The Morality of Thanksgiving

Reflecting beyond the holiday


Born for slaughter. Turkeys are confined in factory farms with thousands of others, given little to no room for vital movement. Such high densities of turkeys in small spaces are bound to spread disease. Turkeys are genetically curated by selective breeding to produce the fattest offspring. This results in abnormal, unnatural behaviors such as pecking, scratching and fighting with others. Which often leads to their beaks and toes being trimmed without medication to ease the pain. Then, off to the slaughterhouse they go, after a few measly stress-filled weeks of life. This is the harsh reality behind the staple Thanksgiving meal. Yet tradition has stood the test of time. 

In 1621, the first unofficial Thanksgiving was celebrated. The massive feast lasted three days, but it is unknown whether or not turkey was served. The infamous centerpiece wasn’t popularized until the early nineteenth century. 

Every year since, on the last Thursday of November, homes across the United States are filled with the hefty aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven. In 2015, 46 million turkeys were purchased in America. But were they really eaten? Within the same day, 200 million pounds of turkey were discarded—35% of the previously stated total. 

Allison Holdredge, a Summit sophomore and vegetarian said, “[How turkeys are raised] is certainly not humane. It feels like we as a society are forcefully modifying nature to suit our own wants. Which is a selfish thing to do.” Such high numbers are inhumane: a high percentage of the birds are killed for the sole purpose of being thrown away. The sacrifice doesn’t equate to the holiday and its history. All of this: for a single meal.

Betsy Stonich, a Summit senior said, “As a vegetarian of ten years, I think America consumes an unnecessary amount of meat on holidays, and in general. But there are many ways to ethically enjoy the holidays, like just eating a bunch of mashed potatoes.” 

To stray away from a centuries-old tradition could ruin the essence of the holiday. To some, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without turkey. 

“I do understand Thanksgiving’s turkey, and the celebration and history of the event, and that it’s really important to some people,” said Holdredge.

While veganism and vegetarianism are options, they’re not entirely accessible or attractive to everyone. Nonetheless, it’s still important to pay close attention to what you’re purchasing. Buying free range meat products gives animals the space to grow up and be raised in an ethical fashion. Locally, Market of Choice offers an “oven ready free range turkey roast” this time of year. Still providing the traditional holiday meal that so many families strive for.

Panabi Free, a Summit sophomore, said, “I’ve never been a huge fan of it, but [my family] has eaten turkey every year. I don’t think it absolutely has to be there, but it’s a personal choice. Some people may say it’s a huge part of Thanksgiving.” An alternative like free-range turkey certainly won’t eliminate the inhumanities, but it certainly might help.

It is essential to take a moment and consider the impact of what you eat. Little steps towards food sustainability are good ways to help. Participating in “Meatless Monday” can help eliminate a small part of the overconsumption of meat. 

Beyond Thanksgiving, the issue isn’t just about turkeys. All around the globe countless animals are domesticated for human consumption and benefit. Annually, over 200 million tons of meat are produced worldwide, 20% of which is thrown away. That’s 52.6 million tons gone to waste. If humans claim to care about the planet, why continue with these destructive patterns? The circle of life has spiraled out of control, its balance and naturality have been squashed by humans. 

Another major concern is how cheap meat has become. Compared to 50 years ago, chickens now have significantly less space and life span on farms. Up to 50 thousand birds per inadequate warehouse, each one is given about three-fourths of a square foot of space. 

Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness, unity and gratitude. Though we still celebrate it with a turkey, when you exactly know how it got to your table.