Why You Should Not Buy The Myth of the Humane Thanksgiving Turkey

turkey with lamb

Photo courtesy of The Gentle Barn

I believe Thanksgiving is precisely the time when we should be expressing our gratitude by doing something KIND for one of the most vulnerable sentient beings among us: the 49 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving Day. I’ve got some great resources for turkey-free entrees that I will get to later, but first I want to address the question of the so called “humane” turkey which I get a lot of questions about.

I know that some of you think you can find a humanely-raised bird to cook, but I can’t tell what a betrayal these so-called humane claims are. Please don’t take my word for it. I suggest (with caution) that you watch a four-minute video I discovered the other day depicting in graphic detail how turkeys and chickens are “processed” in what we are to understand is the “humane” method, that is, the kill cone method. I say, with caution, since it is easily one of the most shockingly cruel and barbaric things I have ever witnessed in my life, and I have seen a lot! If you are brave enough to see the truth, here is the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMgXWgukBpg.

For those of you who do not wish to watch this, allow me to briefly describe the process. In the kill cone method, the bird is stuffed down a long funnel, his neck is pulled through the narrow opening at the bottom. His neck is slit, and he remains conscious for up to 8 minutes as he bleeds to death. All blood must be drained from his body or his flesh will taste bad. Then he is dropped into a scalding tank of boiling water to loosen his feathers (many are still conscious at this point). Then he is thrown into a “spinner” which appears to have metal claws all around it, and his pathetic corpse flips around in it until all his feathers are plucked off.

Most poultry farmers believe that these birds were “ordained” to suffer this fate, put here on earth for the purpose of supplying us with food. They will also rationalize this brutality by categorically denying that these birds have any intelligence or capacity to feel pain or distress in this processing. But I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. I have learned through first hand observation as well as through peer-reviewed scientific research that these birds lead extremely complex social and emotional lives. Their pain receptors and nervouse system are in fact much like those of mammals.

Now I know that some will invoke tradition as a justification for bringing a turkey to the Thanksgiving table, but there are many traditions that we have abandoned and even outlawed because they are now regarded as barbaric, morally offensive or just out of step with the times. As farm animals become increasingly commodotized, it is high time we re-evaluate “turkey day” and perhaps create a new meal tradition in it’s place, one that is more consistent with grace and gratitude, one that is founded on compassion instead of violence. It is my hope that you will be exploring the many wonderful alternatives to turkey this Thanksgiving. I recommend getting started at The New York Times blog at http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/vegetarian-thanksgiving/.

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  1. That is a gorgeous picture, and I agree that EVERYTHING we do with our animals should be as humane as possible but 18 hours? Are you crazy? How much blood do you think is IN a turkey? It doesn’t take a human being 100th that long to bleed out and we weight at the very least 5 times what a turkey does.

    A turkey bleeds out in less than two minutes, and a lot of producers take off the head so that there is no chance that they’re having sensations while bleeding out. I COMPLETELY get the argument against eating meat. Why do we have the right to kill other living things for food? Right. Ok, but does that mean that coyotes, lions, and hawks are bad creatures? They eat meat and often kill it in terrible ways. I know. I’ve had a goat killed by a bobcat before and it was horrendous. Turkeys eat worms, bugs, and even the occasional garden snake. We raise our own turkeys, chickens, and goats. We drink goat milk, eat goat meat, chicken eggs, turkey eggs, turkey meat, and chicken meat, and killing is a hard part of living this way. I do NOT condone factory farming, but I also do not condone overdramatization and misinformation that makes homesteading or buying farm-raised meat from local farmers seem like something terrible that it is not. I applaud you for wanting people to be as kind and gentle as possible with their food animals. I would never leave a chicken in a kill cone for 18 hrs, and neither would anyone else. 18 hrs unrefrigerated and un-gutted? The meat would be tainted. Your passion is admirable, but please don’t go to war using misinformation. When it’s my time, I would rather be put out of this life with a quick blow to the head or a swipe to the neck than just about any other way. Oppose killing for the sake of opposing killing if you must, but please be clear about the facts.

    • Thanks for pointing out the error in the time that the bird can be conscious after neck is slit or cut off. I researched the source that I had intended to cite for this and found that it is up to 8 minutes. The source is United Poultry Concerns: http://www.upc-online.org/slaughter/report.html. I will be correcting that in the post. On the subject of predators… clearly we live in an age where we know enough about nutrition to know that we don’t need meat and dairy products to survive. Quite the contrary, we can thrive and in many cases free of the chronic diseases that plaque the western world, right? So when meat eating is not a necessity, it is a choice. True predator animals require meat to survive and their bodies are designed for this (they don’t get heart disease from eating meat for example). This raises the question of whether humans are predators at all. Simply the fact that we are good hunters does not make us predators. There is a very interesting and I think compelling case for this in the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, by Melanie Joy. If you have an open mind and really want to explore this issue more, I can’t think of a better source.

  2. Happy ThanksLiving Day to you Mr. Grillo! Am very grateful for all you do to speak on behalf of our friends!

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