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November 19, 2012

Conscious Consumerism: Think About the Turkey This Thanksgiving

This week and into the following one, I’m in India, where we’re continuing to ramp up the work of our affiliate, HSI India, focusing on confinement of animals on factory farms, street dog sterilization and vaccination, and eliminating animal testing for cosmetics (“Be Cruelty Free”). This weekend, I attended and spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, and I’ll be traveling to just a few of the 49 cities in this bustling country that have more than 1 million residents (the U.S. has just nine cities of that size). I’ll spend Thanksgiving here, even if it may seem like a very private party given that Indians are tapped out after the country’s annual five-day “festival of lights,” called Diwali, came to a close a few days ago.

As always, I’ll celebrate the idea of giving thanks on this holiday. But I must confess that, given the table fare for the vast majority of people, I am less than enthusiastic about what I know happens to turkeys on factory farms in the run-up to our American holiday. Americans eat more meat than just about any nation in the world, second to Luxembourg only, and most of the turkey products are consumed in November and December. We have the highest annual per capita meat consumption in the world at 110 kilograms, while the Indians are at just 3.7 kilograms – perhaps the lowest in the world.

270x240-turkeys-istock
Turkeys on factory farms are poorly bred,
overcrowded, and inhumanely slaughtered.

While the sheer volume of animal products consumed has enormous implications for animals, the environment and rural communities, the means of production also is an issue. Animals’ health, fitness, and welfare matter to HSUS and HSI and, of course, to the animals themselves. And among farm animals, there’s no food-producing animal who’s been more adversely manipulated from a breeding and genetics perspective than the turkey. Wild turkeys are alert and fast-flying, active during the day and perched in trees to sleep at night. But most industrially produced turkeys are crammed inside giant, overcrowded warehouses, and have been bred to grow so unnaturally large at such a quick pace that by the end of their lives, many have trouble even standing or walking. They have such massive chests that the birds are unable even to mate naturally anymore, meaning that nearly all farm-raised turkeys come about through artificial insemination. Some of these animals, just weeks old, die from heart attacks.

So this holiday season, be grateful. But also be conscious and aware, especially for turkeys, since custom places them at the center of the plate and the American table.

For those who will be eating turkey, there are more and more humane-minded farmers who select for healthier birds and keep the animals in better, more livable conditions. That’s a positive development, with farmers exhibiting some basic care and respect for their animals.

And for those of you who want to reduce or abstain from meat consumption, it’s easier than ever to do. There are plant-based “meat” products that are hearty, healthy, and of a familiar form. One of my favorites is Tofurky, a product of Turtle Island Foods, based in Hood River, Ore., and founded by Seth Tibbott. He supplies to more than 10,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and gives celebrants an opportunity to have Thanksgiving with all the fixings, minus the animals.

P.S. In conjunction with Seth, this year we are pleased to have facilitated a pilot program with Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services in California to donate 100 Tofurkys to the food bank's annual holiday food drive.

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