These days, most people have a vegan in their life, and chances are they have something to say about the typical main course on Thanksgiving Day.
It might go something like this: turkeys are someone, not something, and they want to live.
Despite being completely true, this might not move you one bit. But upon further investigation, I've discovered some freaky sh*t that should make even the most desensitized omnivore think twice.
It turns out that even a free-range organic turkey purchased from a small local family farm typically fits the following description:
- is a 5-month old mutant baby who probably never met his or her mother or father
- was conceived by a mother and father who never touched each other
- is the product of a human physically jerking off a restrained male turkey with the desired traits and then forcing the sperm into a restrained female turkey's genitals (not kidding)
- was intentionally orphaned, having hatched from a resulting egg that was removed and placed in an energy-intensive artificial incubator
- was then quickly fattened up with corn and soy, only half of which was converted to edible calories while 21 million people a day starve, and the rest of the calories became pollutants
- was then slaughtered via methods that normal people don’t talk about, ask about, or watch – they just eat the results and give "thanks."
Before I get into those details, let's start with a story from earlier this year, shall we?
It's 2:30am on a hot July night and I can't sleep. Because 7,000 baby animals in my area just died, and the whole community is upset and offering condolences for this tragedy.
Worse yet, these babies were all denied a mother, from the moment their eyes opened to see their strange and confusing living conditions until they closed them while gasping for their last breath.
Add that to the fact they were intentionally brought into the world by humans specifically to die. As babies.
But the real rub is that this tragedy was entirely unnecessary and avoidable.
The above real-life scenario describes the following:
- An accidental barn fire that took the lives of 7,000 turkey poults (babies).
- Exactly what was scheduled to intentionally happen 5 months later anyway.
- Both of the above.
If you selected both of the above, you're correct! These two scenarios as described had the same exact instigating factors – thousands of birds were artificially incubated into existence without mothers and were therefore huddled together in a barn for warmth and socialization – and the same exact ultimate outcome resulted - they all perished.
It’s just that they weren't supposed to perish until they were killed intentionally by people, all while still babies.
The community expresses condolences about the former scenario, yet collectively ignores the latter. One they "mourn," the other they celebrate. This doesn't actually make sense. And for that reason, "the trolls come out of the woodwork."
A troll speaks.
Before we get much further, I have something to confess: I'm now officially what's called an "internet troll." Hundreds of people agree.
How did this happen? I'm not quite sure. I'm an educated, successful, pretty nice person, and not a social pariah. Yet when I visited the Facebook page of this local turkey farm, I found out I am actually a internet troll and so much worse. It was even confirmed by a local newspaper article with the sub-headline, “The blaze devastated a Lancaster family farm, and now the internet trolls are coming.”
Why have I been classified in this way? Because I expressed the glaring contradiction described above, along with sympathy that these people are needlessly suffering after having lost part of their livelihood - while at the same time gently pointing out how they can now transition to an equally successful livelihood. And I respectfully and calmly engaged other adults in really important, totally relevant facts and questions they simply could not or would not answer.
People are very, very confused.
We love animals. Or at least we don't want to see them hurt.
But to eat them, we've gotta pay people to do weird stuff to them we wouldn't really want to do ourselves. Unless we specifically like to kill and dismantle them like a piece of IKEA furniture.
And yet... We don't have to eat them in the first place.
Which would remove the false sense of need to kill and dismantle them.
Being told of this, apparently, makes people's brains explode with rage – not at themselves for having had them killed anyway this whole time, but at the person telling them this.
It's what some poet dude once called "shooting the messenger."
“The negative comments and cruelty [from vegans] are not welcomed and we are heartbroken that we even have to address things like this,” Bob’s Turkey Farm posted, as reported by CBS news. “These animals are not just how we pay the bills- they are our passion and to suggest anything else is just ignorant.”
Hang on a sec. To suggest that the birds you forcibly kill, behead, and shove into crates as 5-month-old plastic-wrapped carcasses are anything but your passion – and to dare ask why you're upset they accidentally died before you could intentionally kill them yourself – is ignorant and cruel? We should zip our lips unless we're unquestioningly shoving their lifeless baby bodies down our throats? Your heart is figuratively breaking so much as to have to address why you literally take a knife and intentionally stop their baby hearts from beating?
Legitimate questions, but CBS local felt uncompelled to explore such a perspective, stopping at that of the farmers'.
Many commenters said that these were cute babies and they felt bad they had died and were sorry for the farmers. I reminded one such person that it was July, and these babies were scheduled by the farmers who bred them to die in five months in November for Thanksgiving (and their natural lifespan would be up to twelve years), so the plan was always for them to die as babies. That is precisely why they were even bred into existence. Pretty airtight logic, right? I think I was told to f*ck off.
The message of this particular post that summoned the vegan “trolls” was that it's wrong to critically discuss why 7,000 birds were in one barn in the first place – because they were in fact huddled together for warmth and socialization.
Ah. Well that explains it! Now I can eat turkeys without guilt and tell those vegans to shut up.
But as with all justifications made by farmers of so-called livestock, this explanation is only addressing the tip of the ethical iceberg. It sounds reassuring if you just leave it at that, but you have to play the "why" game – you know, when one clarifying question compounds after the next – to learn what's under the surface and outside of our collective awareness.
And the final answer is always the same.
Let's try it.
Why are a bunch of babies huddled together into a barn for warmth and socialization, like this?
Because they don't have mothers, and if they did they would be huddled under their mothers' wings instead, and she would teach them how to be a turkey. Like this:
Wait, why don't they have mothers?
Because they are selectively bred for the traits people want, and artificially incubated into existence.
Weird. Why were they artificially incubated?
Because it's exponentially more convenient to breed turkeys and chickens this way when you want to breed a remotely profitable amount of turkeys or chickens. The natural way is more time consuming and unreliable, and often even physically impossible.
Er, so how did the parents procreate then?
Although some farmed turkeys physically mate if reared on an extremely small or backyard farms, it’s highly likely that the parents of the "all-natural" turkey on your table never touched each other. As this Discovery Channel narrator for the show "How Stuff Works" notes, the males “have gotten” so big with such big breasts and short legs (as if people had nothing to do with that) that they can’t physically mate.
“Sperm wranglers harvest turkey semen manually!” the Discovery host says cheerfully. “The process is called “milking!” Listverse elaborates under their “engrossing” (more like f*cking gross) facts about turkeys that jerking off a tom takes the person tasked with such a thing no more than two minutes and “four strokes of the cloaca.” The hens are then “inseminated by automated injection,” which occurs “on a weekly basis” until it sticks. The semen from one “breeder” male is used to inseminate up to 60 hens.
This is not even an animal rights video, it's presented as educational. It clearly shows both males and females being restrained by both of their legs as they are either physically jerked off or penetrated, depending on their gender, by human beings.
In case you’re wondering if you are looking at the act of humans sexually violating animals, yes. Yes, you are.
Oh, and then the resulting eggs are removed from mom and put in an incubator. Bye?
Who will teach them to be a turkey if they don’t have a mom?
No one, and people will call them "stupid" as a result.
But how will they take care of themselves?
The farmers will do what it takes to collectively get them all to five months or so. They'll just be in this barn and then, in this particular farm, they'll have access to outside for a few months in a confined area, and then they'll all be slaughtered.
Their wild counterparts are not subject to such bizarre treatment at human hands, and live much different, fuller lives. They have family units and strong bonds. Declares University of Florida Habitat Tracker, the females are very protective of their young. When there is danger, the baby turkeys will hide and freeze, expertly performing the mannequin challenge in the brush. Rather than abandoning her babies to save herself, the mother hen will often fake an injury to distract the potential predator, bravely risking it all to protect her precious young.
See it for yourself:
Wait. It's July [which is when the barn fire occurred and when I wrote much of this article], and Thanksgiving is in November. You're saying these adorable yellow fluffy babies are going to be killed in just 5 months? Won't they still be babies?
Yes. They will still basically be babies in age, but they won't look like babies because they'll have been fattened up on lots of grain, corn, and/or soy and were bred to grow unnaturally. They will be killed before they've even reached sexual maturity, as the females aren't capable of reproducing until about seven months. They're babies.
Here's the final answer to the why game that's always the same:
Why do any of this at all?
So we can kill them and eat their carcasses for pleasure when we could instead get sustenance from plants, including foods made from the very same plants we inefficiently feed animals instead.
Here’s where the cognitive dissonance in these conversations kicks in.
Ok. It's sad that they have to kill them, but not everyone can be vegan, so at least they're not factory farmers, right?
Actually, although we've all been scared into believing otherwise, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professional has the official position that vegan diets are healthful and appropriate for individuals in all stages of life.
But not everyone wants to be vegan.
Well if you don't want to be vegan, you have to specifically want animals to be violated and harmed on your behalf. You can't not want animals harmed but still have them harmed because you wanted to eat them, but you don't want to harm them, and then expect this to be seen as a coherent explanation, to yourself or anyone else.
Don't these farmers have no choice? They wouldn't be able to grow vegetables all year in New England and other areas.
We currently have the following available to us at a small local farmers’ market in the dead of winter in New England, with much more at other times of the year: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, garlic, gourds, kale, leeks, onions, salad greens, shallots, turnips, and winter squash, plus sourdough bread from a local bakery.
Turkey farmers are essentially converting grain, corn and/or soybeans (which may be grown, processed and shipped in from elsewhere) into turkey meat, but wasting half of it in the process. This is because turkeys have a feed conversion ratio (or FCR; the ratio of the amount of feed eaten to body weight gain) of about 2:1. So in terms of the yield of food that could have been produced, one pile of turkey meat is equivalent to a much larger pile of nutritious plant-based crops exactly twice its size. The waste is built in. Per Scientific American, the massive amount of corn fed to farmed animals suffers major losses of calories and protein along the way. “What this all means is that little of the corn crop actually ends up feeding American people. It’s just math.” (And then on top of that, in the process, massive amounts of waste and runoff are produced, a whole other topic.)
To further drive home this point, one blogger trying to justify consuming a turkey on Thanksgiving raised in the “best” of circumstances discovered that the small farm she was considering grow their own corn and soybeans and feed 1,800 tons of it to the turkeys weekly. She ponders: “Using farm land to grow only two types of crops for the sole purpose to feed animals. hmmm. That doesn’t sound like sustainable, responsible farming, does it?”
But this is what the farmers know. It's a tradition.
Change is hard, but many former animal farmers have transitioned to a plant-based business model and are doing great! One example is Soledad Goats, former award-winning goat cheese makers who changed the farm over to a vegan sanctuary where the animals live out their natural lifespan instead of being exploited and then sent to slaughter, and now the owners make and sell a successful line of delicious vegan cheese made with all natural, non-GMO, and plant-based ingredients.
And many other people have gone from farming animals to saving them. It's never too late to start a new, even better tradition that doesn't involve, I don't know, say, slaughtering innocent baby mutants. There's lots of support and incentive to diversify to plant-based foods, as even investors who manage over a trillion dollars have formally asked food companies to do, and the plant-based market is exploding so the customer base is there.
This is how animal farming works. You may be against eating meat or farming animals, but not everyone is.
If you're against things like selectively breeding animals, denying them a mother, and/or killing them as babies, you're against farming birds and other animals for their meat.
(And if you're against killing male babies because they won't lay eggs and then killing the females once their bodies give out, then you're also against farming birds for their eggs. And if you are against separating newborn babies from mothers or severely restricting their nursing before killing them as babies, adolescents, or exhausted mothers still a fraction into their natural lifespan, you’re against farming cows for their milk).
Yes, the process will vary slightly on some farms, for example, "heritage" breed turkeys may physically mate and may be fattened up for several additional weeks before being slaughtered. Yet the outcome is always the same.
If you reframe it as being "how farming works" and insist you're not against farming animals, yet you admit you're against the actual process of farming them, you're performing some pretty hardcore mental gymnastics in order to make your actions appear to match your values when they don't.
These are not just vegan values, they're yours too. The only difference is that vegans are acting on them.
What if every year when these turkeys were slaughtered, it made the news? What if people asked how they were slaughtered? How old they were? Where their mothers were? What if people asked if the turkey they were eating was a male or female? What her morning and evening routine was? Where she slept at night? Whether she dreamed? Whether she had a best friend?
The problem is not this particular farm or farmers (although they allegedly resisted regulations to install sprinklers and weren't insured.) The problem is the violent paradigm we've all been conditioned to believe is “just the way things are” or must be.
We are mostly nice and compassionate people. But we believe a paradoxical absurdity: That we must manipulate and repurpose the very existence of certain other complex, sensitive individuals because our acquired tastes, habits and traditions (which can all easily be changed with a bit of gumption) trump all else. Including the very lives of other sentient beings – the ones we instinctively feel so bad for when they die before we can them first.
Kill them to "give thanks." Or hell, just for a sandwich on a regular day.
These farmers are being lionized and held up as pillars of the community who are currently rallying around them, and a GoFundMe has been started which I have no doubt will be funded. They will rebuild their barn and next year, 7,000 more confused motherless babies will be fattened up and slaughtered five months later. (See update at end of the article.)
And the same will happen the next year, and the next, until these beloved farmers retire.
It's truly dumbfounding to see so many people express sympathy and compassion for dead birds they were going to pay to have killed, and then channel their disdain toward vegans reacting to this. They are saying that killing healthy young animals is showing them kindness, love, and care, while merely suggesting not killing them is hateful and negative. Is this the Twilight Zone?
"We spend day in and day out feeding, watering, nurturing and growing these animals [specifically in order to kill them] and to say we are jolted by the loss of so many lives is not enough," a Bob's Turkey Farm farmer told a journalist. The posted on their GoFundMe, “we grieve all of the lives that were lost in this tragedy.” Another article mentions they are "mourning the loss of their animals."
What's truly jolting is the astounding level of cognitive dissonance required for them to say this, to omit their true slaughterous intention maybe even to themselves, and for those around them to go along with the charade. Why don't they also "mourn" and "grieve" the loss of the lives they kill themselves? Anyone daring to challenge this illogical disconnect is dismissed or even straight-up censored. Yep, they blocked and deleted my ass.
These animals trust us, and we betray them. And we can’t admit this, because it goes against our very humanity.
As I drove to an appointment that morning, to my amazement, from my vantage point on the highway in a large nearby field I spotted two wild turkeys. A female appeared to be grazing while a male stood proudly and protectively by her, or maybe just courting her, feathers out in an amazingly beautiful and downright magical display.
Yes. These creatures are majestic. They had mothers that taught them how to be badass turkeys under a wide open sky. Giving zero f*cks. They are living under their own terms a hopefully long and full life, although likely difficult and cruel at times but also blissful at others. In a world full of people hell bent on ensuring their death – along with natural predators who try to do so for survival rather than gluttony – they are wildly, boldly, brazenly free. Isn't that what we all want?
At that moment, I decided this here ignorant internet troll owed it to them and everyone else covered in feathers, fur or fins to write this article. I will troll my very best for you badasses, the strange and beautiful and talented aliens we share this planet with, like no one has trolled before if trolling means truth telling. I won't be censored. Turkeys, 45 million of whom are slaughtered at human hands every Thanksgiving, deserve this effort at the very least.
And you, dear reader, deserve the respect to be told the truth, however hard it is to hear and however deeply it is suppressed by our culture. An informed choice requires all the available information, not overly simplified half-truths and marketing green washing – and fairy tales we were told at children and never looked past, because we suspected the truth might force us to make an unfamiliar change.
This is not about good versus bad people or judging anyone. This not about someone else's morals. The basic golden rule is to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. We have compassion for all creation. These are human values, not vegan values. But we are taught to suppress them, and it's all we know. Rather than clinging to our defenses, it's time to open our hearts and minds to positive change.
We're all in this together, and I'm so grateful you've read this. Let's be truly thankful for the wonderful opportunity to inform ourselves and evolve – together – beyond the gross and unnecessary animal slaughter industry by embracing veganism.
Five months later...
I wrote this article in July, and now that November has rolled around I confirmed that the money was raised for the farm to rebuild. There were surprisingly few comments on the GoFundMe given the frenzied Facebook thread, but the most “hearted” comment is by a woman who writes without a trace of irony, “Just wanted to let all the vegans know that ummm plants are alive too. And you kill them at an even higher rate. Think of all the industrial farming of corn and soy with all that round up.” Oh, Liz. WGBH had previously done a profile of Bob’s Turkey Farm and reported their turkeys are... wait for it... “fed a balanced grain diet that consists mostly of corn and soy.”
As explained above, one of course “kills” astronomically more corn and soy when they are funneled through animals first. Ummm.
I also learned that at Bob’s, as their website states, “We breed, raise, and slaughter all of our own turkeys.” They make sure to not show or tell us how the latter is done though. Photos of turkeys are either living turkeys or headless carcasses, with all that occurs in between those stages omitted.
Because otherwise, we maybe might not actually want to eat someone's headless carcass after all.
As was reported two years before the fire, “The team at Bob’s Turkey Farm will start slaughtering and processing the birds on Nov. 12 and work straight through Thanksgiving Day.” As the piece’s only vague reference to the inherent repugnancy of killing a healthy animal who doesn’t want to die, the journalist follows this with a brief quote from one of the farmers: “We grew up around it, so it doesn’t faze us.” Read: they were desensitized to animal killing from an early age, but if you weren’t, it will faze you and then some, so let's not talk about that.
The journalist even includes specific details about what happens right after slaughter (the now deceased birds are “cleaned” [of things like blood, feathers, feces] and then “packed in chill tanks with ice and kept at a very low temperature). And in case you were wondering, according to Bob, Sue and Richard, “the flavor and texture are better if the turkey has been dead at least two to three days.”
Despite omitting such a major detail of the process as the slaughter itself from the feature, the journalist does feel it's necessary to talk smack about the living turkeys, asserting, “Much like wild turkeys, domesticated turkeys can be unfortunately be aggressive and mean to each other” (sounds like a typical morning commute for humans, no?), without mentioning any of their positive traits described in part above.
Of course, this is a rash generalization used to justify the ultimate human aggression: needless killing. Fictionalizing animal identities, which is what we do by blaming the victims themselves, allows us to rationalize that they deserve what's coming to them. In reality, “What we tend to find is, just like people, there are some birds that are more aggressive or less concerned about the world around them,” Marion Larson of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has said. Even one backyard turkey farmer admits of the turkeys he raises for slaughter, “They are just a very gentle bird.” And someone else once called the turkey a little "vain and silly" but still “a respectable bird” and “a bird of courage” – but what the f*ck does Benjamin Franklin know? They’re all just mean jerkwads, so just stuff bread up their lifeless anuses already, okay guys?
At Bob’s farm, some families apparently take pictures when they pick out their bird. Wonder why no one is asking to photograph the slaughter of their bird? Or even asking how their bird is slaughtered? (Or asking themselves why they are eating a bird carcass to celebrate human genocide? I digress.)
The Thanksgiving/Thanksliving article I wrote last year includes more info and a video of a turkey being slaughtered in the most "humane" of conditions, and even that is terribly upsetting for sensitized people to see.
In conclusion, to stop vegan trolls from ruining your Thanksgiving, go ahead and pretend you didn't just read this article, ignore all others like it, and plant your head firmly back in the sand. Just remember that obscene abuses like I've described (and I just touched on a fraction of them) from which we instinctively want to recoil are part of animal agriculture across the board and under the best of conditions. Animal products are unnecessary and we have other options, so continuing to fund needless suffering is a confounding choice.
If, on the other hand, you're ready to begin moving on from the extremely weird and cruel sh*t you've been unwittingly paying people to do to baby birds and other awesome individuals on your behalf, welcome to the fold! You're in excellent company:
Written by Lorelei Plotczyk
Learn more at Why Veganism