There are a few posts I recycle annually, this Thanksgiving piece being one of them. Farm Sanctuary, where we’ve “adopted” our turkeys in previous years by making a donation, was the first farm sanctuary I learned about years ago when I was looking for a more animal-friendly way to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. Hugh and I are the only ones in our families who celebrate Thanksgiving this way, but we’re used to being outliers in one form or another and me, in particular, with my perspective on nonhuman animals.
There are quite a few farm sanctuaries around the country, all of which rescue and advocate on behalf of domestic animals. Last month, I read a book by the founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Jenny Brown. The book — The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals — balances hope against reality by interspersing stories of hardship with stories of rescue and recovery.
Brown talks about her childhood battle with cancer and the subsequent amputation of her leg, and how her own life experience led her to advocate and fight for the animals in her midst. Brown tells of the animals who’ve come to the sanctuary, what they endured before, how they thrive in their new lives, and she also ties in their stories with the realities of industrial farming. That balance is precisely what makes this book readable. It speaks the truth while alleviating the difficult, emotional passages with stories of redemption. (The Christian Science Monitor published a nice review here.)
My eating “low on the food chain” as Hugh likes to call it, stemmed years ago from my life-long affiliation with animals and their experiences. As with all perceptions on life, mine is ever-evolving, hopefully for the better. I always say that if five or ten years from now, I look back on my understanding today as hopelessly rudimentary, that would at least suggest progress. One thing that’s remained the consistent is our Thanksgiving turkey tradition: Here’s my blurb on adopted turkeys from years past — “Faye,” “Hawthorn” — and our 2012 turkey “Victoria”:
Quite a few years ago, Hugh and I started our Thanksgiving tradition of adopting a turkey from Farm Sanctuary. We’ve always been urban dwellers, so actual adoption isn’t an option. But, Farm Sanctuary offers remote adoptions of their rescued turkey folk.
Although Farm Sanctuary has a reasonably high profile through their advocacy work and their shelters in both New York and California, if you haven’t heard about them and you have some interest in the welfare of farm animals, take a look at the beautiful things they do for domestic animals.
[Their website also has a short piece, The History of Thanksgiving, which discusses the evolution of this holiday and how turkey came to be the de facto dish in the mid-1900s.]
According to Farm Sanctuary, between 250 and 300 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving celebrations. Adopting one rescued bird seems like the proverbial drop in the ocean. But as Hugh always likes to say, an individual act of kindness matters to that individual animal.
Last year, our individual animal was Faye. I clicked the “choose for us” option and our Adopt-a-Turkey certificate arrived with Faye’s picture and a short description of her former life. She was rescued from a Northwest Airlines cargo disaster. This year, it’s Hawthorn, a turkey found wandering outside a factory farm in Southern California.
We’ve observed, over the years, a variety of alternative Thanksgiving celebrations, owing to our appreciation of turkeys and their many modern travails. But it wasn’t until we discovered Farm Sanctuary’s program that a consistent Thanksgiving ritual was born in our small household.
Thank you to all of the farm sanctuaries who put faces and experiences on animals who would otherwise be invisible.