Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — For a majority of Americans, turkey is the dinner of choice on Thanksgiving.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 250 million turkeys are killed each year in the United States, with more than 46 million eaten on the holiday. And the National Turkey Federation says 88% of Americans surveyed eat a turkey on Thanksgiving.
But animal advocates want those people to know that the lives of most of the animals on their plate are short and filled with unrelenting suffering.
The Humane League, an international nonprofit organization that works to end the abuse of animals raised for food, says factory farming “transforms turkeys from curious, independent birds into commodities for human consumption.”
“Life on a factory farm is a stark contrast to freedom for turkeys,” the group says. “Instead of being hatched alongside a handful of brothers and sisters, coming into the world within a comfortable nest built by doting parents, farmed turkeys are born in sterile, indoor hatcheries where thousands of eggs hatch at the same time.
“The chicks huddle around artificial heaters in place of the warmth that would be provided by the mother’s body. … These barns prevent turkeys from enjoying a natural social order or exploring their environment. Their wings will never lift them into the air. They will remain permanently grounded before meeting their untimely end in a slaughterhouse.”
Animal advocates describe turkeys as normally social, playful birds who enjoy the company of others, relish having their feathers stroked and as varied in personality as dogs and cats. But they say turkeys born on factory farms never meet their mothers or get a chance to feel sunlight, are raised in indoor barns crammed together with hundreds if not thousands of other turkeys, and lack the ability to play, exercise or even sleep properly.
The groups say factory-farmed turkeys often become aggressive with each other in ways they wouldn’t in the wild due to the overcrowded barns, inflicting bodily damage, infection and sometimes death. To avoid the lost income from such violence, the farms sometimes perform painful beak trimming procedures and removal of the birds’ sharp talons.
Unnatural growth is also a problem in the eyes of many.
“Turkeys have been genetically modified to gain weight rapidly because fatter turkeys mean fatter wallets for farmers,” according to People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “But in nature, the turkey’s athletic prowess is impressive. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour and run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.”
PETA also notes that the natural lifespan of a turkey is up to 10 years, “but on factory farms they are slaughtered when they’re just 5 months old.”
Finally, there’s the manner of death. Turkeys are considered poultry, and are thus excluded from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which is meant to ensure that farm animals die in the most painless ways possible. Advocacy groups say millions of turkeys are subjected to “live-shackle slaughter,” in which they’re hung upside down with their legs clamped into metal shackles, then dunked into electrified water meant to stun them. Conveyor belts then drag them over blades that slit their throats before tossing them into a scalding de-feathering bath.
The National Turkey Federation, a group formed in 1940 to market the animals as food, did not reply to a request for comment about those concerns, but the group says on its website that turkeys are “raised in specially designed, environmentally controlled barns that provide maximum protection from predators, disease and weather extremes. Except for breeding and transportation purposes, turkeys can roam freely within their house.”
The group further states that “the health and well-being of growing turkeys is top-of-mind for turkey growers as they routinely patrol barns in search of signs that could prove problematic. … To ensure animal welfare practices are upheld throughout the industry, the National Turkey Federation works closely with America’s turkey growers, veterinarians and industry experts to develop and maintain strict standards of conduct and animal care guidelines for raising healthy birds in a safe environment at every stage of a turkey’s lifecycle. These standards align with ethical treatment of animals, production of wholesome quality meat, respect and value of our workers and the wise use of land and water resources.”
Despite the ubiquity of the turkey dinner, families celebrating Thanksgiving do have other, meat-free options. The primary vegan option for holiday dinners is Tofurkey, an Oregon-based company founded in 1980 by self-described teacher, naturalist and hippie Seth Tibbott.
The company debuted its tofu-based holiday roast in 1995, and today Tofurkey roasts and other products are available at many Southland supermarkets. The company also advocates for animal welfare and donates to animal sanctuaries and environmental causes.
Several other companies have followed suit and developed their own vegan roasts in recent years, including Gardein, Field Roast and Trader Joe’s, giving customers plenty of choices for the holiday.
Veggie Grill, a nationwide vegan restaurant chain that opened its first restaurant in Irvine in 2006, offered a pre-prepared “Thanksgiving classics” meal kit available for pre-order this year at its several locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties. It feeds four people for $75 and includes plant-based Turkey Wellington with walnut mushroom stuffing, mac & cheese, roasted garlic mashed potatoes with porcini gravy, green beans with dairy-free butter and cranberry sauce.
For those wanting to help turkeys, Farm Sanctuary is once again sponsoring its annual “Adopt a Turkey” campaign. For a one-time donation of $35, people can symbolically adopt a rescued turkey, or sponsor an entire flock for $150, allowing the animals to live out their natural lives at one of the group’s two spacious farms, including one in Acton in the Antelope Valley.
Sponsors receive a certificate with their adopted turkey’s photo and bio, including their rescue story. Several of their rescued turkeys’ stories can be viewed at www.farmsanctuary.org/adopt-a-turkey.
“We celebrate the turkeys as living, vibrant, social, emotional, and sentient beings,” Farm Sanctuary said in a message on its website in October.
The group describes turkeys as “bright, social and sentient creatures” who “form loving relationships, have strong and distinct personalities, and deserve a life free from harm.”
Little Hill Sanctuary, a smaller nonprofit in central California, also offers people a chance to sponsor a rescued turkey during the month of November. Information about the program can be found at https://littlehillsanctuary.org/sponsor-a-turkey-for-thanksliving/.
PETA offers vegan recipes, shopping tips and advice for answering challenging questions that could come up at the dinner table on its website, along with a free vegan starter kit available for order.
Officials at the Midnight Mission, which serves about 2,500 people on Skid Row each Thanksgiving Day, told City News Service that they don’t get very many vegetarian or vegan requests at the giveaways. Those who don’t want to eat meat can choose to leave the items off their plate and add more vegetables and side dishes.
Georgia Berkovich, director of public affairs for the mission, said the group typically gets no more than three vegan or vegetarian requests during its regular meal services, in which 500 to 1,000 meals are served daily.
“So, for Thanksgiving, we may have a few,” she said.
Those who prefer to avoid eating the birds can have a tough time during Thanksgiving, when it can seem like they’re swimming against the cultural tide. But they maintain hope that society will outgrow a tradition they view as a contradiction to the warm feelings of gratitude that Thanksgiving is supposed to represent.
“People are choosing to celebrate a bird-free Thanksgiving for many reasons this year,” said Catie Cryar, a PETA manager and spokeswoman. “In addition to 2022’s soaring turkey prices and rampant bird flu outbreaks, former workers at self-described ‘humane’ turkey supplier Plainville Farms were recently charged with cruelty to animals after a PETA undercover investigation showed them punching and stomping on birds.”
Generation Vegan, a global nonprofit dedicated to educating people about the environmental, ethical and health benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle, invites people on its website to ask: “How do we feel about taking so much away from an animal to demonstrate our gratitude for all that we have?”
“When we consider numbers as large as 46 million, it is easy to forget that each one of those animals is an individual with his or her own personality, preferences, behaviors and abilities,” the groups says.