I have always wanted to take a stand against thanksgiving day, but worries over hurt feelings and a day spent alone at the office drive me to a good friend’s veggie potluck every year. I know some thoughtful omnivores who respect me and their other veg*an friends enough to make their thanksgivings veg only. I think the gesture is awesome. I know well-meaning veg*ans who have veggie celebrations. I am not sending an F you to people who try to mitigate the damage of the holiday, but I am encouraging a more radical stance. This year, I am saying NO and hoping you will consider doing the same.
Sit tight. This is a long one.
thanksgiving is an atrocious “holiday.” I encourage my fellow feminists, vegans and others who just don’t like bullshit or abuse or violence to JUST SAY NO to this holiday. And by “no” I don’t mean a little twist on the typical celebration. By no I don’t mean: “Lets have a vegan potluck” or “Lets take the day off and go to the beach” or “Lets just hit up the movies” or “Lets skip the big dinner so that we can sleep on the sidewalk all night, camped outside some store that has some Black Friday sale on some item we really want to buy.” By “just say NO,” I mean, just DON’T DO it. Any of it.
Sure. You will have a thanksgiving potluck at work, your vegan potluck the Saturday before will call itself a “thanksgiving potluck,” etc. etc. People will turn the normal place you plan on being into a “thanksgiving” celebration. I get it- you can’t take the day off work. Bring the vegan cookies but also bring the rhetoric and whatever you do, please DO NOT do anything of this sort on thanksgiving day.
No turkey, no tofurkey, no stuffing, no movies, no shopping, no airplane tickets. Just don’t do it. Reject thanksgiving in its entirety.
There are a few celebrations dating back to the 16th century which are touted as the “first” thanksgiving but the thanksgiving feast we turn to as foundation of our modern, secular holiday was in 1623 at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. After a harsh winter these European settlers, who lost around half of their population that winter, celebrated what they were able to harvest. They invited their neighbors, the indigenous peoples (a.k.a Native Americans) who had taught them how to farm.
This could be a sweet story I guess, but now lets think about what European settlers did (and are doing) to Native Americans (in no specific order, and not nearly a complete list of atrocities): Conestoga Massacre, Gnadenhutten Massacre, Sand Creek Massacre, Camp Grant Massacre, Wounded Knee Massacre, Trail of Tears, The Reservation system, “The Reservation schools,” 1830 Indian Removal Act, Cointelpro infiltration of Red Power Movement, current inequalities in education, employment and poverty…And this is just a start. As colonizers, we happily took their farming skills and their seeds and then we took their land and culture and families and freedom.
If the fact that the thanksgiving tradition is rooted in so much violence, exploitation and racism isn’t enough to deter you, then let’s talk turkey. Depending on the estimate, somewhere between 40 and 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the US for thanksgiving day alone. This is vile on several grounds. First, and most important, is that eating turkey is lame. Second, it propagates an old habit in America—over-consumption. I’ll start with the later point.
We live in a consumption-obsessed society and all holidays in this country are whored out for their capitalist capacity. thanksgiving doesn’t warrant gift-giving but it sure does warrant a whole lot of shopping—for kitchen-goods shaped like turkeys, food, food, food, airline tickets, gas, food and food. And then there is Black Friday—which encourages us to take out more credit than we can pay back and glorifies sleeping on the same sidewalks that homeless people are vilified for living on—all in the name of a great sale.
thanksgiving engenders over-indulgence. That middle and upper America has come to accept over-indulgence as a “right” has lead to even more great atrocities (namely that we will let our government do anything to protect our right to have too much). A day set aside for binging and buying and sitting on the couch and over-spending is, much like eating turkeys, lame.
Eating Turkeys is Lame.
No animal, human or non-human, lives to be exploited by people for any reason, much less the trivial reason of “taste.” (I will not go into this here. Here is a nice summary of the basic principles of veganism).
For those speciesists unable to swallow the idea that turkeys have a right to live for themselves, rather than for the sake of being killed for humans, you should at least agree that the turkeys people choose to eat should not suffer needlessly. However, the normal rate at which our population consumes the flesh of dead animals, much less the frantic pace at which we consume dead turkeys for thanksgiving, leads to a system of factory farming that generates horrific suffering:
[Turkeys] are typically crowded by the thousand into huge factory- like warehouses where they can barely move…each given less than three square feet. Both chickens and turkeys have the end of their beaks cut off, and turkeys also have their toes clipped. All of these mutilations are performed without anaesthesia [sic], and they are done in order to reduce injuries which result when stressed birds are driven to fighting.
…Commercial turkeys also suffer from genetic manipulation…An industry journal laments “…turkeys have been bred to grow faster and heavier but their skeletons haven’t kept pace, which causes ‘cowboy legs’. Commonly, the turkeys have problems standing and fall and are trampled on or seek refuge under feeders, leading to bruises and downgradings as well as culled or killed birds.”
…Once inside the slaughterhouse, fully conscious birds are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail. The first station on most poultry slaughterhouse assembly lines is the stunning tank, where the birds’ heads are submerged in an electrified bath of water…Poultry slaughterhouses commonly set the electrical current lower than what is required to render the birds unconscious because of concerns that too much electricity would damage the carcass and diminish its value. The result is that birds are immobilized but are still capable of feeling pain, or they emerge from the stunning tank still conscious.
After passing through the stunning tank, the birds’ throats are slashed, usually by a mechanical blade, and blood begins rushing out of their bodies. Inevitably, the blade misses some birds who then proceed to the next station on the assembly line, the scalding tank. Here they are submerged in boiling hot water. Birds missed by the killing blade are boiled alive. This occurs so commonly, affecting millions of birds every year, that the industry has a term for these birds. They are called “redskins”.
from Mercy for Animals
And let’s not forget that for each of the 40-45 million turkeys slaughtered many more died in overcrowded, abusive conditions of the factory farm and in transport to the slaughter-house. Further, slaughterhouse workers, who are typically illegal immigrants or poor ethnic minorities with few other options for work, also suffer great physical danger and injury in the process of factory farming. (Fast Food Nation– the movie or the book- is an accessible resource for more information on this topic).
As a nod to the rights of turkeys, many conscientious people grab a Tofurkey instead, but this still isn’t enough. For starters, any thanksgiving celebration commemorates what has already been explained as a violent shameful part of America’s past, propagates over-spending, over-eating and the over-use of resources and glorifies the murder of animals for food.