I just don’t get Thanksgiving.
It just seems like a big, fat hypocrisy to me.
Let me explain…
On this day, Thanksgiving, we gather with the ones we love to celebrate and give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received. And on this day, the star of the show, the creme de la creme, is the tortured and mutilated, yet perfectly basted, stuffed and roasted turkey.
The turkey, which, ironically, was not even a part of the very first Thanksgiving way back in 1621.
The turkey, which Ben Franklin argued would make for a much more appropriate national symbol than the eagle.
The turkey, of which one or two of its species are “pardoned” by the President each year. For what crime? Being born?
The turkey, which is genetically modified to grow so quickly and so unnaturally large that their bodies become too huge for them to move, leaving them with heart problems and painful deformities.
The turkey, which is crudely de-beaked and de-toed (without anesthesia) to prevent injuries to other birds while forced to live in filthy, cramped spaces.
The turkey, which is slaughtered at only 5 months of age — just a baby, and under no protection by any humane slaughter laws — for the sake of a damn tradition.
I just can’t wrap my head around that.
What is a tradition, anyway? Dictionary.com defines a tradition as “ sn’t it something you do just for the simple reason that you’ve always done it and those around you always have?
Think about that. How much sense does it really make?
I think this meme sums up the notion of “tradition” perfectly:
And you can replace “stupid” with another adjective, like, “cruel” or “wrong” and the point still sings very clearly. Just because something — a tradition — has been a certain way for so long, that doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t mean it has to continue.
Why can’t Thanksgiving traditions change and evolve to include showing thanks for all blessings and all life, instead of just some? During this time of year, we’re keen to the suffering of others and offer to help in the ways we can — we donate food to the hungry, we buy toys to give to kids who wouldn’t get Christmas gifts, otherwise, we gladly donate our outgrown coats to make sure the homeless stay warm through the winter — but we’re absolutely oblivious to the suffering that’s right in front of us, on our plates.
If we only stopped for a moment and really thought about our food — what it is and where it comes from — maybe things would be different.
If only we sent our kids to animal sanctuaries for their field trips, instead of zoos, maybe things could be different.
If only we weren’t so reluctant to question the status quo, maybe things could be different.
If only we could look past our blind ignorance to the fact that every action we take — including the foods we choose to eat — affect so much more than just ourselves.
But instead, tradition continues. People go on eating turkey on Thanksgiving because, that’s just what you’re supposed to do. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say that they don’t really even like turkey, but they eat it on Thanksgiving, anyway, because it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if they didn’t.
Really? Really?! Is that really what Thanskgiving is about? The food?
Would Thanksgiving be any less special if it didn’t include a turkey? If you said that yes, it would, I think it may be time to reexamine your priorities. Any maybe consider getting a new group to celebrate with. Thanksgiving is about the memories, the conversation, the laughter, the moments shared with loved ones. Not about the food. And certainly, not about the turkey.
For me, Thanksgiving has never quite been the same since becoming vegan. Although a day full of time well-spent making memories with my loved ones, it’s incredibly difficult to look at the world through compassion-colored glasses and not have a different viewpoint on Thanksgiving. Truthfully, it makes me sad. My sadness is, first and foremost, for the turkeys, but also for those who just can’t see or who refuse to see how the choices we make affect each other, other species and our planet.
That’s why I’m incredibly grateful for the small glimmers of hope that show that things can and are beginning to change. Pieces such as this, on mainstream media, highlight the wonderful programs that animal sanctuaries around the country have been holding for years. Celebrations where guests feed the turkeys, instead of the other way around offer guests a chance to hang out with these incredibly social and friendly birds up-close. I haven’t attended one such celebration yet, but having spent time with turkeys during visits to sanctuaries over the last few years, I can assure you that if you got the opportunity to get to know a turkey, you would definitely think twice about digging into his/her cousin lying in front of you on the Thanksgiving table. Many sanctuaries are offering turkey sponsorships (we “adopted” Lennon, who lives at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. We met him during our visit last month and he is awesome!) and a collective art project called 46millionturkeys is raising awareness of the plight of turkeys in this country. Some awesome and compassionate people even open up their hearts and homes, adopting turkeys and allowing them to live out their lives, ensuring that they’ll never become someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.
So maybe, just maybe, things are slowly beginning to change. That will lessen the sadness just a bit on Thursday.
Someone close to me told me I shouldn’t post this piece. That I shouldn’t push my views on anyone else and that, frankly, no one wants to hear about this stuff. At first, I was taken back, but then I came to the realization that that is exactly the reason why I needed to post it. Because it’s true. People don’t want to hear about it and they’ll do everything possible to make sure that they don’t. They’re not going to stumble upon this information on their own, so if things are going to change, I’m going to have to put it out there for them to see. Present some facts. Spark some change. Change has never happened because someone stayed quiet. And that’s why I won’t.
So, if I come off as a zealot, maybe I am. If this sounds like a rant, I agree. It does. If it seems like I’m condemning all turkey-eaters, though, that was not my purpose with this piece. I’m not forcing anything on anyone. All I am trying to do is open a few eyes.
I make no apologies, though. I started typing this post and my heart just kind of burst open and spilled out into it. I can’t remain silent about the things I am most passionate about and sometimes I can come off a little intense. It’s how I deal with the feelings that I have that are so incredibly strong that sometimes they make me want to just curl up and cry and at other times, make me want to shake everyone I meet, bombard them with the truth and demand to know why they don’t seem to care at all. Compassion is a double-edged sword, both a blessing and a curse. I can’t find the words to describe it, accurately, but remarkably, stumbled upon them this morning in a post from the incredible Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, as she quoted social activist, Andrew Boyd:
Consider making a new tradition this year. Try leaving turkey off your plate. I think you will find that dinner tastes a whole lot better without all that suffering, misery and hypocrisy.
May all beings know peace.