Wednesday, 24 November 2010

(Not So) Happy Turkey Day

When I was growing up in the 80s it was cool to say things like “Happy VD” for Valentines Day--oh ha ha. Yes I get the witty connection between love and sexually transmitted diseases. We also used to say Happy Turkey Day when we really meant Thanksgiving.  I looked forward to Thanksgiving every year because turkey was my favourite meat. But if you really think about it--it’s not happy for the turkey. Turkey farming is big business. Turkeys are bred to big ole fat butterballs that often cannot walk due to their top heavy bodies or even reproduce normally. They are basically too fat for sex and have to be inseminated. How sad is that?

Many people associate turkey with tradition. What would the meal be without turkey? Well, a lot less cruel for a start. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving anyway? To remember the founding fathers (and mothers!) who survived that first harsh year in a new country. To remember their friendship with the Native Americans and how they were thankful for God’s help in their survival as well as their Native comrades who helped them cope with the long, hard winter. It is about giving thanks for what we have and counting our blessings not stuffing ourselves with factory farmed turkey virgins. But why can’t people have new traditions? Why is it so hard for some families to support a vegetarian/vegan family member during this time?  Why does their need to be a dead bird on the table to make it a real day of thanks?

This is from the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer:

At the center of our Thanksgiving tables is an animal that never breathed fresh air or saw the sky until it was packed away for slaughter.  At the end of our forks is an animal that was incapable of reproducing sexually.  In our bellies is an animal with antibiotics in its belly. ... And what would happen if there were no turkey?  Would the tradition be broken, or injured, if instead of a bird we simply had the sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies? ... See your loved ones around the table.  Hear the sounds, smell the smells.  There is no turkey.  Is the holiday undermined?  Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving? 

Try telling my grandmother this. Sweetie doesn’t even believe that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (or 4th of July) here in England. Every year when I phone her to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving she is surprised and quite sceptical that we are not celebrating the same holidays. I try each year to remind her why the first Thanksgiving was celebrated, but it means nothing. I try to tell her that we have holidays like Bonfire Night and St George’s Day that America doesn’t celebrate, but she’ll have none of it. If they don’t celebrate it in Texas, it can’t be true.

I leave you with a favourite poem by vegan extraordinaire Benjamin Zephaniah whose wit and wisdom and Reggae style make me smile every time. Try reading it out loud for fun. Go on, you know you want to.  This is a poem about eating turkey and Christmas (because we do celebrate Christmas here, Sweetie!) but the sentiment is the same.

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don't eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side.
I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer an his wife.

Turkeys just wanna play reggae
Turkeys just wanna hip-hop
Can yu imagine a nice young turkey saying,
'I cannot wait for de chop',
Turkeys like getting presents, dey wanna watch christmas TV,
Turkeys hav brains an turkeys feel pain
In many ways like yu an me.

I once knew a turkey called...Turkey
He said "Benji explain to me please,
Who put de turkey in christmas
An what happens to christmas trees?",
I said "I am not too sure turkey
But it’s nothing to do wid Christ Mass
Humans get greedy an waste more dan need be
An business men mek loadsa cash'.

Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
Invite dem indoors fe sum greens
Let dem eat cake an let dem partake
In a plate of organic grown beans,
Be nice to yu turkey dis christmas
An spare dem de cut of de knife,
Join Turkeys United an dey'll be delighted
An yu will mek new friends 'FOR LIFE'

So, think about what’s on your plate. Count your blessings, name them one by one (as the old hymn says) and create new holiday traditions around love and family. Happy Thanksgiving to all my American mates, but especially to my grandmother Sweetie. I’m thinking of you even if I’m not having turkey. 


  1. Love the poem! When we were in Germany, we celebrated both German and American holidays. Miss those days...

  2. Danny, according to Sweetie, Germans have no proper holidays!

    Heather, I was going to have turkey and gravy today, but you just ruined it for me . . . I really would like to have some of Georgette Roddy's home raised turkeys-----no weird stuff done to them, no genetically changed anything, just plain old farm-raised, home-slaughtered turkeys. She was the epitome of the old time farmer wife----grew a huge vegetable garden in summer, canned everything, raised her own animals, did her own slaughtering and canning. Down in her basement there was always food stored for cooking. Reminded me of my grandparents' way of life when I was a child.

  3. oh yeah, I remember that poem from last year----pretty cute! and I did say it out loud just for the effect.