Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving Day, millions of Americans will slice into a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, enjoying an annual bonanza of turkey gravy, side dishes, desserts, and family time.
But there are a growing number of Americans opting out of that oven-roasted gobbler goodness as a main dish in the name of animal rights. That’s right, instead of eating turkeys this year, some people are adopting them.
The annual Adopt A Turkey project, hosted by the Farm Sanctuary, sets out to educate people about the plight of the turky and provide resources for “a cruelty-free holiday.” For $30, you can adopt a turkey at the farm, and help it live a long and healthy and cruelty-free life. The project is endorsed by celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres.
Before you pass judgment on the idea, consider the recent stories about conditions at Smithfields Foods, where conditions of the pigs destined for the McRib were deplorable, unsanitary, and downright inhumane, as well as this week’s story that Sparboe Farms’ violations caused McDonalds and Target to cut ties with the egg supplier.
Most of us have no clue how animals are treated before they reach the dinner plate; in fact, I’ve venture to say that most of us really don’t association the burger with the cow or the drumstick with the turkey. As an elementary school kid where hamburger comes from and my guess is he’ll say, “The grocery store.”
I, too, used to mock those earnest defenders of animal rights. But as I’ve matured I’ve educated myself, reading books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” watching documentaries like “Food, Inc.” and visiting a dairy farm. And once you start to understand that milk comes from an actual cow, that the cow eats actual food and is milked by an actual human (via machine, but trust me, a human is still very much involved and the poop still smells as bad), you get a different perspective on that $5 latte. I even got my own little flock of chickens, and if that’s not a lesson in where eggs come from, I don’t know what is.
But I still eat meat. Sometimes. I just eat it with a little more care and reverence for the sacrifice a living animal made so I could be nourished. I’ve also learned that there are thousands of other food sources that we American’s ignore, things that are not only nutritious but taste great.
I’m an omnivore but one with a (growing) conscience, and I’ve begun to put my Christian beliefs into practice when it comes to what’s on my plate. I love the way Joel Salatin and the folks at Polyface Farms approach farming: “We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”
Their sustainable farm philosophy means a pig gets to be a pig and a chicken gets to be a chicken and cows eat grass, the way nature intended. As the Polyface website explains, “It’s all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it’s all aromatically and aesthetically romantic.”
I believe God gave us animals to eat, but not without consideration for their care, well-being and needs. And not as the main course every day. Or as Michael Pollen writes, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
In reality, it’s not always possible to eat humanely raised meat all the time, or to be able to afford it. All you can do is understand the problem and take steps towards more humane treatment of farm animals, and towards understanding where your food comes from and the sacrifices made by both animal and farmer to bring it to you. Eat less meat, eat more vegetables and grains, and just for kicks, visit your local dairy farm. And if you don’t have a local dairy farm … well, that says something, doesn’t it?
Tomorrow, I’m having turkey for dinner. Turkey and gravy and potatoes and rolls and stuffing. And I’m not going to feel badly about it. At the same time, for those of you who opt for Tofurkey, my hat is off to you. Because tomorrow the point is to give thanks – for family, health, friends, and food, whatever kind of food you’re eating.