Saturday, November 19, 2011

I love turkeys...and not in THAT way. Or the food way.

 Petunia, a rescued turkey at the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary in New York.

Today's post raves about how cool turkeys are! Tomorrow's post will focus on my yummy plans for Thanksgiving this year...stay tuned! :)

Two years ago, I happened upon a very graphic undercover PETA video on how turkeys are treated in the industry. (I believe it was at a Butterball factory farm.) I was devastated and could not fathom how people could be so cruel.

And yet I couldn't fathom giving up turkey.

So I went online and researched humanely-raised turkeys and how I could procure one that had had a good life and a fairly painless death. The closest I got was Whole Foods, who assured me that their turkeys had it much better than their Butterball counterparts. I felt slightly better, but still uneasy.

For two Thanksgivings, I got caught up in the tradition of the day -- a day I adore! How great is a holiday about giving thanks? -- and was able to successfully avoid thinking about the bird as anything but food. Yet I could always feel the blinders digging in in an irritating fashion, the way a bra feels when it's just not fitting right. (Sorry boys ... you'll have to come up with your own analogy.) :)

It wasn't until last April that I decided to stop eating animals, after finally seeing the immense suffering my taste buds were inflicting on animals that had done nothing to me. (And "humanely-raised meat," much to my dismay, did not get a free pass.)

Once I no longer had to deal with feelings of remorse,  though, I became very curious about the creatures that I had previously and guiltily acknowledged as food. Turkeys, whom I'd always assumed to be sweetly daft, are fascinating creatures who defy the stereotype as the animal kingdom idiot. ( it easier to hurt an animal if we think of him or her as unintelligent? As Jeremy Benthem noted in the 18th century, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?")

Here is a lovely excerpt about a turkey named Ethel, written by Kathy Stevens, the founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York. (Taken from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's Vegan's Daily Companion.)

Ethel, The Greatest Turkey of All Time

"Ethel arrived with six other turkeys, fortunate escapees from an industry that grows close to 300 million birds annually -- and then kills them.

Fortunately, Ethel was to have a different fate.

From her first day, it was clear that Ethel was a standout, curious kinda gal. Turkeys are gentle; Ethel groomed our truly free-range chickens, sheep, and pigs. Turkeys are affectionate; Ethel became our first lap turkey.

Ethel craves connection. Whether you're turkey, sheep, horese, chicken, rabbit, pig, human, or other is irrelevant. Her criteria are simple: if you live and breathe, Ethel wants to know you.

Despite her love of animals, Ethel seems to find the greatest joy in connecting with humans. When I sit down and cross my legs, Ethel sidles up to me until her big bird body touches my side, trills her lovely turkey trill, and stares at me. When I pick her up and place her in my lap, her body relaxes and her eyes quickly grow heavy with sleep. For those moments, all is right in my world, and, it seems, in hers. 

Every weekend throughout our visiting season, both tour guides and guests struggle not to step on Ethel. When we're in the barn, she settles into the middle of each group, moving with us as we move from animal to animal. She moves from one guest to the next, looking deeply into their eyes. In these moments, whatever's in that big turkey heart seems a lot like love."

To further illustrate how amazing turkeys are, there's a new documentary on PBS about a man who, by chance, became the mother of a clutch of wild turkey eggs. It's called My Life as a Turkey, and it looks fascinating!

You won't believe this short clip from My Life as a Turkey. So sweet and moving.

So if these creatures are indeed so wonderful, how can we justify hurting them? Killing them? Giving them such a horrendous life when they pose no threat to us? And all this senseless cruelty when we can survive quite beautifully without consuming them?

Below is an intense video (and one amusing commercial) on what happens to turkeys in order to bring them to our tables. I feel fairly certain that very few people will watch this. In fact, the chances are that nobody will. Which is fine. I totally get it. But if we can't even bear to watch it, what does that say about our choices? (And I'm throwing myself in that ring too -- I ate turkeys for 40 years.) Should we be paying others to hurt/abuse/kill feeling animals when we can't even watch it happening, never mind do it ourselves? If we are true carnivores/omnivores, shouldn't we be salivating, not cringing?

 Intense video of the journey turkeys take to get to our plates
(read above before watching)

 And this commercial, which is not intense, but very accurate and pretty funny!

So, as I said, tomorrow will be all happiness and holiday-cheer! I'll be talking about the yummy things I've got planned for this Thursday and how you can help these amazing creatures in very simple ways! 

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