I don’t usually get very personal on this blog. Recipes are great and all, but honestly? I’m not just vegan for all the delicious, fun food. I’m really here for the animals, which is why I spent spring of 2010 interning at the aptly named Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. I think about my time there every single day, and I think about it more this time of year.
Our first full day at the sanctuary, my fellow interns and I were given a tour to meet many of the shelter’s residents. It’s often the traditionally cute and fuzzy mammals that are the first to win over human hearts, and if my memory serves me correctly, at least one person on the tour swore off meat the minute she touched the soft nose of one of the resident cows. Now, I was born in Iowa, and my grandparents are farmers. I spent a lot of time in rural western Iowa growing up. So getting up close with huge, majestic cows and snorting pigs and shy sheep wasn’t all that new to me. Yes, the context was completely different — turned on its head, really. And I was incredibly happy to be there, and to bear witness to these resilient survivors of cruelty and abuse at human hands. But it didn’t blow my mind to look into the eyes of a steer named Snickers and see a living individual with a personality, like many first-time animal sanctuary visitors.
Near the end of our tour, we made our through the snow and slush to a smaller barn to meet the turkeys. Years ago when I was living in the Hudson Valley, I saw wild turkeys crossing the road all the time. But turkeys raised in factory farms (and elsewhere) bear little resemblance to those creatures; they’re bred to grow so large that they have difficulty walking and are completely unable to fly, and they’re covered in white feathers because consumers expect a certain pallor when their dead bodies are on display in the grocery store. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but seeing those huge white turkeys waddling around, thinking about how humans have played god with an entire species, thinking about how I had previously only seen domesticated turkeys in plastic bags and saran wrap and as some sort of twisted tabletop centerpiece, I just started crying. I felt like the floor had dropped out from under me.
I will never forget being introduced to a tom named Merino. When he was rescued, he was found with a badly disfigured beak. So after he finished each meal everyday, caregivers had to gently clean his face. Despite being mistreated by humans in his youth, this beautiful, sweet tom absolutely adored visitors, and in the months that I was there, I saw him puff up his feathers to show off for every single group that came to visit. To think that anyone could wish harm upon this sweet animal, to know that humans go to such incredible lengths to avoid feeling anything for non-human animals, to avoid even looking at the atrocities humans do to animals every single day — it was crushing.
While I am so incredibly grateful to have met Merino and all of the other turkeys living on the shelter, the vast majority of turkeys never have the opportunity to simply live out their lives in peace. Every single year, something like 45 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving alone. (Seriously, do you have any clue how much 45 million is? The statistics alone are mind-numbing.)
I’m not trying to bum anyone out here. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re already vegan. And while I understand that for many, Thanksgiving in America means a good deal of grinning and bearing it, I think it’s important to not just do things by rote, to not just pile on the self-deprecation when people inevitably act like there’s something wrong with you for not eating animal products. I’m definitely not saying you should punch anyone in the face tomorrow. I just believe it’s important not to laugh off veganism as “oh, this funny diet of mine!” or “my ultra-weird lifestyle choice!” My veganism is not a joke. It is not about posturing. It is not a phase. It is about living beings who eat and breathe and think and play and feel pain and love, joy and sorrow just as humans do. There is nothing insane about choosing to not eat animals. There is nothing to fault in feeling — and practicing — compassion toward other sentient beings, human or not.
If you’ve got some cash to spare, or some blank space on your favorite social media outlet, do yourself and some living, breathing turkeys a favor and check out Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt A Turkey Project.
And hey, not to push my luck or anything, but maybe go read a book while you’re at it. Love all beings, y’all.