De-evolution of the Thanksgiving turkey

Because of crowded conditions on factory farms (where most Thanksgiving turkeys are raised), beautiful birds who started out as a species looking like this …

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when kept in dark, stinking windowless barns (with maybe a small access door to the muddy, lifeless yard, so the farmer can claim they’re “free-range”) turn out looking like this…

Perhaps it’s time to swear off flesh foods and give the turkeys something to be thankful for. Someday you’ll give thanks you did.

Photos©Jim Robertson

Here’s the kind of life birds like the ones above are expected to lead on factory farms…

Thanksgiving turkeys endure extreme suffering

Protecting Purity from Pollution, or Protecting Pollution from Purity?

No photo description available.

*The Golden Age, Garden of Eden, and Thanksgiving Myth of Origin*

*By Karen Davis PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns *
This article was first published Nov. 26, 2019 on the *Animals 24-7*

* “The question before us is, which images of the universe, of power, *
* of animals, of ourselves, will we represent in our food?” *
– Carol J. Adams, *The Sexual Politics of Meat*, p. 202.

*How Will a “Myth of Origin” Be Used?*

People look to the mythic past for prototypes in order to propagate some
plan or
hope for the present and future, to protect existing traditions and
outlooks, or
to advance new practices and prospects from elements within the myths that
not yet been exploited. This is the true use of the Golden Age and the
Garden of
Eden and other myths of origin, including the American myth of Thanksgiving.

Myths of origin act as informing principles of existence. In this sense
they can
promote ethical insight and change, or they can be invoked ironically to
the “fallen world” from the infiltration of ethical progress. This is how
have mainly been used with respect to how we view and treat the other
members of
the animal kingdom to which we ourselves belong.

*”Traditions” Evolve and Change*

How a myth of origin will be used is primarily a matter of desire and will,
in a word, motivation, because people in reality constantly change their
traditions to conform to whatever else they believe or identify with.

The American Thanksgiving, which is rooted in ancient harvest festival
traditions, has been “recreated” many times over; fabricated, as James W.
shows in his chapter, “The Truth about the First Thanksgiving” in his book
*My Teacher Told Me*.

Arguably, says Elizabeth Pleck in *Celebrating the Family*, vegetarians who
hours preparing a tofu turkey or a chestnut casserole from scratch express
spirit of Thanksgiving more authentically than the turkey takeout people do,
while taking the American tradition of the pioneer to a new level of
and nurture.

*Turning Flesh into Fruit*

Substitution of new materials for previously used ones to celebrate a
is an integral part of tradition. In the religious realm, if we can
animal flesh for human flesh, and bread and wine for “all flesh” and the
shedding of innocent blood in communion services, and can view these
changes as
advances of civilization, not as inferior substitutes for genuine religious
experience, then we are ready to go forward in our everyday lives on ground
is already laid.

Could the religions of the world ever reach the point of respecting “all
not in false ceremonies of compassion, but in actual fact? *For if God can
*flesh, then flesh can become fruit.*

Technologically, this transformation, this substitution, has already
People have demanded it, and technology can meet the demand.

If the Peaceable Kingdom is a genuine desire and a practicable prospect,
meat is the food to which dead meat has aspired, and the animal-free meat
are as deserving as anyone of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

*Disgust at the Thought of Meat*

In the past, says Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, author of *The Evolving Self and*
*Creativity*, “our limbic system learned to produce disgust at the smell of
meat. Now we might be learning to experience disgust at the thought of
meat in the first place – thanks to values that are the result of

The cultural turkey in America is a model figure that allows us to examine
attitudes and the values they imply, like the values implicit in creating
laughingstocks and innocent victims in order to feel thankful, and the
values of
a nation that ritually constitutes itself by consuming an animal – one,
moreover, that it despises and mocks as part of a patriotic celebration
memorializing the wholesome virtues of family life.

In The “Thanksgiving” Turkey: Object of Sentimentality, Sarcasm, and
I draw attention to the moral ecology surrounding the Thanksgiving turkey,
miasma arising from the traditional holiday meal. The ritual taunting of the
sacrificial bird conducted by the media each year – what if this
foreplay and blood sacrifice were taken away?

What elements of Thanksgiving would remain?

*Decomposing Turkey Ghosts*

Hunters claim that the killing they do is incidental to their joy of being
the woods, and turkey eaters claim that the carnage they inflict is
to their appetite for togetherness.

Yet the carnage perpetrated by both is the one thing in the midst of other
changes on which these people stand firm, as if Plymouth Rock amounted in
final analysis to little more than a pile of meat, just as the symbol of
happiness is portrayed in the final epiphany of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’
*Christmas Carol*, published in 1843. There, under the aspect of the Ghost
Christmas Present, Scrooge mounts a pile of flesh as a foretaste of his
social redemption and return to life’s pleasures:

“Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese,
poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, [and] long wreaths of

Scrooge’s first charitable act following his nightmares is to purchase “the
prize Turkey” hanging upside down at the butcher shop.

*Free All Spirits from Inflicted Suffering*

It is time for the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present to include the
ghosts of
all those turkeys who were murdered for the meals of “Scrooge.” It is time
all future turkey ghosts to be freed from haunting the table.

Slowly this pile of avian ghosts may be rotting away. As the present century
proceeds in America, the conflict between vegans and flesh eaters, between
animal rights people and the rest of society, crystalizes at Thanksgiving.

As the single most visible animal symbol in America, the de facto symbol of
nation, the turkey focuses our conflict and marks its progress in a holiday
which personal values and cultural ideals come together, or clash, most


Carol J. Adams. *The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian
New York: Continuum, 1990. New edition published by Bloomsbury
Revelations, 2015.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. “It’s All in Your Head.” *Washington Post Book
May 16, 1999, 3.

Karen Davis. *More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and
New York: Lantern Books, 2001.

Charles Dickens. *A Christmas Carol and Other Haunting Tales*. New York:
New York
Public Library-Doubleday, 1998. First published 1843. See Karen Davis, *More
*a Meal*, 59-60.

James W. Loewen. *Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History*
*Textbook Got Wrong* <>.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. New revised edition
published by The Free Press, 2018.

Elizabeth H. Pleck. *Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture,
*Family Rituals*. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.


*See Also:*

– Turkeys: Sympathy, Sensibility, and Sentience
– The “Thanksgiving” Turkey: Object of Sentimentality, Sarcasm, and
– Cutie, My Precious Turkey, Was a True Joy to Me
– Peeper: A Story of Unending Love

The “Thanksgiving” turkey:  object of sentimentality, sarcasm, & sacrifice

The “Thanksgiving” turkey:  object of sentimentality, sarcasm, & sacrifice

(Beth Clifton collage)

Each year a litany of sarcasm accompanies the sentimentality of Thanksgiving

by Karen Davis, Ph.D.,  president, United Poultry Concerns


“Nothing so unites us as gathering with one mind to murder someone we hate, unless it is coming together to share in a meal.” – Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner, p. 33.


(Beth Clifton collage)

The turkey & the eagle in American myth 

The turkey is not America’s official national bird;  the bald eagle of North America was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1782.  However, the turkey has become an American symbol,  rivaling the eagle in actual,  if not formal,  significance.  The turkey is ceremonially linked to Thanksgiving,  the oldest holiday in the United States. Yet,  unlike the eagle,  the turkey is not a symbol of power and prestige.

Nor,  despite frequent claims,  is there any evidence that Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) seriously promoted the turkey as the national bird – more “respectable” than the bald eagle, except as a passing jest in a letter to his married daughter, Sarah Bache,  on January 26,  1784,  two years after Congress had already adopted the bald eagle.

While the wild turkey has a long history of involvement with Native American,  Colonial American,  and European cultures,  today the bird is invoked primarily in order to disparage commercially raised factory-farm turkeys.  Little has changed since the consumer newsletter Moneysworth snarked on November 26, 1973:

“When Audubon painted it,  it was a sleek, beautiful,  though odd-headed bird,  capable of flying 65 miles per hour. . . . Today, the turkey is an obese,  immobile thing,  hardly able to stand,  much less fly.  As for respectability,  the big bird is so stupid that it must be taught to eat.”

Wild turkey painted by John James Audubon.

Each year, this litany of sarcasm accompanies the sentimentality around Thanksgiving.  Each year,  the media ridicule the Thanksgiving Day bird.  If yesterday it was certain ethnic populations and foreigners we insulted – a bigotry resurgent in the 21st century –– today we can count on the likelihood that,  as usual at Thanksgiving,  turkeys will be exposed to humiliation and insult.

Strange mixture of honor & hatred

Thanksgiving has other functions,  but one thing it does is to formalize a desire to kill someone we hate and make a meal out of that someone.  In this role, the turkey dinner is not far distant from a cannibal feast,  in what Eli Sagan called that “strange mixture of honor and hatred” in which not a few cultures in history have disposed of their enemies and relatives in ceremonial fashion.

Many people to whom I mention this “hatred of the turkey” idea say they never noticed it before,  or if they did,  they gave it no thought.  Such obliviousness illustrates,  in part, the idea that the “most successful examples of manipulation are those which exploit practices which clearly meet a felt – not necessarily a clearly understood – need among particular bodies of people,” according to Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger on page 307 of The Invention of Tradition.

Royal Palm turkey.  (Beth Clifton collage)

In the case of Thanksgiving, the need is not so much to eat a turkey,  a patriotic obligation that many people reject, but to rationalize an activity that,  despite every effort to make the turkey seem more like a turnip,  has purposely failed to obliterate the bird into just meat.  To do so would diminish the bird’s dual role in creating the full Thanksgiving experience.

“Performance of killing” must be “seen” to be real

To affect people properly, a sacrificial animal must not only be eaten by them;  the animal’s death must be “witnessed by them, and not suffered out of sight as we now arrange matters.”  But since this is how we now arrange matters –– the current do-it-yourself slaughter fetish notwithstanding –– attention must somehow be “deliberately drawn,  by means of ritual and ceremony” to the reality of the animal’s life and the “performance of killing,”  observes Margaret Visser in her survey of eating customs from prehistory to the present, The Rituals of Dinner.

(Beth Clifton collage)

This is why,  to be ritually meaningful,  the turkey continues to be culturally constructed as a sacred player in our drama about ourselves as a nation,  at the same time that we insist that the bird is a nobody,  an anonymous “production animal.”  For Visser, what is meant by “sacrifice” is literally the “making sacred” of an animal consumed for dinner.  No wonder that mentioning  cannibalism in connection with eating turkeys or any other animals provokes a storm of protest,  since as she says, cannibalism to the Western mind is “massively taboo,” more damnable than incest.


However,  cannibalism,  transposed to the consumption of a nonhuman animal,  is a critical,  if largely unconscious,  component of America’s Thanksgiving ritual.

America knows at some level that it has to manage its portion of humanity’s primeval desire to have “somebody” suffer and die ritualistically for the benefit of the community or the nation,  at a time when the consumption of nonhuman animals has become morally problematic in the West,  as well as industrialized to the point where the eaters can barely imagine the animals involved in their meal.

It is ironic,  Visser says on page 32,  that “people who calmly organize daily hecatombs of beasts,  and who are among the most death-dealing carnivores the world has ever seen,  are shocked by the slaughtering of animals in other cultures.” 

Turkey babies.


  1. In nature, baby turkeys are taught how to forage for food by their mothers.  Deprived of the maternal care and teachings they evolved to experience in the company of their mothers for their first five months of life,   newborn turkeys suffer unimaginably on factory farms.  Not only are they bereft of their mothers;  they are declawed and their beaks are painfully mutilated with blades or lasers as soon as they hatch in the mechanical incubators from which they proceed to a life of merciless,  bewildering misery for three to five months,  until those who survive the ordeal are murdered in a slaughterhouse.  A turkey researcher summed up the newborn turkeys’ experience in the first hours of hatching:  “Essentially, they have been through major surgery.  They have been traumatized” (Donaldson).  These “major surgeries” are inflicted on the turkeys without anesthesia or post-surgical pain killers.

(Photo by Jeff Borchers, The Kerulos Center)

2) Margaret Visser writes on page 33 of The Rituals of Dinner that myths about sacrifice “often tell us that the animal killed and eaten takes the place of the original sacrificial offering,  a human being. . . . Animals, according to this apprehension,  are surrogates,  substitutes for members of our own species whom we once joined in killing.”  Visser notes also the traditional “eliciting of signs that the animal does not mind dying to feed us.”  On the one hand we relish the exertion of absolute power over an animal who does not want to die. On the other hand we like the idea that an animal desires to suffer and die for the sake of the “superior” species.

Karen Davis and friend
(Beth Clifton collage)


Karen Davis. More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality. New York: Lantern Books, 2001.

William E. Donaldson, et al. “Early Poult Mortality: The Role of Stressors and Diet.” Turkey World (January-February), 27-29. See p. 138 of Karen Davis’s More Than a Meal.

Eric Hobsbawn, and Terrence Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

“The Light and Dark Sides of Thanksgiving Turkey.” Moneysworth: The Consumer Newsletter 4.4 (November 26, 1973), 1-2.

Matt Novak. “Did Ben Franklin Want the Turkey to Be Our National Symbol?” GIZMODO, November 20, 2014.

Eli Sagan. Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form. New York: The Psychohistory Press, 1974.

Margaret Visser. The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Remembering Dear Turkeys – Two Short Videos Show Different Worlds

*The Sheds Were Already Empty*

Thanksgiving Tragedy: A Visit to a Turkey Farm

A group of UPC activists in Northern California wanted to go to a turkey
farm a
few days before Thanksgiving to pay their respects to the birds destined for
slaughter. When they arrived, they were heartbroken to find they were too
the sheds were empty, and there was nothing but a sprinkling of white
and silence. Please watch and share this important video and witness the
of this heart wrenching holiday:


*UPC Hosts Happy Thanksgiving for Turkeys: CBS Channel 9 Eyewitness News

UPC Thanksgiving Dinner for Turkeys

Forty people attended a festive Thanksgiving celebration at UPC in honor of
Wanda and Willow, two rescued factory farm turkey hens adopted from Farm
Sanctuary. Washington, DC’s CBS channel 9 provided excellent coverage of our
dinner as did local radio stations and The Potomac Almanac newspaper. Allan
read aloud to an entranced audience including Wanda, *’Twas the Night
*THANKSGIVING*, by Dav Pilkey, giving thousands of TV viewers a chance to
see a
turkey enjoying herself in friendly company. PSYeta president Ken Shapiro’s
Joel, contributed a wonderful story about three turkey gobblers who got

As for us –

*”We feasted on veggies *
*With jelly and toast, *
*And everyone was thankful *
*(The turkeys were most!).”*

For more information see: ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.
Don’t just switch from beef to chicken. Go Vegan.

View this article online

How to lower your environmental footprint when preparing your Thanksgiving meal

An estimated 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving alone, but more people are switching to a plant-based Thanksgiving meal not only for the animals, but for their health and the environment.

Transitioning to a plant-based meal doesn’t mean you have miss out on any Thanksgiving treats; you can easily make a few simple tweaks to your favorite recipes.

A plant-based diet is the best for the environment and it is extremely healthy as it is linked with the lowest risks of chronic diseases, compared to diets rich in meats, according to research from the World Health Organization and studies published in Environmental Research Letters.

An outbreak of salmonella linked to raw turkey has left one person dead, 63 people hospitalized and sickened 164, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, Nov. 8.

“The outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading has been identified in various raw turkey products, including ground turkey and turkey patties,” the CDC said.

Starting this eating style at Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to do so, as it is a time of reflection, kindness and gratitude. Plus, all of the leftovers won’t go bad as quickly.


Eating plant-based foods also contributes less to the livestock sector of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Vegan alternatives are widely available these days so it’s easy to ‘veganise’ dishes by replacing non-vegan ingredients with cruelty-free counterparts, such as meat substitutes, vegan cream and butter, or egg-free desserts,” Dominika Piasecka, spokesperson for The Vegan Society, said.

Tofurky offers a turkey roast, ham and a feast with gravy and stuffing. It is made from ingredients such as wheat, water, organic tofu, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek and more. This alternative is healthy, doesn’t add grease or fat, doesn’t go bad as quickly and is a smaller portion.



Thanks to our beer buddies @HopworksBeer our Plant-Based Ham Style Roast is smothered by a Velvety Beer Glaze… we YUM IT UP. @theveganchalboard 👌 

See Tofurky’s other Tweets

Erin Ransom, director of marketing for Tofurky said the Tofurky Roast is healthier for the planet because it uses less water and has less energy requirements. Animal welfare is also a plus and human health is a big component because there is less saturated fat and cholesterol with great protein and fiber content, Ransom said.

“When compared to animal protein, the Tofurky roast is cholesterol free, a good source of fiber and an excellent source of protein,” Ransom said.

Plant-based protein requires much less energy to produce.

“For example, a Tofurky roast requires 5.5 lbs less grains than it takes to feed a live turkey, who produces the equivalent 26 oz of animal protein, for one’s dinner table,” Ransom said.

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Field Roast also offers plant-based holiday roasts for the ultimate grain-and-veggie main course.

“The World Resources Institute predicts that by 2025 at least 3.5 billion people will experience water shortages. It takes 815 gallons to make one pound of turkey, while one pound of soy beans, which are used to make a Tofurky roasts, uses just 242 gallons,” Ransom said.

It’s easy to switch since sides are typically vegetarian and vegan, such as baked stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberries and pumpkin pie, Sharon Palmer, award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, plant-based food and nutrition expert, author and blogger, said.

“If you are going vegan, you can make sure to make vegan versions of these recipes, which is super simple. Often the main problem is butter and dairy, but you can sub vegan margarine or olive oil for butter, and plant-based milk for milk in recipes. You can even use vegan cheese in many recipes, such as broccoli au gratin,” Palmer said.

Then, all you have to do is perhaps add one entree to the mix, such as veggie “meat” balls, nut loaf or lentil patties, according to Palmer.

VegNews Magazine@VegNews

Don’t want to cook this ? You don’t have to! Check out these 5 vegan meal options we’ll be trying out this holiday season. >> 

See VegNews Magazine’s other Tweets

Research consistently shows that vegetarians and especially vegans have the lowest environmental footprint, compared to other diets. That’s because animal foods have a greater environmental impact, because we grow plants to feed the animals, so it’s much greener to just eat the plants directly,” Palmer said.

Animals produce methane and concentrated sources of manure, and farms contribute to deforestation and require more water than plants.

“Heart disease is far and away the leading cause of death and disability is the U.S. A recent study shows vegetarian dietary patterns reduce cardiovascular disease mortality and the risk of coronary heart disease by a whopping 40 percent,” doctor and nutrition expert Janet Brill said.

Even if you don’t want to go completely plant-based, making a significant cut of animal foods in your diet and eating more whole plant foods makes a big difference, according to experts.

Turkeys – Who Are They?

*Karen Davis Talks “Turkey” at UVA Nov. 15*

*Turkeys – Who Are They?
<>, University of Virginia,
Charlottesville, VA. *
*A presentation by Karen Davis in Brooks Hall Nov. 15 at 6pm. Sponsored by
*Justice Advocates. All are welcome!*

Sanctuary workers such as myself know that turkeys are intelligent,
keenly alert birds with highly developed senses and sensibilities. Turkey
mothers are superb parents who will fight to the death to protect their
The idea that wild turkeys are “smart” and domesticated turkeys are “dumb”
facilitates a view that turkey hunting is a benign collaboration between a
stalker and a “savvy” partner, and that turkeys bred for food are
“adapted” to factory farms.

In my talk, I draw attention to the moral miasma surrounding the
turkey, the ritual taunting by the media each year and ask – what if this
mean-spirited foreplay and blood sacrifice were taken away? What elements of
Thanksgiving remain? Karen Davis, PhD, is president of United Poultry
and the author of *More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual,
*Reality* published by Lantern Books and available from UPC

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.
Don’t just switch from beef to chicken. Go Vegan.

View this article online

Remember, Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

As with Christmas, Thanksgiving has become a rather hedonistic holiday these days. You’d have to pin your ears back, with empty cornucopias held tightly against them, to hear even a faint reference to the giving of thanks through the din of loud chatter about seemingly more important things like football, where to get the best deals on Black Friday, or how to deep fry a turkey. But any thanks you heard would be to “the lord above,” rather than to the victims of the decadent feast.

Completely lost in the hype of “tradition” and “Turkey-day” is any mention of giving even a passing “thank you” to the birds who suffered more indignities than space would allow me to mention here. Indignities that include the fact that turkeys on factory farms receive less than three square feet of personal space. And after they hatch, their beaks are cut off—a standard practice for chickens as well. No anesthesia or painkiller is used for either species. This process, which is known as “debeaking”, has been compared to having the ends of your fingers sliced off. It deprives birds of one of their most important sources of sensory input.

A debeaked bird cannot eat properly or explore his or her environment fully, nor can they preen themselves or their flockmates.  They may also experience acute and chronic pain in their beak, head, and face. In addition to being debeaked, turkeys also have the ends of their toes and their snoods cut off, often with nothing more than a pair of scissors (and as with debeaking, performed without anesthesia).

According to Liberation BC, both chickens and turkeys on modern factory farms have been genetically engineered and pumped with antibiotics; as a result they grow much faster than ever before. For example, in the 1960’s, it took a turkey 32 weeks to reach slaughter size, but now it takes only 13-16 weeks. In the 1950’s, it took a chicken 84 days to reach five pounds. Today, it takes 45 days, meaning that they are not even old enough to cluck yet when they die.

And PETA adds, their unnaturally large size also causes many turkeys to die from organ failure or heart attacks before they are even 6 months old. According to an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal on the miserable conditions on turkey farms, “It’s common in a rearing house to find a dead bird surrounded by four others whose hearts failed after they watched the first one ‘fall back and go into convulsions, with its wings flapping wildly.

Factory farm operators walk through the shed to kill the slow-growing turkeys (so that they don’t eat any more food), such as those who fall ill because of the filthy conditions or become crippled under their own weight.

In Canada, turkeys and chickens can legally be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water, or rest, and there are no limits as to the length of the journey. They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather.  Each bird is worth so little, however, that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates.  Every year in Canada, 2 million broiler chickens and 20,000 turkeys are already dead when they arrive at slaughterhouses.  An additional 8 million broiler chickens and 200,000 turkeys arrive so diseased or injured that they are considered “unfit for human consumption”.

The surviving birds are handled roughly at the slaughterhouse, where they are unloaded by forklift and dropped onto a conveyor belt. With thousands of birds to be processed every hour, there is no reason for employees to stop and pick up the individual birds who miss the belt and fall to the ground.

When it comes time to slaughter the birds, they are hung by their feet on a moving rail and dragged through the stunning tank, an electrified water bath meant to stun and immobilize them. These are often set lower than is necessary to truly render the birds unconscious out of concerns that high voltage might damage the carcass and therefore diminish its value.

They are then carried past the tank to have their throats cut either by a mechanical blade or a plant employee. Often, struggling birds are cut improperly. As a result they are moved, fully conscious, to the scalding tank, where they are boiled alive.  Estimates place the number of affected birds at about one in twenty; at any rate, this occurrence is so common that the industry has a term for it: “redskins.”   …

Clearly, nobody gives much in the way of thanks to the “most important guest” at the table (as a recent Safeway ad described the turkey carcasses they were selling). You’d be damned lucky to overhear even a cursory mention of the miserable existence their edible “guest” underwent prior to the killing and plucking process. There is scarcely a sign that the hundreds of millions of Americans who gorge on the bodies of 45 million turkeys each year give a whit about whether these amazing and impressive birds had—prior to “harvest”—a life that allowed even a modicum of the freedom they would have experienced before the grossly over-populated human world made them their food-slaves.

Appropriately, I watched the timeless 1970s movie Soylent Green last night. Set in 2022, the film opens with a slide show of earlier eras, back when the Earth was covered with forests and open fields, and there were only a few scattered settlements of people who travelled in horse-drawn wagons.

As the images pass quickly by, we see the first automobiles (tail pipes spewing toxic carbon gases), followed by a massive blacktop parking lot jam packed with Model Ts. The pictures begin to flash almost more rapidly than we can focus, but we catch glimpses of factories with smokestacks billowing and crowds of people barely able to

move without trampling one another. (Come to think of it, what we are witnessing looks a lot like the inside of an average modern-day poultry barn, where Thanksgiving turkeys are forced to live out their lives in intense confinement.)

The first scene of action takes place in a cramped little New York City apartment, the dwelling of the film’s two main characters, Thorn, a semi-corrupt detective, and his elderly room-mate and research partner, Sol, who is constantly going on about the good old days—a world that Thorn can’t possibly envision or relate to.

They are among the lucky few; most people sleep on the stairways or in the hallways or anywhere they can find shelter from the oppressive heat caused by an out of control greenhouse effect. We overhear a program on their worn out old TV which is an interview with the governor of New York, touting a new food product called “Soylent Green,” ostensibly made from the ocean’s plankton. (Everyone in that day and age knows that the land is used up, but they’re told the oceans can still provide for them).

Food in this depressing, human-ravaged world comes in the form of color-coded wafers, distributed under strict government supervision. Hordes of people stand in line for their ration of Soylent yellow or blue made from soy, or other high protein plants grown behind the fortress-walls of heavily guarded farms.

Signs remind the throng that “Tuesday is Soylent Green day.”

The multitudes are exceptionally unruly on Tuesday. Brimming with anticipation, they can’t wait to obtain a ration of the special new product. When they get out of hand, “scoops” (garbage trucks fitted with backhoe-like buckets on the front) are called in to scoop them up and haul them off…

Spoiler Alert:

To make a long story short, by the end of the film, Thorn learns that the oceans are dead and the actual ingredients of Soylent Green are something a bit harder to stomach than plankton. In the final scene, a mortally-wounded Thorn is carried away on a stretcher as he desperately tries to tell skeptical onlookers, “Soylent Green is People!” “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food!”

Could it ever happen? Could the human race ever stoop so low? If the scenario seems too hard to swallow­, consider this: the conditions animals are forced to endure on today’s factory farms would have seemed unimaginable to people living a hundred years ago.


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