Thanksgiving may be the loveliest of our national holidays -- a truly American tradition that anyone can be a part of regardless of faith. Yet, it has a dark side that haunts me every year: Turkeys, 40 million of them, are slaughtered for this holiday. And slaughter is only the gruesome end to a turkey's short and miserable existence.
Punctuating my dismay is the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation to the president. In times past, the president was not obligated to pardon the turkey given to him. When President Reagan was asked in 1981 what he would do with a gifted turkey he replied: "Eat him."
In 1989, the peculiar tradition of pardoning turkeys officially began. Ironically, the to-be-pardoned turkey (and its alternate) are given to the president by the National Turkey Association, a "national advocate" for the turkey industry, i.e. by those who lobby in Washington to "increase demand" for turkeys.
It is an incongruous and bizarre ritual, the camera-friendly exception that only serves to prove the rule. It is a moment of false mercy sponsored by those in the business of being increasingly merciless in the pursuit of profit. A farce designed to make us, as a nation, feel the brief high of witnessing a seemingly compassionate act.
But what about all of those other turkeys that get served up at the White House Thanksgiving dinner? What about the millions and millions of Thanksgiving turkeys without faces, those we don't see until they are dead, naked and neatly wrapped in plastic?
The presidential turkey pardon reminds me of a butcher shop sign with a grinning pig in its logo.
The life of a turkey is brief and wretched. While the natural lifespan is up to 12 years,
turkeys are typically slaughtered within 5 months. According to PETA, most of them spend their lives:
[O]n factory farms, where thousands...are packed into dark sheds with no more than 3.5 square feet of space per bird. To keep the extremely crowded birds from scratching and pecking each other to death, workers cut off portions of the birds' toes and upper beaks with hot blades... No painkillers are used during these procedures.
[H]ung upside-down on shackles that pass over an electrified water bath.... The birds are given an electric shock that is meant to render them unconscious and immobile while their necks are cut. However, when shackled turkeys are conveyed through the water bath, they may experience electric shocks before they are stunned into unconsciousness, because their wings, hanging lower than their heads, may touch the water before their heads are submerged. Additionally, not all birds are stunned adequately prior to exsanguination and are conscious while their throats are cut.
Want ideas for vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes? Check out "A Vegan Thanksgiving: 12 Recipes That Could Change Your Holiday" or Food and Wine's "Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes"
Learn how you can sponsor a turkey and make a difference: "Thanksgiving Turkeys: How You Can Support Ethical Treatment"
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