Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dead Bird Day.

This is not intended as a bitter vegan rant. It may end up that way, of course, but I come in peace. Sort of.

It’s three weeks until Thanksgiving. I am not excited about this. I haven’t been excited about it for a long time. This morning, I’ve been thinking about my awkwardly-spent youth and my love of erstwhile alternative radio station WHFS. (A moment of silence, please, Baltimorons.) HFS had a DJ—Kathryn Lauren, I think—who was a vegetarian. She staunchly referred to Thanksgiving as “Dead Bird Day,” I’m sure in spite of plenty of ribbing from her co-hosts. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but clearly it’s stayed with me. Maybe the image of a popular vegetarian (perhaps she was even vegan) DJ who wasn’t afraid to trumpet her convictions over the airwaves resonated with something nascent deep inside me. So, thanks, Kathryn.

I can’t muster any enthusiasm for Thanksgiving, a holiday that isn’t really a holiday. What are we celebrating, exactly? Another creation myth that serves the interests of the conqueror while glossing over the treatment of the conquered. Yawn. As Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy describes it, “Like all holidays, it is riddled with horrors. Smallpox blankets. The spurious Squanto mythology. Genocide. The expectation that one manifest a hearty, convivial mood in the bosom of the fam despite the fact that the whole binge is (a) quasi-godbagious, (b) a shitload of extra work for the womenfolk, and (c) poultry-based.” Um, yeah. That’s pretty much how I feel about the whole thing. And why I love Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary’s Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys so, so very much.

Before you wrestle me to the ground and gag me with Tofurky, I’m not precisely dreading Thanksgiving. I love my family and I appreciate the two days off work. (Actually, I have a third, non-consensual day off this year. To whoever invented the concept of furlough days, you can join the state of Maine in kissing my ass.) I enjoy Thanksgiving and other family-centric holidays far more than I used to now that we’ve downsized them. Before, every holiday was spent with The Entire Family in an overwhelming spectacle of…something. So many aunts and uncles and cousins and current lovers and out-of-towners and hangers-on. In college, I started spending the entire evening—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, you name it—getting as surreptitiously drunk as possible to avoid thorny social interactions. My logic was that if all my energy was directed towards acting sober, I wouldn’t have any left to start fights with my conservative relatives. It worked quite well, but left me soggy and depressed.

Recently, holidays have tended towards the more private. My family is doing more solo, which is a blessed relief. Now I have Red’s clan to deal with, and he has mine, but we stick together. Celebration-hopping is not an ideal solution—who do we have dinner with? what about dessert? do I even care since I’m bringing my own food anyway?—but it’s manageable. I am not eagerly anticipating the traffic and the attempted force-feeding that seems inevitable, but those are annoyances I can deal with. Regardless of how small the celebration, though, the sight of a dead turkey in the middle of the table, carved open and parceled out, distresses me. I’ve met turkeys: they’re sensitive and intelligent. Mother turkeys gather their chicks under their wings before settling down for the night and guard them fiercely. Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the wild turkey to be the national bird! The whole orgy of food seems wrong, in a country that has 5% of the world’s population yet uses 25% of its resources. And to celebrate animal murder, then add insult to injury by saying a prayer of thanks over its violated corpse, is unconscionable to me.

This, by the way, is why I never gain weight during the holidays.

Photo of Toulouse and her turkey friend courtesy of The Gentle Barn via United Poultry Concerns.


  1. I am sorry Thanksgiving is so hard, maybe there is something you can do to feel better about it? I do an office wide fundraiser collecting money to adopt turkeys at Farm Sanctuary. Now I look forward to it, and those turkey's pictures remind everyone that turkeys are more than meat.

  2. Speaking of bitter vegan rants....if I'm with my family it isn't usually a pretty sight, combine that with a celebration centered around slaughter, pain and brutality (of both the animal and human kind) and I become pretty damn brutal myself. I try to be a good vegan ambassador but end up being a scary vegan ambassador. I've been known to interrupt the carving of the poor creature by saying "Did you know that turkey's today are so genetically modified they can't even have sex naturally? The male has to be ejaculated manually by a person and the female is then artificially inseminated."

    The looks of disgust I receive are VERY healing for the soul.

  3. Thanks, lazysmurf! Going to Poplar Spring helps, but I still get sad seeing the turkeys and thinking about all the ones who weren't so lucky. Your positive outlook does me good. :)

    Tasha, you are awful! Bringing up turkey non-sex at dinner! Hehehe, I love it. Though I did something similar recently. My sister is drinking soy milk now because it doesn't spoil like cow's milk. I said, "Yeah, and it doesn't have pus in it, either!" She was not impressed.

  4. I love the beautiful turkey & goat picture! This year I'm spending Thanksgiving at my mom's for the first time since going veggie three years ago. I'm rather nervous. I've been scoping out vegan recipes that I can make once I'm there, because everything she makes will be covered in butter or milk or bacon. Listening to you "pros" talk about this is giving me some confidence :) Wish me luck!

  5. Good luck, Kristie! You could also try veganizing your family's favorites, to show them that cruelty-free food can still be festive and delicious. Rich pumpkin pie. Buttery vegan rolls. Mashed potatoes with loads of soy milk and Earth Balance...mmmmm!

  6. I love that photo and the essay, VB. I had such gut-wrenching anxiety about Thanksgiving for so many years - it was truly my most dreaded holiday - until we started just doing a vegan harvest meal with friends in its place. My mother goes to my aunt's place in Texas, my brother and sister-in-law are happy not to have the "elephants in the room" so it's a win-win all the way around. I would drown in grief if I thought about all the turkeys dying so I just try to numb myself. Not necessarily healthy but it's how I survive.

  7. Amen!

    I agree with you, although as an atheist adult who has moved away from Christmas celebrations, I find Thanksgiving something I really enjoy. I make a point to read and talk about its imperialist origins, but it does, ultimately, function as a secular holiday for all Americans. Likewise, on Independence Day, I focus on the Declaration of Independence and its pregnancy of meaning (and the freedom baby's still not out of the womb, is it?).

    I of course share your revulsion of the dead turkey centerpiece, and I'm fortunate that I'm no longer expected by my parents to attend the extended family Christ-o-turkey-thon. Luckily, I am going to two incredibly vegan-friendly Thanksgiving meals this year, and I'm really looking forward to it. A whole day to eat a bunch of delicious, specially prepared vegan food and watch football? Sign me up!

    This year, I am trying to spread the word about cruelty to turkeys (it makes things a little little little better - knowing that maybe you've helped rescue at least a few animals who otherwise would've ended up on that table) and the Farm Sanctuary Adopt-a-Turkey site is so awesome. Thanks for this picture. It made my month.