky or Field Roast, cranberries, candied yams, mashed potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie and all the other tasty non-animal fixin’s. You may end up stuffed, but at least a bird won’t have to be.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved


10 thoughts on “The Last “Traditional” Thanksgiving

  1. When I remember my dear mom always dutifully preparing the turkey on Thanksgiving, it was with a forced happiness, only “comforted” in the strangeness and cruelty of having that large dead bird carcass in the kitchen by the fact that everyone else was doing it, always had done it, and who were we to doubt history and customs? We had to eat, didn’t we? It was so tasty! And blah blah with all the usual excuses. We want our lives cherished, so we need to cherish the lives of others, including turkeys. Obama pardoned the turkey (or 2 of them?) today, with the usual smirky attitude and jokes…what a meaningless and sarcastic gesture while partaking in the slaughter of others. Not meaningless to the 2 turkeys of course, but I read that last year’s pardoned one ended up mysteriously dead and gone or something. What a world. Thanks for this tribute to turkeys. We’re having a non-animal feast tomorrow, needless to say; loving life, it’ll be great. Love your blog btw 🙂

    • Thanks Laura. Yes, peer pressure of “everyone else is doing it” is strong incentive, but once you see through it–and see the birds as living beings–there’s no going back. The meaningless “pardoning” ceremony trivializes the lives of the 45 million unpardoned turkeys and only makes people feel better about their hedonism.

  2. Thank you for your insightful comments on turkeys and the lengths to which we go to hide the fact that what lies on our dinner plates is the physical remains of someone who was intelligent, affectionate, and who valued his or her life.

    The idea, mentioned in the previous comment, of a human pardoning a turkey is ludicrous. We should hang our heads in shame and beg their pardon for altering their natural, wild status in a manner that causes them severe pain and debility; for raping them, for confining them in gross and foreign living conditions, and for unnecessarily taking their lives. You might be interested to meet some rescued turkeys at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary in the newly released movie of their lives available free on

    • Yes, we should be asking for a pardon from the turkeys, but people need to stop their killing spree before they can ask to be pardoned. Thanks for the info and link to Eden, Sandra. The turkeys in my photos on this post were at Pigs Peace Sanctuary in Washington. The wild turkeys (with black feathers) showed up on their own. They must have noticed what a peaceful place for animals the sanctuary is!

  3. Thank you for this, Jim. Eating low on the food chain helps all animals, domestic and wild, for so many reasons. Some of my most joyful moments with wildlife have been in the presence of wild turkeys. Beautiful and amazing birds. 🙂

  4. So today I’m thankful for the blog’s posts and for the tofurky in the oven.

    Of course, I hate the ugliness involved with this holiday–the massacre of millions of turkeys, the glee and gluttony of the celebration, and the stupid jokes at the turkey pardoning, along with the cartoons of silly, happy-to-be eaten turkeys. It is all a mockery of their sad and painful lives and deaths.

    An all-knowing and all-powerful deity would have foreseen what hominid evolution would lead to (us!) and gone on to plan B.

    So from today’s stupid fest on cable news
    –One news anchor just asked another why a turkey joined the band. Dumb answer–he’s got drumsticks.

    He had another gem up for guffaws, but I’ll skip it.

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