Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Genocide.

Via Gary Smith
on Nov 22, 2010
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The life of a turkey is filled with suffering that you and I cannot fully imagine.

Thanksgiving is the celebration of a dual genocide: one against native people, and one against turkeys.

The first Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1637 was proclaimed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, not as a festival of the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal to celebrate the cooperation between the two communities, but as a celebration of the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children.

The Pequot were celebrating their annual green corn dance when white mercenaries ordered the Indians out of the building in which they were celebrating. As the Pequot exited the building, they were shot to death. The remaining Pequots were burned alive.

If anything the first Thanksgiving was the kickoff to the systematic obliteration of a race of people that continues to this day, and is evident in the disproportionate poverty, poor health, and unemployment levels. Native Americans living on reservations have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and disease of any ethnic group in America.

This does not sound like anything to celebrate or be thankful for, but in some great cultural conspiracy, we’ve been manipulated to believe Thanksgiving is a day to spend with loved ones in a state of patriotic fervor while devouring shameful amounts of calories.

Neither is there anything to celebrate in the murder of 45 million turkeys for one day (an additional 22 million turkeys are slaughtered for Christmas). Over 280 million turkeys are slaughtered every year in the US for food.

The life of a turkey is filled with suffering that you and I cannot fully imagine. The majority of turkeys for your Thanksgiving table are raised in warehouses where they will never see the light of day, and allotted three square feet of space to live their abbreviated life. To prevent them from injuring each other in such cramped quarters, most turkeys have one-third of their beaks seared off with a red-hot blade, and their toes cut off, all without painkillers and all within the first few days of their lives. It is also typical to cut off their snoods, the fleshy appendage above the beak, with scissors.

These naturally sweet and social animals are unable to engage in normal turkey behaviors such as perching, dustbathing and sunbathing. Mothers and babies begin to bond while the baby is still inside the egg, as do chickens. When inside the egg, little turkeys are already able to vocalize and “talk” to their mothers. Young birds are completely dependent on mothers, and their absence renders commercially bred turkeys helpless. Sometimes they cannot find food or water because no one ever showed them how. Turkeys often form strong bonds with each other as well, sometimes with other animals. They do not have the ability to do so in crowded warehouses.

Since they have been genetically manipulated to develop extremely large breasts in a short period time, they grow so awkwardly large that they are unable to hold up their own weight. Because of this they are no longer able to breed naturally, so females must be inseminated through rape. This also causes serious health problems like heart attacks and organ failures, however, most turkeys never live long enough to experience these issues since they are slaughtered at around five months old. (Yes, you are eating a baby bird.)

If you feel smug about only eating free-range turkey, there is very little difference in how the turkeys are treated on these farms. The term “free range” only means turkeys are allowed outside 51 percent of their lives. They don’t live idyllic lives on a farm, as the term implies.

Free-range turkeys are also genetically manipulated to grow unusually large and still undergo the same tortures as factory-farmed turkeys such as debeaking, detoeing and desnooding.

Whether a turkey comes from a free-range farm or a factory farm, they all undergo horrific conditions on the way to slaughter. Turkeys are gathered up and carried upside down by their legs and thrown into crates on transportation trucks. Most trucks have no protection from the weather, whether that be extreme heat or cold, and are usually denied food and water in transit. All turkeys end up at the same slaughterhouses where they are hung upside down by their legs and dipped in electrical baths to “stun” them. If they are not stunned, their throats are slit while they are still conscious. There are many occasions where they miss the hot bath and the blade, and end up plunged alive in scalding tanks to remove their feathers. It is all perfectly legal, since birds are exempt from the ironically named “Humane Slaughter” Act – ironic in the sense that of course there is no such thing as humane slaughter of humans or non-human animals.

I have a difficult time experiencing gratitude on a holiday that celebrates and worships the dual genocide of a race of people and a species of animal.

If you wish to truly express and share gratitude on Thanksgiving, how about choosing to eat a vegan meal? There are a myriad of satisfying and cruelty-free seasonal vegan recipes on the internet.

How about taking some time to meditate on the genocide of the Native Americans? Or kick off your holiday meal with a reading from A People’s History of the United States by the late, great Howard Zinn.

Instead of being forced to spend the holiday with shirttail relatives, feeling faux gratitude, take back Thanksgiving and celebrate the fact that your Thanksgiving has been respectful of people, animals, and the planet. I know that I’ll be grateful.

Undercover investigation

Let’s Talk Turkey by Ciddy Fonteboa

Sarah Palin



About Gary Smith

Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world. Evolotus specializes in nonprofits, documentary films, animal advocacy campaigns, health/wellness, natural foods and socially beneficial companies. Gary blogs at The Thinking Vegan and writes for elephant journal, Jewish Journal, Mother Nature Network and other publications. Gary and his wife are ethical vegans and live in Sherman Oaks, CA with their cat Chloe and two beagles rescued from an animal testing laboratory, Frederick and Douglass.


33 Responses to “Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Genocide.”

  1. jcmeyer10 says:

    Gary, I really appreciate the passion in this post. Eating turkey is a choice millions of people make each year and if some of those people chose an alternative, we could truly alleviate a great amount of suffering.

  2. Hilaryk says:

    Thank you for your words. They pretty much sum up exactly how I feel about "Thanksgiving". I've never liked this "holiday" for the two reasons you highlight.

  3. larry says:

    brilliant writing…American history has been whitewashed & dumbed down to a point that I doubt actual historians know the truth anymore…but alas, it is the American way…thank you, Mr. Smith, for a breath of fresh air…

  4. Doctor FranklinStein says:

    All the members of my family get a day off. We are thankful that we are alive, resonably healthy, geting through school, work, and living with beautiful, rescued fur critters for which we are VERY THANKFUL. We are thankful to all have a day together!

  5. Fawn says:

    I frick fracking LOVE you Gary! What an eye opener! Great article.

  6. AMO says:

    If you don't feel the gratitude, don't "celebrate". For myself, I don't connect the holiday in any way with Native Americans and a small group of religious zealots who almost starved to death a couple of hundred years ago. I associate it with family and friends, and gratitude. I don't in any way celebrate the take over of North America by Europeans, though there is NOTHING I can do about that as it's a done deal. We're here, their lifestyle is gone never to return to this to this continent, and that is sad and horrible, and, for me, it has nothing to do with this day of sharing food and gratitude with my loved ones. Any more than Christmas, which I also celebrate, has anything to do with a magic man in the sky impregnating a 12 year old secretly through an angel and the off spring of that union dying so I do crappy things like voting for George Bush but be forgiven as long as I'm sorry and I accept his story. These are days of deep meaning to many people, and for most people that meaning has little to do with anything that happened long ago. Societies thrive on ritual and food and gifts are ways of reminding us of what's important in life.

    As for the birds "genocide" is the deliberate killing of a large group of HUMAN BEINGS especially because of their race or religion and is generally done to cleanse the area or the Earth of them (historical note: the Holocaust) so killing turkeys which were raised to be eaten is NOT genocide and I am sure the victims of actual genocide would be disturbed, were they still here, at your glib comparison. I'm disturbed by it. I eat meat, by choice, and will be preparing two turkeys for a large group of friends tomorrow, a handful a vegimites will be attending and most of my friends don't eat meat everyday and don't eat much of anything, we're a healthy but thin bunch. A good people are we, not Nazis. Use words with care. They have meaning…

  7. Torry Smith says:

    This holiday depressed me so much to the point that I just tried to sleep through it and miss it altogether. Finally my husband & I decided to celebrate our OWN holiday (on Friday) with a lovely vegan feast & our own traditions. Now we have something to look forward to that does not involve false history and the cruel lives & deaths of millions of innocent animals. Still get depressed every time I hear the phrase “Turkey Day”, though. Whenever I read it I comment that it’s not a happy day for the turkeys.

  8. Alice2112 says:

    thanks for this thoughtful post Erica! I enjoy learning about Native American history (as much as it saddens me) and know there is a lot of controversy about many "historical accounts". I am attending a community Vegetarian Thanksgiving – a COMPASSIONATE Thanksgiving, if you will. I encourage everyone to join in a community "Turkey – Free"/vegan event where you can be joyful and thankful for our efforts to make the world a better place.

  9. Alice2112 says:

    WOW. Gary Smith continues to post thought provoking articles on Elephantjournal. Always things that push us to broaden our world views and circles of compassion as well as test our spiritual practices and our definitions of "mindful".


  10. LasaraAllen says:

    I agree – even with the dark past our nation all too often ignores, we have so much to grateful for.

    You can see my Thanksgiving post here:

    I believe there is room for both awareness AND hope, remembrance AND gratitude.

  11. LasaraAllen says:

    Or, there is always the option of reclaiming a holiday that exists, with full awareness, humility, and gratitude for everything – including our willingness to revisit not only "the sins of the father", but our own "sins" as well.

  12. LasaraAllen says:

    I appreciate your words, and your courage in speaking them here. When I read Gary's article last night, I was at a loss for words. You voiced them, and I thank you.

    In case you didn't see MY take on the holiday, read it here:

    Also, on my personal website, about ceremonies and light in the darkness:

  13. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you for your view. I'm glad to see so many looking at the NEW(er) meaning of the holiday.

  14. jcrows says:

    It could be viewed as a ganapuja. Eating with awareness to liberate and make a good cause. Many critters are killed when the earth is plowed and disturbed for any cultivation.

  15. Blake says:

    Lasara, I did not write about Thanksgiving because you said it all.

  16. LasaraAllen says:

    Thanks, Blake! (No go say that over at MY article!) 😉

    peace and gratitude.

  17. Lisa says:

    Just getting around to this… thank you very much Gary…will post now. X

  18. candicegarrett says:

    us too! here here!

  19. fraggle303 says:

    Plowing a field and running over a mouse is WAAAY different than setting up high-speed conveyor-belts and robotic killing machines to "process" over 225 million turkeys on purpose.

    Do you really buy into the idea that those 2 are morally equivalent? Think about both intentions and outcomes for just one minute… and you won't say such ignorant things anymore.

  20. […] are a few pieces from the on-line article Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Genocide. I highly recommend reading the complete article. “If anything the first Thanksgiving was the […]

  21. Gary Smith says:

    Erica – There were many different stories to choose from in writing this article. I agree with the tone of your argument that we need to celebrate this holiday in another manner. The problem I have is that we have not accepted the fact that we committed genocide against the native people. It's like telling the African slaves, Chinese slaves, et al that we need to move on before we have asked for forgiveness. Most Americans still believe the story of the Pilgrims sharing their food with the native people. Most American holidays are just excuses for nationalism.

    So, it would be great for people to know the history and deal with it in a respectful and healing manner. My concern with most of the comments is that it happened a long time ago, so we just need to move on and eat lot's of dead turkeys.

  22. Nik says:

    Thanks for the great reply! I was appalled at reading this article and was having difficulty articulating my feelings. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  23. MrKappa says:

    It is difficult to draw the line. I mean we could so far as to say that anything that grows, or interacts biologically with the environment should not be eaten, but it doesn't make alot of sense to the ecosystem.

    As for the human treatment of animals. I can't see anything incredibly wrong with the quality of life at the Turkey farm in the first video but I can definately see something wrong with the inhumane treatment of the animals.

    I would go so far to say that given the choice between a store bought turkey which was raised on a free range, versus a turkey which was backed by a reputable employer who enforces humane standards, I would probably go with humane standards over paying extra for Turkey condos.

  24. […] Please read this article: Thanksgviving […]

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  26. […] Posted in Essays and Articles | « For the impending "holiday" Great News » Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site. […]

  27. […] example, when we witness an everyday act of human brutality such as an animal cruelty we should not brush it off (“hey, we are at the top of the food chain for a reason, right?”), […]

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  30. Ken says:

    I agree that factory farming is horrific, but there are some humanely raised turkeys, you just have to look. I'll happily pay more for a turkey that is raised humanely. Contrary to much vegan preaching, not everyone can be healthy on a vegan diet. If you can, that's wonderful, more power to you. But read Lierre Keith's book to see how it can really damage your health.

    It's impossible for humans to live without killing something. Look at all the natural habitat of wildlife that has to be destroyed to make room for you to grow your vegan food.

    It is offensive that you equate the slaughter of Native Americans, stealing their land, and robbing them of their culture, which is a true genocide, with eating a turkey. There is simply no comparison. To do so minimizes the magnitude of what whites did when they invaded America.

    I don't see anything here calling for some way to at least attempt to make amends for what was done to Native Americans. You're concerned about the turkeys, which is fine, but please don't bring real genocide into it.

  31. Ken says:

    Totally agree with you. It's offensive to equate eating a turkey with what was done to Native Americans.