Something To Be Thankful For: You’re Not a Turkey
Second maybe to football and pumpkin pie, when the month of November rolls around and the Thanksgiving holiday is on the horizon, one cannot help but think of the turkey. It is the centerpiece to the traditional holiday meal with people patiently waiting hours for the large bird to be thawed, basted, cooked, and cut.
However, there is usually little thought put into the turkey’s life before it became the most treasured member of the family meal. Amazingly, for Thanksgiving alone, an average of 43 million turkeys are processed and shipped to grocery stores and manufacturers across America.
But, how is this plausible? How are turkey farmers able to generate enough turkeys to satisfy 43 million American tables at one time? It seems impossible, but as it turns out, turkey farmers have found a way to defy the laws of nature and make the process relatively simple.
Corporatized animal factory farming is a common practice in the United States. It is estimated that 99% of meat that is produced in this country is the product of a factory farm. However, during the months leading up to Thanksgiving, the conditions for turkeys are worse than the average meal time animal. Here is one way to think of it- turkey farmers are like Santa Claus preparing for Christmas Eve- they have to find a way to pack in and prepare as many turkeys for slaughter as possible before Thanksgiving Day. As a result, cutting corners is an essential part of the process.
The purpose of large factory farms is purely to maximize profit. This makes constant breeding and cramped spaces a necessary a part in production. For turkey farming, approximately 10,000 turkeys can be packed into a single building without more than a few feet of room for movement. Additionally, immediately after turkey chicks are born, their upper beaks are snipped off without the use of anesthesia or any other type of pain relief.
Science has also aided in creating maximum yields with minimum care and effort. The average weight of turkey has seen a drastic increase. Data from the USDA has shown that in 1960, the average turkey weight was 17.3 pounds, but in 2014, this average weight rose to an astounding 30.6 pounds.
Turkeys have been selectively bred and genetically modified to the point that they are incapable of reproducing naturally, and humans must now artificially inseminate turkeys in order for them to reproduce. This practice is most commonly found in white breasted turkeys, as their body size becomes too unnatural for them to reproduce. Approximately 100% of commercial bred turkeys are products of artificial insemination.
Turkeys are subjected to an environment that is designed to interrupt their body’s natural cycles. In addition to the cramped spaces, many buildings keep their lights running 24 hours a day. This continuous light exposure ensures that the birds will constantly have opportunities to eat, and the turkeys then become prone to sickness. The unsustainable and unhealthy nature of this environment usually requires turkey farmers to include antibiotics in their feed.
Factory farming is a practice that has been increasing alongside the global population. According to the ASPCA, “In 1950, there were 5.6 million farms raising 100 million farm animals. In 2017, there were 2 million farms raising 9.32 billion farm animals.” This means that more animals are now being produced in less than half the space.
Not only is the meat produced from factory farms often unhealthy, as it may contain antibiotics, dioxins, and even pesticides, but factory farms produce 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Factory farming has also destroyed the small farming industry. It has made it difficult for more sustainable farmers to remain profitable in comparison to their competitors which are literal turkey producing machines.
Even with this knowledge, it can be difficult to completely cut out meat entirely, especially on a day like Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, if you are willing, there are alternative options to the store bought turkey.
Supporting sustainable turkey farmers is a great first step to reducing your carbon footprint this Thanksgiving. Farms in Georgia that sustainably farm turkeys include White Oak Pastures and Heritage Farms, but you can easily find more through a quick search on the internet. When trying to decide if a farm is ethical, look into their practices and do not be satisfied with just the use of “organic” and “free-range.”
Unfortunately, the option to buy from smaller, sustainable farms can be difficult for some families because this most likely means a more expensive turkey. But, why are turkeys produced on a factory farm generally cheaper? This is because factory farmers have almost monopolized the meat production industry, and they generally operate through vertical integration. The animals are also fed a cheaper and less nutrient-rich diet with crops that are usually subsidized by the government.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the price is worth it. Animals that are raised in a sustainable and ethical manner are healthier and come with the delicious feeling of soundness of mind. If you are someone who can’t imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, then maybe this year you can add something else to be grateful for- at least you're not one.
Contributor: Isabel Kersey