Up until recently, most Americans didn’t know the truth about how the animals raised for food lived. They thought animals lived out their lives on small farms, in idyllic conditions. That’s what kids learn in school, and from TV commercials, but the rise of industrial “factory farming” has made all of that just a myth. However, that story, contrary to the facts, is being kept alive by the billion-dollar meat industry-- not to mention the books we read to our children, the songs sung in storytime, and the toys we buy. The truth is that nearly all of the turkeys and other animals sold in the supermarket (and restaurants) today come from large-scale factory farms, and no longer from small farms and real farmers. “Old MacDonald’s Farm” belongs in the history books.
Turkeys raised on factory farms live absolutely miserable lives. They are bred and drugged to grow larger, in a shorter time. This causes many grotesque physical problems to their skeletal system, as well as their internal organs. The pervasive results of this bizarre factory system are birds so large that they have trouble walking, and are unable to even breed naturally, so they are artificially inseminated. Turkeys live crammed together in filthy, huge warehouses where they’re typically allotted the space the size of one square foot. They’re so stressed out that each year millions of turkeys don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse-- they just stop eating and die. Millions more die aboard the trucks taking them to the slaughterhouse-- can you imagine the conditions being so bad that millions of turkeys actually die just during transport? Once they get to the slaughterhouse, the confused and frightened turkeys face yet another horrible fate...as if life could get any worse for them. Workers callously hang their weak bodies upside-down (often resulting in broken bones), and send them on their way down the line where they are dragged through an electrified "stunning tank," which just immobilizes them but does not kill them. Many of them are in such a panic that they dodge the tank and therefore, are completely conscious when workers slit their throats. If workers fail to slit their throats properly they are boiled alive in a tank of scalding water (used for feather removal). Can you image the terror that the turkeys must experience during this process? This is the reality of modern day animal agriculture. It is most likely how the turkeys that will be sitting on tables across the country on Thanksgiving Day lived...and died.
On Thanksgiving Day, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone, and skip the turkey. It might feel uncomfortable or strange, but I can almost guarantee that if you leave the turkey off your plate this year, you will feel strong, empowered and proud of yourself for choosing compassion over cruelty. It’s just one day out of your life...just one meal, but for the turkey on the table it represents a meaningful step toward recognizing their suffering…and our complicity in it.
The thinking person must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo . -Albert Schweitzer
You may also consider saving another turkey this year (besides the one you decided NOT to eat) as well as creating a new tradition with your kids. Through Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey Project you can sponsor a turkey for just $30. Simply choose the turkey you’d like to sponsor online, and they’ll send a certificate along with a beautiful color picture and some fun details about your new turkey adoptee.
However you decide to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let’s come together to create new traditions that honor the very old spirit of this great American holiday. Here’s to a very happy and compassionate Thanksgiving for all!
Don’t forget to check out The Institute of Humane Education’s list of compassionate turkey-friendly kids books. You can also find a list at Vegbooks. If you are raising a vegetarian/vegan child, you should definitely have some of these books on your bookshelf!