How to Have a Cruelty-Free Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is a time for friends and loved ones to come together, but it also marks a far darker time for the turkeys who become the centerpiece of the meal. Learn how you can make Thanksgiving a peaceful, kind, respectful one for turkeys and other animals by taking them off your table.

What’s special about turkeys

Turkeys are incredibly intelligent, curious and sensitive animals who have strong family bonds and social ties. They create life-long connections with each other and have a natural lifespan of as long as 10 years. In the wild, young turkeys, called poults or chicks, will stay very close to their mothers for up to a year to stay safe and warm, until they are strong enough to roost in trees to protect themselves from predators. Every turkey has a unique voice, which allows them to recognize and communicate with each other, and they have over 20 distinct vocalizations that can be heard for up to a mile away. Wild turkeys can travel with groups of 200 birds or more, run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, and fly as fast as 55 miles per hour. They have up to 5,000 to 6,000 feathers each, and 18 tail feathers make up their distinct and beautiful fan. More interesting turkey facts can be found here.

A day in the life of a Thanksgiving turkey

Over 45 million turkeys are raised and slaughtered annually in the US for Thanksgiving alone (that’s 1/6 of all of the turkeys sold in the US each year). The vast majority are raised on cruel industrial factory farms, where they spend their entire lives never setting foot outdoors. Baby turkeys never get to know their mothers, as they are hatched in incubators. Just after hatching they are painfully mutilated, as they are de-beaked, de-toed, and their snoods (the fleshy part on turkeys’ foreheads) are cut off. This is all done without any form of anesthetic or pain relief.

Turkeys in factory farms are bred to grow enormously large in an extremely short period of time. Due to having abnormally large breasts, they are imbalanced and often cannot even stand up or walk. Their abnormal growth causes severe pain and immobility at only weeks old.

Turkeys raised for meat in the industrial barn where they will spend their lives. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen.

They also live in extreme overcrowding—raised in cages piled on top of each other, crammed into huge warehouses with thousands of other motherless young birds. They suffer from disease, upper respiratory infections, blistered breasts from scraping the ground, ulcerated feet, and ammonia-burned eyes and lungs from high amounts of waste. Sick, injured and dying birds are common in these warehouses, and because of these conditions, they are pumped full of antibiotics.

When they are only 12-26 weeks old, the turkeys are crammed into wire cages and shipped off to slaughter. They are slaughtered in a brutal assembly-line style where most are not even rendered unconscious. Nearly 1 million turkeys and chickens are accidentally boiled alive and fully conscious every year in US slaughterhouses. Animal welfare laws do not apply to turkeys or chickens in the United States. Turkeys raised on so-called “humane farms” suffer and experience cruelty as well. While there may be minor differences, they are not spared from routine suffering and they experience the very same violent death.

This video exposes the hidden lives of Thanksgiving turkeys through non-graphic illustrations.

Having a turkey as your centerpiece puts misery, suffering, violence and death right at the center of the dining table and the celebration. Instead, commit to saving the lives of these beautiful sentient birds with a cruelty-free alternative. There are many healthy, plant-based vegan roasts made just for the holidays, which are delicious and don’t involve hurting turkeys. Go cruelty-free instead this Thanksgiving!

Plant-based, vegan holiday roasts

There are many vegan roasts that replace a turkey as the main dish. These roasts are not only convenient, but healthy and delicious too. All you have to do is heat them up and they are ready to eat. Most are readily available at major grocers. Here are just a few examples:

For a complete vegan dinner, check out these vegan and vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes. 

Farm Sanctuary’s Celebration for the Turkeys. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

How to help turkeys this Thanksgiving

  • Visit a farmed animal sanctuary, bring friends and family, and meet the animals.
  • Attend a vegan Thanksgiving dinner at a farmed animal sanctuary or other animal protection related organization.
  • Sponsor a turkey at a local animal sanctuary, make a general monetary donation to a sanctuary to help provide needed funds to all the animals, or volunteer your time and skills.
  • Spread awareness about how to enjoy cruelty-free holidays, and how to live cruelty-free.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Featured image: a turkey looks at a plate of food at Farm Sanctuary’s Celebration for the Turkeys. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

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Humane Decisions is devoted to ending the suffering, domination, exploitation, abuse, enslavement and use of animals worldwide for reasons of food, pleasure, convenience, entertainment and all other unnecessary reasons, by providing resources and information to shift both individual and collective consciousness to one that recognizes animal sentience and inclusion in our moral community. Click to see author's profile.

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