Talking Turkey Without Pulling Punches

Thanksgiving is officially a week away today and it’s a pretty dreadful time of year for many animal advocates.

Thanksgiving puts us on edge, we get knots in our stomachs, we may always be on the verge of tears or ready to yell at people. We fantasize about how great it would be to just fast forward through November and December. We’re not being overwrought. The holiday season can be hard on everyone, but in addition to the family baggage, depression and stress, vegans get continual reminders of the one-sided, endless and brutal war our species continues to wage on other animals, especially around Thanksgiving.

When you‘ve been stripped of all illusions about what is done to the animals people eat, it is hard for many of us to face the holiday because even if we insulate ourselves, we are still aware of the unfathomable violence that happens every moment of every day and there is nothing like the Thanksgiving meal — and the lead up to it — to remind us of the bloodshed, made especially nauseating because it’s coated with a patina of “gratitude” and “togetherness”. When you’re aware of the senseless cruelty, it’s impossible to unsee it, and it’s hard to not want to wake others up to it as well. Thus we get labeled as antisocial grumps or unwanted agitators.

Vegans are not the ones who have truly suffered at the Thanksgiving table, though. This is not to be dismissive, because as a vegan for nearly 25 years, I do understand how emotionally grueling it can be. I believe, though, that we need to very consciously center the animals who are so often removed from the picture, even by vegans. One of the ways that vegans unintentionally invisibilize animals is to position ourselves as the sufferers of this holiday’s cruel traditions. Seeing animal carcasses when we have removed our blinders about what we are seeing is distressing, but vegans are not the casualties here.

It’s important to remember that:

If we had been born as turkeys, an incubator or heat lamp would have been our source of warmth before we’d hatched.

If we had been born as turkeys, we may have vocalized for our mothers while still in our shells but not heard her voice in response.

If we had been born as turkeys, after hatching and being moved to a brooder barn at six weeks of age, we would have been moved again to an industrial, windowless shed with as many as 10,000 other poults.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would have never known our mothers and the comfort and security of their protective wings around us as we slept.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would have never felt the sun on our feathers or the dirt under our feet. We would live in artificial light with litter under our feet to absorb our droppings, as well as feathers and dead birds.

If we had been born as turkeys, part of our beaks would have been seared off without anesthesia or follow-up care with a hot blade. Our toes, too. This is to reduce the injuries caused by other stressed, territorial birds denied the ability to exhibit natural behaviors.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would have been genetically programmed to grow so big, so fast, we couldn’t fly like our wild cousins. If a seven-pound human baby grew at the same rate that today’s turkey grows, the baby would weigh 1,500 pounds at 18-weeks of age.

If we had been born as female breeding turkeys, we would have been turned upside-down and roughly inseminated by syringe or straw starting at about 32 weeks of age.

If we had been born as female breeding turkeys, our eggs would be taken from us.

If we had been born as breeding male turkeys, we would start being manually stimulated by farm workers to ejaculate at about 25 weeks of age so the semen could be collected into a filtration system.

If we had been born as turkeys, our bodies would strain and struggle under our weight, engineered to grow fast and with an emphasis on increased breast tissue. Hip problems and bowed legs due to the strain of excess weight on our skeletal structures would hurt us day in and day out.

If we had been born as turkeys, our eyes would be irritated and swollen from the ammonia with all the fecal waste and urine around us.

If we had been born as turkeys, we may have had a heart attack or organ failure before the age of six months.

If we had been born as turkeys, we wouldn’t have lived that long, though.

If we had been born as turkeys, our painful legs would have been grabbed by quick hands and we’d be tossed into crates and loaded onto trucks when we were between 14-to-18 weeks of age.

If we had been born as turkeys, sitting in crates on a crowded truck would offer our first and last opportunity to breathe the outdoor air.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would be transported in a truck in all weather conditions and may be in transit for up to 36 hours without food or water.

If we had been born as turkeys, when we arrive at the slaughterhouse, we would be hung upside-down by our ulcerated feet in shackles and sent down a metal rack.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would likely be electric shocked and/or stunned and have had our jugular veins slit by a mechanized knife. We would then be sent through a scalding tank.

If we had been born as turkeys, 46 million of us would have lived and died this way.

If we had been born as turkeys, we would have had no legal protection at any time of our brief lives. There would be more guidelines around the handling of our carcasses than our treatment while alive.

If we had been born as turkeys, most of our organs would be removed so stuffing would be inserted into the cavities.

If we had been born as turkeys, millions would say grace over our corpses at Thanksgiving.

It is worth noting that 99.8 percent of turkeys in the US are born into concentrated feeding operations. If you think that what I described earlier doesn’t apply to the “free-range” turkey you purchased, please get educated on the subject and remember that no matter the treatment, which is often no better than at conventional operations, the birds are prematurely and brutally killed.

I wasn’t born a turkey so I can decide to not participate and if you are reading this, you weren’t born a turkey, either, so you can decide, too. Be grateful for this. I know I am.

Turkeys are majestic, inquisitive, affectionate beings; a common trope, perhaps to justify the mass slaughter of them, is that turkeys are stupid, as if our assessment of intelligence would justify such barbarism. We are the ones who intentionally disabled turkeys, causing them unimaginable suffering, because we determined that turning them into meat-producing machines for their brief, painful lives was a good idea.

We can decide today to not support the industries and customs that inflict these brutalities. This Thanksgiving and every day of the year, I am grateful that I can choose otherwise. I was lucky enough to be born a person with the agency of choice and I have decided to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving every day without harming another being. I give sincere thanks for this.

Here are 150 main dishes, side dishes and desserts you can make specifically for Thanksgiving that are free of animal suffering.

Marla Rose is a Chicago-area writer and co-founder of, and Vegan Street Media.

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