When I got my first full-time reporting job after college, I decided I'd make the Thanksgiving dinner for a few new friends. All was well 'til it came to prepping the turkey. When I got its cold, damp, strange-smelling carcass on my hands, the whole Norman Rockwell fantasy came to a crashing halt.
Then I realized that the turkey's neck and innards were all jammed into its body cavity. Really? Who comes up with these things? The only whole chickens I'd cooked had had none of the giblet stuff inside, so it was a bit of a shock. I tried dancing the bird up and down, so its vitals would plop into the sink, but only the heart came out, and lay there staring at me. I felt a little queasy, and definitely guilty, suddenly realizing that this bird wasn't always snuggled into its shrink-wrap cocoon.
I couldn't find a neighbor or a rubber glove, and a spoon didn’t bring anything out of the semi-frozen insides. So I reached in and harvested the bird's remaining vital organs with a paper towel, which immediately shredded and became a useless barrier.
It was at that moment that I decided to become a vegetarian. My ensuing no-meat lifestyle lasted eight years, and I loved knowing I wasn't eating the flesh of another animal. I reveled in all the non-meat options available at Thanksgiving and year-round. Then I met my future husband, who fishes. He convinced me to try fish, and like the purported slippery slope with drugs, I then went on to harder things—like chicken, and yes, turkey.
So when I heard that PETA was doing its utmost this year to keep people from gobbling turkeys, I had to find out how they were doing it. If they’d asked me, I’d have suggested giving a turkey to every person who has never prepped one before and letting them fish its innards out of its nether regions. I guarantee at least a 20 percent conversion to vegetarianism, if not veganism (which PETA prefers).
But this isn’t any part of PETA’s anti-turkey-eating campaign. Turns out one strong component of the fight against turkey consumption involves using kids as a barrier between adults and turkeys.
"Kids love animals, and if they thought about how turkeys feel pain and fear, just as dogs and cats do, they'd trade in their drumsticks for Tofurky in a heartbeat," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. "This Thanksgiving, families can give all animals something to be thankful for by sticking to humane, delicious vegan meals."
Check out this ad, for an example of the kids-against-turkey-eating campaign.
Yup, that cute little girl would definitely make me want to pile my plate with potatoes and string beans. Oh, and in case you don’t see PETA commercials in your household, the organization has been supplying kids with mini tombstones to place on or near the turkey at the Thanksgiving table. They read, “Here lies the corpse of a tortured bird.”
But how do these kids know so much about turkeys? It could be the billboards PETA has been putting up here and there around public schools.
Kids who attend Boise, Reno, and Sacramento public schools, for instance, were treated this season to billboards featuring the image at the top of this post. It features a turkey with a dog’s head, and asks, “Kids, If you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey?”
If students were curious about this, they’d hit PETA’s website and learn that turkeys have feelings, too:
Approximately 250 million turkeys are killed in the U.S. every year—more than 45 million for Thanksgiving dinners alone. In nature, turkeys are protective and loving parents as well as spirited explorers who can climb trees and run as fast as 18 miles per hour. But most turkeys slated to be killed for food are crammed into filthy warehouses, where disease, smothering, and heart attacks are common. Turkeys are drugged and bred to grow such unnaturally large upper bodies that their legs often become crippled under the weight.
I'm not a PETA proponent. They do a lot of crazy things that are a bit radical for my taste. But I have to admit that their campaign has worked on at least one adult. My mother-in-law has already bought her 20-pound $5 turkey, but this year, I'm probably just going to quietly let it rest in peace on the dinner table and enjoy all the other goodies Thanksgiving offers.
What about your Thanksgiving plans? Has this ad campaign ruffled your feathers? Or are you still going to dig into a nice, juicy drumstick? Tell us in the COMMENTS below.
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Maria Goodavage is author of The New York Times bestselling book Soldier Dogs. She has been a staff writer at USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle, and is a regular contributor at Dogster online magazine. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and a big dog.