So, I know by now it may seem like I want to marry Jonathan Safran Foer and have all of his babies but honestly, I don’t agree with all of his points in Eating Animals. Besides, I don’t think I even want babies. Having children is not environmentally sustainable. However, that is a topic for other times and perhaps another blog. Although, Eating Animals is important to me personally and I have learned a helluva lot from it’s pages. Some of the most important issues I’ve found in the book are about turkeys. In the delightful (gluttonous) spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought what better time to discuss the magnificent turkey. This post got so unbelievable lengthy that I ended up dividing it into two parts. Hopefully you won’t fall asleep after the first part.
I understand that many of the vegans who read this blog have probably read Eating Animals. Most likely, but that might be too much of an assumption. Those who are not familiar with the text may be wondering what all the fuss is about because they will never read the book so I’ll be the narrator of what I’ve learned about turkeys from Jonathan Safran Foer. He’s not the only author I’ll be shamelessly pulling information from. Gene Baur, of Farm Sanctuary (I don’t want to marry him either FYI) is an incredibly important figure and expert in the treatment of turkeys on factory farms. He has also done so much to save so many turkeys from their paths to a stuffed, glistening carcass on a dinner table. Hey, I’m just being honest and when it comes to these issues it is crucial to be blunt. There will be no dressing up the horrors here. I will most certainly not play nice and murmur about how a Thanksgiving turkey is an American “tradition.” Man has seriously fucked with the natural cycles and bodies and physiology of turkeys. Possibly more than any other animal.
I’m not trying to be a killjoy for Thanksgiving. I’ve had some great Thanksgivings with family and I’m not going to tell you how to have yours. I’m glad I get to start my own new tradition of a completely vegan Thanksgiving! Too bad I’m broke as a joke trying to save money to go to Colorado (home) next month but I’ll figure out something. Besides, I’ve got some amazing cookbooks my lovely and intelligent friend, Tsouni, has generously leant to me.
For some vegan Thanksgiving delicious recipes check out the famous Post Punk Kitchen: http://www.theppk.com/category/recipe/holiday-thanksgiving/
I have put myself in such a position where I want to be as educated as possible on the raising of turkeys for food, but as a result I have been reading and seeing pictures of the most heartbreaking conditions that has literally brought tears to my eyes and feelings of intense anger. I used to see these things and choose to divorce myself from those pictures, videos and descriptions of such abuse (or maybe torture would be more apt) and cruel slaughter. I can’t do that anymore and I’m glad I can have such fantastic resources to really explain and educate others. I’m dedicated to never putting myself on a soapbox or sound like that asshole preachy vegan. I simply want the facts to speak for themselves. Sure, I have quite a bit of my opinion in here but I never claimed I’d be neutral. It’s impossible and should be. Let’s get to it.
Around 1784, the bald eagle was elected the symbol of the new American republic. Benjamin Franklin opposed this decision stating in a letter to his daughter, “The Turkey in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, withal a true original Native America.” It is doubtful Franklin would even recognize turkeys being commercially raised for food. Wild turkeys are slender, bronze-colored and could actually fly (little known fact).
Gene Baur explains in his book (Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hears and Minds about Animals and Food), turkeys raised for food, “have been bred to be white, because the plumage of darker breeds leaves pigment on the carcasses, something consumers prefer not to see. Just like meat chickens, the birds have been genetically altered to grow excessively fast and large — especially in the breast area. As a result, fatal heart attacks among turkeys are so common and economically costly that industry researches have been asked to study the problem. The turkeys are commonly lame because their spindly legs cannot support their unwieldy bodies.” (160) Maybe it’s just me, could absolutely be me, but this wasn’t a big surprise. I mean, the same goes for humans, right? Another ugly fact is that these turkeys have grown so large they are no longer able to mate naturally. Female turkeys must be inseminated by straws filled with the semen of male turkeys that have been actually masturbated by workers. Sounds completely insane, right? But is it all that surprising considering these “mutant birds” are in no way natural in the first place? Turkeys are also not allowed to form “natural social structures” because they are confined to crowded grower houses giving them under three feet of of space blocking their instinctual urges such as perching, running and foraging. (Baur) To be expected, (remember the salmon?) the turkeys begin to peck and fight other turkeys nearby. There is no way to prevent this type of behavior in salmon but in turkeys (as well as chickens) factory-farmed turkeys are “de-beaked” which is exactly how it sounds and even parts of their toes are removed (to make catching them easier causing no harm to the handlers). All of this is done of course without any sort of painkiller. Since this process is often done quickly mistakes are made that may result in most of the turkey’s beak to be cut off making it nearly impossible for the turkey to eat and breathe.
If you’ve ever been in any agricultural feed store (unfortunately I have when I was living in Kansas City… we used to buy our birdseed there) you may have seen chicks confined in little pens for purchase. Or perhaps around Easter? Have you ever wondered how these chicks got there in the first place if you are living in a city? Baur informs that it “is completely legal to ship many species of domesticated birds, including turkeys, through the mail. In fact, people do it all the time. The birds are packed into boxes, just like clothing or electronics would be. Your order automatically includes more birds than you purchased, since the shipper fully expects some to die in the mail.” Even if you are completely hardened and filled with so much indifference towards turkeys, can you deny how cruel this is? Why would we feel differently if we were talking about dogs and cats?
Education from Farm Sanctuary: (a must read)
“Chickens and turkeys are taken to the slaughterhouse in crates stacked on the backs of open trucks. During transport, the birds are not protected from weather conditions, and a percentage of the birds are expected to die en route. Birds freeze to death in winter, or die from heat stress and suffocation in warm weather. It is “cheaper” for the industry to transport the birds in open crates without adequate protection, despite high mortality rates. Upon arrival at the slaughterhouse, the birds are either pulled individually from their crates, or the crates are lifted off the truck, often with a crane or forklift, and the birds are dumped onto a conveyor belt. As the birds are unloaded, some miss the conveyor belt and fall onto the ground. Slaughterhouse workers intent upon ‘processing’ thousands of birds every hour have neither the time nor the inclination to pick up individuals who fall through the cracks, and these birds suffer grim deaths. Some die after being crushed by machinery or vehicles operating near the unloading area, while others may die of starvation or exposure days, or even weeks, later.”
Birds inside the slaughterhouse suffer an equally gruesome fate. Upon entering the facility, fully conscious birds are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail. Although poultry are specifically excluded from the federal Humane Slaughter Act (which requires that animals be stunned before they are slaughtered), many slaughterplants first stun the birds in an electrified water bath in order to immobilize them and expedite assembly line killing.”
more from this article here: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/issues/factoryfarming/poultry/
Returning to topic, “nowhere in our collective schizophrenic attitude to turkeys on a greater display than at Thanksgiving.” (Baur 163)
“While female turkeys are still slaughtered at about 12 pounds, the industry has added a pound a year to the market weight of male turkeys, who can now grow to 40 pounds or more in 20 weeks. Rather than rely on added hormones or steroids, genetic selection has been used to make turkeys grow faster and heavier. “There’s going to be a physiological limit,” cautions Kent Reed, part of a team of scientists mapping the turkey’s genetic structure. In addition to joint and skeletal problems, he notes that some birds actually develop a heart that is unable to pump blood to all of their muscle mass.” (veganoutreach.org)
“Why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempted from ethical rules that govern our other senses?”- activist who wishes to remain anonymous quoted from Eating Animals
Drawing from Foer’s book, here is a description of how the turkey industry has manipulated the instinctual laying schedule of the turkey to be the most profitable:
“As soon as females mature….they’re put into barns and they lower the light; sometimes it’s total darkness twenty-four/seven. And then they put them on a very low-protein diet, almost a starvation diet. That will last about two or three weeks. They turn the lights on sixteen hours a day, so she thinks it’s spring, and they put her on high-protein feed. She immediately starts laying. They have it down to such a science that they can stop it, start it, and everything. See, in the wild, where spring comes, the bugs come and the grass comes and the days get longer–that’s a key to tell the birds, “Well, I better start laying. Spring is coming.” So man has tapped into that already built-in thing. And by controlling the light, the feed, and when they eat, the industry can force the birds to lay eggs year-round…..Turkey hens now lay 120 eggs a year. That’s two or even three times as many as in nature. After that first year, they are killed because they won’t lay as many eggs in the second year–the industry figured it’s cheaper to slaughter them and start over than it is feed and house the birds that lay fewer eggs. These practices are a big part of why poultry meat is so cheap today, but the birds suffer for it.”
“Look at what we as a society has done to animals as soon as we had the technological power.”
Turkeys are specifically exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. There is a reason farmers lock their sheds and refuse interviews. “The business depends on consumers not being able to see (or hear about) what they do.” -Foer
If you, like millions of Americans, are eating a Butterball turkey this year you might find this interesting/horrifying: http://www.peta.org/features/butterball-peta-investigation.aspx
If you are feeling better because you bought a “free-range” or “cage-free” or “organic” turkey this year consider this:
“Humane educator Rae Sikora, founder and director of Simply Enough, visited “a local, organic farm with a good reputation for environmental and humane standards.” She reports, “The birds are ‘gently’ pushed into wall mounted funnels head first and upside down. With their heads hanging below an opening at the base of the funnel, the ‘harvester’ slices the major arteries on the bird’s neck. A bucket catches the blood below. In the words of the harvester, ‘I slice with a clean hundred dollar surgical knife. I am careful not to cut the airway. We need them alive, breathing and bleeding to drain all the blood out or it gets too messy in the next step. It is very fast. It only takes two minutes. They are breathing the whole time and their legs are kicking, but it is mostly just nerves.’” Sikora urges everyone who eats meat labeled as “humane,” “organic,” or “free range” to visit the place the meat comes from. “They will realize these labels give people permission to turn their backs on the violent reality of eating living beings,” she asserts.” (veganoutreach.org)
“Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.”