I live in a wonderful small town where it is not too difficult to get a letter published in the weekly newspaper. I wrote the letter below about going vegetarian for Thanksgiving and it was published yesterday in the Port Townsend Leader. They didn’t put it in their online edition so I can’t link to it. But that’s okay because I want to publish it here exactly the way I wrote it. The editors made some changes that I didn’t like. In the second sentence, they replaced the words “he or she” (referring to a turkey) with “it.”And further down, when I talked about "baby calves who," they changed it to "baby calves that."
This is the kind of language that helps people "forget" that the food on their plate was once an animal, a sentient and aware creature. It's subtle, of course, but the way we talk about animals reflects how we think about them. I know that I slip up on this frequently so I'm not so quick to blame others who refer to an animal as "it." But the editors didn't slip up; they made a point of changing my words to animals-as-things language. I think the changes did a disservice to the spirit of my letter. But I’m glad the letter was published and am going to hope that maybe it reached the ears of two or three people who are ready to think about what it means to eat foods that come from animals .
November 18, 2009
To the Editor
With our community’s emphasis on buying locally-produced items, it’s easy to forget that there are other ethical issues regarding holiday purchases. If there will be a turkey on your table this Thanksgiving, you can be almost certain that he or she suffered a miserable life and death for your brief pleasure. There are no laws for the humane treatment of turkeys on farms or in the slaughterhouse. (Neither chickens nor turkeys are included in the Humane Slaughter Act.)
In the wild, turkeys have complex language—more than 20 different vocalizations—and can recognize one another’s voices. Rescued farm turkeys show affection toward humans, and like cats, they purr when content. But on modern “farms’—including organic farms—turkeys live their entire lives in windowless sheds with about 1 square foot of space per bird. While wild turkeys can fly, farmed turkeys cannot. In fact, because they are bred for excessive growth, many cannot walk. En route to slaughter, 10 to 15 percent of turkeys die from suffocation (an accepted industry standard.) Many others arrive in extreme pain with broken bones.
Because of the fast pace of slaughterhouses, turkeys and chickens are often insufficiently stunned before slaughter. Government estimates are that about 4 million birds per year are still conscious when dropped into the scalding tanks. Conditions for organically-produced animal foods are no better. (The Vermont slaughterhouse that was closed this month after employees were filmed kicking and elecro-shocking 2-day old calves—who were too weak to stand—was one that slaughtered animals from local organic dairy farms.)
Most Americans say that they care about animals, that they would never hurt or abuse an animal. The hard truth is that when you eat meat, eggs and dairy, you participate in animal abuse.
Thanksgiving—an expression of gratitude and a celebration of family and abundance—is the ideal time to go vegetarian. In his book “Eating Animals,” Jonathan Safran Foer says this about a vegetarian Thanksgiving: “There is no turkey. Is the holiday undermined? Or would Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel disappointing or inspiring?”
Vegetarians know the answer. It feels good when our choices reflect our true values about compassion for animals.