Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a flock of rescued turkeys up close at a farmed animal sanctuary in New York state. If you’re familiar with the brown-feathered birds roaming Marin’s open spaces, you might be surprised to learn that turkeys bred for their meat have white feathers, and — unlike their scrawnier wild relatives — are unable to fly due to their weight.
The best part about meeting the turkeys was the sheer joy these birds exhibited when they received gentle scratches beneath their wings. They would sit still and close their eyes, just like a beloved cat or dog relishing a good massage.
Sadly, the vast majority of commercially bred turkeys never experience human kindness. According to Animal Place, a sanctuary in Grass Valley, around 46 million of these remarkable birds face slaughter every Thanksgiving alone. Each one, much like the curious and endearing turkeys I met at the sanctuary, possesses a unique personality.
Turkeys bred and raised for their meat endure cramped, poorly ventilated industrial facilities, often housing up to 15,000 birds in a single building. Genetically engineered for rapid growth, they suffer skeletal deformities and heart problems, making it difficult to even walk. Deprived of natural behaviors like foraging and dust bathing, these stressed birds end up scratching and pecking at each other in frustration. Instead of addressing their needs, factory farms resort to painful practices like cutting off the sensitive tips of beaks and toes without anesthesia.
Breaking with tradition can be challenging, especially when it involves Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s all about comfort and togetherness. But there’s good news: Since the creation of the first Tofurky in 1995, meat-free Thanksgiving roasts have become abundant, affordable and undeniably delicious. Tofurky sales have surged, especially since 2020 — driven by concerns for health, animals and the environment.
Seth Tibbott, founder and chair of Turtle Island Foods (of Tofurky fame), explains that “health, concern for animals and environmental reasons all play a part in driving this upward trend and with the advancements in flavor and texture of plant-based products, this is also a major reason for the category’s expansion.”
This November, I’m thankful for an abundance of tasty plant-based alternatives and countless creative online recipes. Personally, Nora Cooks is one of my surefire favorites for uncomplicated, delicious recipes that are easy to follow.
Whether you’re a faux meat aficionado like me, ready to craft your own seitan or chickpea roast, or simply prefer a healthy whole-roasted cauliflower skillet, there are countless ways to keep suffering off the Thanksgiving table this year. Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary, notes that “our food is among the most intimate connections we make with the earth.” May our connection be one of kindness and mercy.
And if you’d still like to have a turkey included at your Thanksgiving table, consider sponsoring one instead! Many farmed animal sanctuaries offer the opportunity to “adopt” a rescued turkey and will even send you their photo for display. For more information, visit farmsanctuary.org/adopt-a-turkey or animalplace.org/sponsor-a-turkey. After all, Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude — and there’s no better way to express it than by making compassionate choices.