How Important is the Thanksgiving Turkey?

Claire Gelber, Opinions Writer

The Thanksgiving Turkey is an American tradition that has deeply rooted ties to American culture and values. Turkeys are often the centerpieces at family gatherings during this holiday season and are an iconic symbol of the Thanksgiving holiday. Some wonder though; how important is this bird to our traditions, and could the killings of millions of turkeys every year have its ethical or even environmental drawbacks?

     46 million turkeys are slaughtered every year for Thanksgiving- and that’s just in the United States. So, is it worth it? Organizations like Advocacy for Animals say no. Raising all of these birds contributes to the factory farming industry, which has plenty of its own environmental consequences. Additionally, intensive farming uses over 70% of the available freshwater in the U.S., and these practices can have their own sanitary issues in addition to this. Some facilities can house up to 10,000 turkeys at a time, and inevitably the birds start to get aggressive. To reduce pecking and fighting, factory farmers cut off the ends of turkey beaks and toes. This practice is cruel and unusual to the birds, but it also can cause serious sanitary problems as turkey blood will be contaminated, and infections in the birds also become common. According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not consider the Humane Slaughter Act as applying to birds, meaning that even more inhumane practices could be in place on these giant farms.

Despite these controversies, many believe that a thanksgiving turkey is still an important staple and part of American tradition. The thanksgiving turkey is often a centerpiece in big gatherings filled with family and friends, and is often associated with good memories. It is also argued that these birds started to become used and popularized due to the abundance of turkeys in North America. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, at the time of European contact in America there were more than 10 million wild turkeys roaming the land. In addition to this, turkeys were large enough to feed a family at the thanksgiving dinner table. Of course, factory farming has only allowed for more production of turkey, resulting in an exponential increase in production. According to an agriculture statistic, about 216.5 million turkeys were produced in the United States in 2021. This allows for affordable access to turkey, meaning that more American families will be able to afford and have access to the bird; versus other kinds of meat. 

    Looking at both sides of the controversy, are thanksgiving turkeys really worth it? Is there a possible alternative that is more sustainable for our earth and for our animals? Due to inflation rates this year, and a flu breakout in turkey farms, turkey prices are higher than usual. So, if you’re curious about trying a turkey alternative this Thanksgiving, now is definitely the time! An article from the Washington Post discusses the popularization of dishes including squash, mushrooms, cauliflower, and even pumpkin. This thanksgiving, challenge yourself to eat something outside of your comfort zone to help create a more sustainable future; for us and the turkeys!