Celebrating with Turkeys: An Alternate Thanksgiving Experience

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is perceived as a time of gratitude. As we reflect on what we are grateful for, we must also reflect on the violence in our traditions. There are many ways to acknowledge Thanksgiving and avoid participating in violence—whether it is by cooking a plant-based meal, sponsoring a rescued turkey, or even attending a Thanksgiving event organized by an animal sanctuary.

Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, a 400-acre refuge for farmed animals located in western Maryland, is but one organization across the country that hosts an alternate Thanksgiving experience focusing on compassion rather than exploitation. Their 18th annual Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys took place last weekend, and despite the cold, more than 1,000 people attended.

At this Thanksgiving celebration, turkeys are the guests of honor—not the main course. The event is a largescale vegan potluck that emphasizes ethical food consumption and community. Attendees are encouraged to bring cruelty-free meals, and this year they certainly delivered. Roasted pumpkin wedges, sweet potato casserole, gourmet macaroni and cheese, cranberry and pecan wild rice, and more was on offer. But before people got to dig in, the resident turkeys first enjoyed a prepared meal of grapes, tomatoes, kale, tofu, bread, and melons.

Although lighthearted, the event has the serious purpose of demonstrating that Thanksgiving does not have to be celebrated with the slaughtering of 45 million turkeys nationwide. Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys highlights the millions of nonhumans who are needlessly slaughtered for the holiday. This year guests had the opportunity to meet turkeys who escaped the meat industry and who will live out their lives at the sanctuary. For many, it was their first time interacting with turkeys. More often than not, attendees were surprised to find that they related with the turkeys. As social animals, turkeys are incredibly curious in nature and enjoy following people around, sitting in their laps, and being petted just like a cat or a dog. In addition to meeting turkeys, attendees were free to walk around the sanctuary and meet the resident goats, sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and horses.

Poplar Spring is not only a sanctuary for abused animals; it is also a sanctuary for the humans that live with them in mind. For some attendees, it was their first time interacting with farmed animals, but for others it was a chance to reaffirm a lifestyle dedicated to nonviolence. As I stood at the top of a hill and looked down upon the scene of delicious food and contented animals (humans and nonhumans alike), one thing was abundantly clear—compassion is not sacrifice, it is joy.

If we choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, as we sit down to our dinners we should look upon the table and question whether or not our feasts are contributing to a cycle of exploitation. What is on our plates is just as important to the conversation, because the system that exploits nonhumans is the very same system that exploits humans. After all, Thanksgiving commemorates a time of mourning within the Native American community. Compassionate Thanksgivings are but a start in addressing the violent undertones of a holiday that stresses gratitude. Instead of filling your plate with turkeys this Thanksgiving, why not instead celebrate in a way that we can all be more grateful for?