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Ingrid Newkirk: What does ‘Turkey Day’ mean to you?

One retired poultry scientist describes turkeys as “smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings.”

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Frozen turkeys are displayed for sale inside a grocery store on Nov. 14, 2022, in New York City. Turkeys are a staple for many Americans at Thanksgiving.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS
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So many turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving each year — about 46 million in America alone — that some Americans refer to the holiday as “Turkey Day.” They fixate on the taste of turkey flesh and place the bird’s basted corpse at the center of the table, as if the mass slaughter of an animal were integral to the celebration. Most of us agree that we should treat other sentient beings with compassion, yet for many, Thanksgiving tends to revolve around eating a slaughtered bird. This is classic cognitive dissonance — when our actions are inconsistent with our beliefs.

I get it. Like many people, I, too, “loved” animals but ate them and thought nothing of it for years. I was a meat-eater’s meat-eater, following my gourmand father’s dietary path: I was wild for liver and onions and raw oysters, balking only at tongue (because it was so obvious what it was) and calf’s brains on toast, one of his favorite dishes.

But things changed for me, thanks to a book I picked up on a vacation: Ruth Harrison’s eye-opening "Animal Machines." It laid out the horrors endured by those living beings we call “animals,” a word that often casually excludes humans as if we were in some other category of life, perhaps mini-gods.

Regardless of all that’s been written and filmed since 1980, when PETA came into existence hell-bent on exposing what turkeys go through before their drumsticks reach the table, many members of our species remain unmoved, even when they hear that their fellow animals (for we, too, are animals) are petrified when they’re grabbed in the factory-farm sheds, stuffed into crates, trucked through all weather extremes, and then hung upside-down by their legs in the slaughterhouse just before their throats are slit. Yet Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he wrote that “however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

I still haven’t nailed the perfect strategy that will change hearts, minds and old habits of convenience and let the other animals simply live. Some people go vegan for their health, some for the environment, others because they’re swayed by images of the unspeakable things we do to animals to get sausages, nuggets, omelets, cheese and turkey flesh on the table.

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May I suggest that this year, we observe “Turkey Day” by focusing on turkeys’ many admirable qualities rather than on the taste of their flesh? They are caring parents and spirited explorers who enjoy moving along to music, having their feathers stroked, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and spending time with their friends. One retired poultry scientist describes turkeys as “smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings.”

And like all other animals, including humans, turkeys feel pain, grief, love and joy. Why not give them a break this November and celebrate ThanksVegan, PETA’s fresh new take on the Thanksgiving holiday? Anyone wishing to take a step or even a leap into vegan living will find free downloadable vegan starter kits, recipes, tips and much more on PETA’s website.

Ingrid Newkirk is the author of Animalkind and the founder and president of PETA.

©2022 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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