Monday, November 8, 2010

The tragic fate of Ben Franklin's beloved birds

I celebrate two Thanksgivings. Being a Canadian and an American, Thanksgiving for me comes twice a year: once in October, once in November.

Back in my omnivore days, I didn't think much about the turkeys I was eating. The thought of these birds suffering when they were alive never even crossed my mind, to be honest.

There were plenty of other things to think about. I cherished the time I spent with family. When I celebrated American Thanksgiving with loved ones in the United States, I looked forward to shopping the next day. I loved the warm feeling in the house while the dinner was cooking, especially that magical blend of aromas of the baked bread and roasted turkey. And I cherished the sound of laughter and the happiness of loved ones inside the house as the steam collected on the window panes and it got colder and colder outside.

So much to think about. Who really has time to consider the turkey?

The great enlightenment thinker, inventor, author and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey should be the national bird of the newly created United States of America. He saw in the turkey great beauty and dignity. He thought the turkey was an appropriate symbol for a great nation.

Franklin was also a vegetarian. He didn't eat turkeys. He thought turkeys were so majestic, he refused to eat them.

What would Ben Franklin think if he were to return to North America today, to witness the deplorable ways that turkeys are treated on mass-production turkey farms? I'm certain he would be appalled. And I have no doubt he would have some words of wisdom to share with us.

In his religious beliefs, Franklin was a deist. That means he believed in a God that did not intervene in human affairs. In Franklin's view, human beings had to monitor their own morality, and he thought all of us - men and women, young and old - have an obligation to let reason and rational thinking be our guides in life.

Franklin, I have a feeling, would tell us that we cannot continue to live in denial when it comes to the suffering of animals. He would be particularly troubled by the fate of the bird he admired so much, the turkey.

I have posted a video here from the wonderful folks at Farm Sanctuary. It gives us a disturbing glimpse of the short and violent lives that turkeys live. As Farm Sanctuary notes, between 250 million and 300 million turkeys are raised for slaughter in the United States alone. Millions are raised for the same purpose here in Canada. Conditions on many turkey farms are deplorable. And even the ones that treat the turkeys more humanely share the same goal as the ones that abuse the poor creatures: The mass and systematic slaughter of Ben Franklin's beloved birds.

There is another way of coexisting with turkeys, a better way. Farm Sanctuary has an Adopt-a-Turkey program. PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - lobbies presidents of the United States to spare the life of the White House's Thanksgiving turkey and go vegetarian. Animal sanctuaries across North America - in the United States and Canada alike - offer a healthy environment where turkeys can live, free of violence.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I'll admit that - from time to time - I miss the old turkey Thanksgiving dinners, especially when October and November roll around. I see packaged turkeys in the freezer section at the grocery store and my thoughts drift back to those warm nights at my grandma's house when I cleaned off my plate (after second helpings!) and felt a strong urge to doze off in the middle of the football game.

But then I look at the poor turkeys and the toll that Thanksgiving takes on them. I would never ask any omnivore to give up his or her Thanksgiving turkey, but what I would ask - what I've always asked - is that they watch videos like the one I've posted here.

Know what you are eating. Know the violence your choices entail. Know that these birds deserve life, not death.

Be enlightened. Good old Ben Franklin, if he were here among us, would ask the same thing.

1 comment:

  1. Franklin was a vegetarian for about 17 years.
    His Autobiography is filled with his struggle to avoid eating meat.
    Imagine that: a powerful man who cared about animals and found turkeys majestic. It would be nice to see more of them!