The moment my mom set that first Tofurky down on the table in front of me six years ago, I knew I had made the right decision. Even though many people thought it defied logic, becoming a vegetarian right before Thanksgiving solidified my commitment to my new meat-free diet. It was my freshman year of college and to this day, I still consider it the best, and perhaps most life-changing decision I ever made.
Growing up, we're taught that Thanksgiving is about celebrating life and giving thanks for our families, friends and fortunes. Going around the table, expressing to each other what we're thankful for, I'd never thought about exactly what -- or whom -- we were about to feast on.
That is, not until my 18th Thanksgiving celebration. That day, I was thankful to be carving into my first Tofurky dinner. I was celebrating my decision to choose a meal that didn't involve killing animals.
The overwhelming majority of the turkeys on our tables spent their short lives -- about five months -- crammed inside poorly ventilated warehouses that typically house up to 25,000 birds in a single shed. Each bird is afforded as little as 1 square foot of living space. Such intensive confinement denies birds the opportunity to perform many of their most natural behaviors, and often leads to stress and disease.
To make matters worse, turkeys are bred to grow large so quickly that their skeletons often cannot keep up with their abnormal body weight. Many suffer crippling leg disorders that prevent them from reaching food or water.
About 20 weeks later, turkeys are transported to slaughter plants without food, water or protection from extreme temperatures. At the slaughter plant, they're dumped onto conveyors, shackled upside down by their legs and their throats are slit.
Animal agribusiness is a cruel and inhumane industry responsible for slaughtering more than 225 million turkeys each year, more than 65 million of whom are killed for the winter holiday season alone. The day-to-day horrors of factory farming are kept hidden from public view; let's face it -- if most people saw how their Thanksgiving turkey was raised and killed, they probably wouldn't feel like celebrating anymore.
The abuses that turkeys and other farm animals are forced to endure would lead to criminal prosecution if inflicted upon the cats or dogs with whom we share our homes. To most people's surprise, turkeys are inquisitive, affectionate and social animals who enjoy life and have individual personalities much like the dogs and cats. Throw an apple to a group of turkeys, and they'll play a game with each other. Should a fight start, some will play peacemaker by deliberately standing in the way of a charging turkey.
One of the kindest choices we can make this holiday season is to pardon a turkey from our table and carve into a vegetarian roast instead.
Losing the turkey doesn't mean losing those traditional flavors and tastes that we all crave this time of year. At my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, my mom prepared a Tofurky roast.
Since then, I've discovered many more delicious, easy-to-cook, cruelty-free options. From Tofurky to Field Roast to Gardein, finding animal-friendly Thanksgiving options is easier than ever. Every time we sit down to eat, we can each make compassionate choices -- and that's something we can all be thankful for, even turkeys.
Valente is an office manager at Compassion Over Killing, a national non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington, D.C.
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