Much about the earliest Thanksgiving celebrations is up for debate, but if there is anything that historians concur on, it is that the early celebrations were not a heartwarming harvest feast between Native Americans and European settlers as is widely portrayed, but they often involved violence and bloodshed against the natives.
We don’t know if turkeys were even on the menu in Thanksgiving dinners served four hundred years ago. But, by slaughtering these poor creatures as an act of celebrating an event that brings our families together, aren’t we perpetuating a culture of violence and validating the bloodshed that has marred the history of Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving turkeys are forced to live in cramped cages that are too small to even flap their wings, their toes and beaks are cut off without painkillers, and they are killed in the most inhumane manner imaginable as a PETA investigation reveals.
While we turn a blind eye to the abuse of animals in slaughterhouses, as a society we have been very vocal in condemning those accused of animal abuse outside the slaughterhouse.
Football player Michael Vick continues to be hated to this day for engaging in illegal dog fighting. Just days ago, a shopping mall in China was censured on social media for using horses in amusement rides. In 2014, the CEO of Centerplate was forced to resign after he was caught on video kicking his dog.
The reaction to these instances of animal abuse is understandable and laudable, but how are the 88% of us who condoned the abuse of our Thanksgiving turkeys any different?
There is no morally coherent difference between the dog who was kicked and the chicken, pig, cow or turkey that most people will eat on Thursday. How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner?
Norm Phelps, in his book Changing the Game: Why The Battle For Animal Liberation Is So Hard And How It Can Be Won notes that our paradoxical values about killing animals for food can be explained through the principle of bounded ethicality. When a belief conflicts with a behavior that people are motivated to maintain due to self interest, cultural norms and so forth, most individuals will find a way to convince themselves that their ethical principles do not apply to their own behavior.
Perhaps this is why stories about dog meat markets in China and slaughtering dolphins in Japan lead to overwhelming outrage in the social media posts, mostly in the form of comments calling “those people” barbaric by those who don’t bat an eyelid towards the inhumane treatment of animals culturally deemed worthy of consumption.
It is time for us to examine our fundamental views about animal ethics, to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “are we really less barbaric than ‘those people’ who kill dolphins or eat dogs?”
Many omnivores vehemently defend their choice to eat meat by rhetorically asking why we should worry about animals when so many people are starving. Ironically, human starvation is just another reason to reconsider raising animals for food. Every year about 760 million tons of food is fed to farm animals. Of this enormous quantity, only a fraction of calories is consumed as meat, while about 40 million tons of food grains can end the most extreme cases of human starvation.
In this climate, we see that vegetarianism is on the rise. A study profiled in a recent New York Times piece finds that 12% of Millennials have now embraced a vegetarian lifestyle, as compared to 4% Gen X’ers, and 1% of baby boomers.
We should embrace the anti-animal cruelty movement. Continuing to perpetuate the violence, abuse and bloodshed that marred our history 400 year ago seems unimaginative, medieval and frankly not in line with the progressive society we aspire to become.
Let’s not force turkeys to live a short, cruel and thankless life. Instead, let us endeavor to create new traditions based on thoughtful reflection, reasoning and compassion.