Thanksgiving is only a week away and most Americans have only ever encountered a turkey in the freezer section of the grocery store or one who was served to them on a platter – sadly, most have never experienced the joy of meeting a living, breathing turkey.

Turkeys are very beautiful birds. They pay great attention to grooming and preening their fancy feathers, while soaking up the warm sun and taking dust baths. Turkeys are known for their resourcefulness, agility and social nature. Like other birds, turkeys spend their days building nests and foraging for food. They also enjoy the companionship of others and create strong social bonds that last a lifetime.

My favorite part of interning at a farm sanctuary was hanging out in the courtyard with the rescued birds. Turkeys are very curious and quick to investigate every new sight, sound and smell. As soon as I sat down, food or no food in hand, I was surrounded by turkeys and chickens. They would come close so that I could stroke their feathers, and a few enjoyed curling up on my lap for an afternoon nap.

The natural lifespan of a turkey is around 10 years, but in the food industry, they are slaughtered at just 5-6 months old. Turkeys raised for human consumption spend their entire lives confined to tiny wire cages or housed in large cramped sheds with no federal legal protection against cruelty or neglect.

Turkeys have been genetically modified to gain weight rapidly and selectively bred for their enormous “fleshy” breasts. (The faster they grow and the larger they grow – the faster and larger the profit.) Their unnaturally large size causes many turkeys to die from organ failure or heart attacks, and they experience leg and foot deformities, making it difficult and painful to stand and walk. (You can see in the photo above, Emily’s abnormally large beast prevents her feathers from growing in properly and she has foot problems because of her weight.)

Every year, 50 million turkeys are slaughtered for a cruel tradition that is centered around being thankful. In America, we too often forget the true meaning of holidays and instead focus on consuming and satisfying our own pleasures, instead of reflecting on what really matters – life, gratitude, compassion, community, family, sharing, and love. Please encourage others to really think about the true life-affirming meaning of this holiday. And if you live near a farm sanctuary, take your carnist friends and family to meet the turkeys and other animals who end up on their plates, so they may make the connection. And if you need further tips and advice on navigating stressful family traditions, check out our new Compassionate Holidays website.

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