Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rethinking the Turkey



Ahh, Thanksgiving. Family, friends, pie, buttons on the pants becoming unbearably tight. It's a harvest celebration, when all the summer crops have been picked, stored, and preserved, and we make a humble attempt to be truly thankful to all that earth has provided us.

Some have the day off, some have to work, some choose to volunteer on Thanksgiving. Some will have to rely on the kindness of others to receive any semblance of that beloved bountiful meal that epitomizes the day. No matter what the personal situation, as a culture, our attention is turned to the idea of a table filled with food that we will share with people we care about and love.



Of course, a side dish of guilt goes along with the meal.  While it's a very real representation of family get-togethers and homecomings, Thanksgiving is also a day when moral issues can tug at that precarious inner sense of peace. Beyond all the current heartache unfolding in all corners of our planet--which we can insulate ourselves from for at least a day--are the bigger truths behind the heart of Thanksgiving.

I'm not going to get into depth about our confused sense of history, even if the traditions and false fairy tales beg to be debunked. Much has been written in attempts to analyze our complicated history, and the information has been more readily available to us than ever before. Each of us is responsible for recognizing the wounds of our past if we ever hope to reconcile and improve our present. Though it's crucial, this post is not an analysis of the Thanksgiving Story--this post is about the TURKEY.



The controversy may not be as obvious as our historical struggles; most families, most people, do not give the turkey a second thought. It's just there, purchased from the grocery store and prepared in any number of traditional ways that have been passed down for generations. Who wants to harbor even more guilty feelings about our lovely holiday--isn't it enough to solemnly remember that history isn't as clean and simple as we would love to believe? Who wants to debate what is on the table, and how it got there? Not to mention that in a very real sense, the cooking of the turkey ties us to our past. We can bite into a slice of turkey and realize that our great-great-grandmother probably did the very same thing, and we get a true sense of belonging, continuance. A Thanksgiving meal without a turkey would be unthinkable to a good majority of American homes.



But that centerpiece, the perfectly roasted bird, is a glaring symbol of some of our current ethical dilemmas, all history aside. The industrial production of food has been more closely examined in recent years than ever before, and the negative effects of factory farms in particular are astounding. Our environment suffers, our society suffers as we compound our reliance on a completely unsustainable system, and the birds themselves suffer. When raised and processed conventionally, turkey production is another of those uncomfortable truths that I think everyone needs to take a peek at. One of the most trusted names for Thanksgiving turkeys, Butterball, has had criminal convictions in the past for its treatment of animals, and as this undercover video shows, they continue to callously hurt the birds they raise.


I am not a vegetarian, though I respect the lifestyle. I admit, that even if I think meat has played a part in the human diet for many thousands of years, in today's world meat eating has become insanely excessive and completely unnatural. I would love for those of us who are not vegetarians to seek out a better choice for our Thanksgiving turkeys. Factory farm birds are mistreated, abused, and frankly, just not natural. They have been bred to develop such large bodies in such a short amount of time that they cannot hold themselves up on their own feet. They lead miserable short lives, with no sunlight or fresh air.

Seeking out a humane turkey is a step in the right direction. www.Eatwild.com is a great resource that will help those who want to find humane, natural, sustainable meat year-round, including the Thanksgiving feast bird. CLICK HERE to find a farm that will provide meat from animals who have lived a good, clean life. If meat stays in your diet, seeking out local, sustainable, and ethical farms is a favor you can do for yourself AND your environment.

The controversy gets even deeper if you look at some of the claims made by PETA and die-hard vegans. Many animal-rights activists claim that even on farms on which a turkey is allowed a natural, more pleasant life, the slaughter of the animals is never done in a humane way. The cone method of killing chickens and turkeys is widely used on small sustainable farms, and deemed humane by many--however, there are those who have seen it firsthand and don't agree. I have not watched poultry slaughter, and I think that I really should, to make my own informed choice, as should everyone. Looking death in the eye is one of the most important aspects of eating meat, though very few of us actually do. I have a sneaking suspicion that if meat was considered in its true form--from birth, through life, to death--and not just available in a neat and tidy package in the grocery store, that many would deeply rethink the animals in their diet. If you are vegan or vegetarian and are not going to be eating any meat, period, CLICK HERE for a list of options to replace the turkey with. 

If you do one thing differently this Thanksgiving, rethink the turkey on your table. Butterball and other factory farms see a huge boost in sales every Thanksgiving as millions of families prepare their feasts. We can all help lessen the downward spiral of the industrial food system by seeking sustainable, humane meat, or foregoing the bird entirely.

Peace, and Happy Thanksgiving!


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