Not a 'Turkey Dinner' but Dinner for Turkeys!

by Hannah Punitha on Nov 26 2008 4:13 PM

Eliot is a handsome beast and very lucky, too, considering he's a turkey and Thanksgiving, Americans' favorite holidays, is rolling around again on Thursday.

Of the 260 million turkeys reared in the United States last year, around a fifth, or nearly 50 million, will end up on dinner tables at Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

Eliot, the turkey of the proud plumage, cocky swagger and vocal gobble, will not be one of them.

Instead, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Eliot and feathered friends at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in rural Maryland were guests of honor at their own dinner of thanks, a dinner where meat has two legs and hops onto the table to peck at melon, tomatoes, corn, greens and tofu laid out by humans.

Today is our annual thanksgiving with the turkeys, Poplar Springs' head human, Terry Cummings, told AFP after the sanctuary's six turkeys had been joined by other poultry for the feast, which is in its 11th year.

We do this to try to promote a cruelty-free Thanksgiving, to let people know that turkeys are animals worth caring about,Cummings said.

We like to have them as our guests of honor and show people a different way of having a Thanksgiving celebration to celebrate life instead of having a dead animal on your plate, she said.

Eliot very nearly ended up as a Thanksgiving main course himself eight years ago.

He was found, along with two other turkeys, in a cage behind a Chinese restaurant in Washington.

The owner was fattening them up for Thanksgiving but, luckily, it's illegal to keep livestock in the city. So the turkeys were confiscated by the Humane Society and brought to us, Cummings said.

Victor, a proud black-feathered turkey who likes to puff himself up and gobble a lot, was found wandering down a sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day a couple of years ago, according to Cummings.

Small silver turkey Arielle was found on the side of a six-lane highway, but the most poignant story is that of white domestic turkey, Opal.

Opal, who is the kind of turkey commonly raised for meat in the United States, was part of a mass turkey break-out from a slaughterhouse in Virginia.

She and the other turkeys were running across the road with the slaughterhouse workers chasing them, said Cummings.

These two vegan women were driving by, and they stopped and begged the workers to let them take the turkeys, she said.

The workers said they would lose their jobs if they let the women take all of the birds, but eventually agreed to let them choose one to rescue they would tell the slaughterhouse boss that it had been run over by a car.

The women chose Opal, who was in the worst state of the escapees, and took her to their townhouse where she slept at the foot of their bed until they realized turkeys don't do too well in a townhouse, said Cummings.

Several hundred humans came to this year's Thanksgiving with the turkeys at Poplar Springs, each bearing a meat-, dairy- and egg-free dish for a vegan potluck dinner, guaranteed not to offend the feathered guests of honor.

In addition to not eating red meat, poultry or fish, vegans do not consume eggs, dairy products or honey or use leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics or soaps derived from animal products.

Where the tradition of serving turkey at Thanksgiving comes from is not known.

The meal which settlers from England shared with native Americans in 1621, which has come to be known as the first Thanksgiving, included venison and wild fowl, probably geese and duck, according to food historian Kathleen Curtin.

Fortunately for Eliot, Victor, Gertrude and company, they were rescued from the searing heat of the American oven and can live out their days at Poplar Springs without fearing the fourth Thursday in November.

Unfortunately for millions of their poultry cousins, however, there are only five million vegetarians in the United States and 2.5 million vegans out of a population of some 301 million, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.