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Knowing Turkeys on Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28, 2019

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the United States, do you have a pit in your stomach? I do. I felt it starting in early November and it is deepening.

I always struggle with wanting to participate with my friends and family in holiday gatherings while also being an animal and human rights activist who wants to climb on top of roofs and scream “just stop!!!!!” at the world and everyone I know who doesn’t immediately change their behavior or respond to violence the way I think they should.

This anxiety and confusion about how to participate in Thanksgiving celebrations is something that I share with many activists.  This holiday is a celebration of fall abundance – a traditional harvest feast as found in many cultures – that we have shoehorned into a historical whitewashing of European colonialism and genocide. We’ve added gluttony as entertainment, including the consumption of 46 million baby turkeys who are bred and born to live short, painful lives just for their bodies to be displayed, mocked, and consumed.

But how can we find solace? I’m lucky in that I can walk around Woodstock Sanctuary and talk to Amy and Tomoko the turkeys and be present to them and their daily moods and joys. That is one thing I am very grateful for this time of year—that I know turkeys and love them.  

I feel a lot of power and strength in being around those turkeys who have been saved. They help me take action that I know I can take: 

  • I can speak up during the month of November and try and dissuade people from participating in the killing of turkeys by storytelling, sharing media, and being emotionally honest with anyone who asks me a question about it. 
  • I can acknowledge the history of the holiday and amplify the voices and stories of indigenous persons including anti-imperialist activists. 
  • I can volunteer with organizations that are supporting migrants including climate refugees.
  • I can have “safe space” text message threads with my activist friends where we can complain and rant. 
  • I can hold vegan potlucks and “Friendsgivings” and invite people who need a place to go.
  • I can attend events at farm sanctuaries and volunteer to be around turkeys to help those who have been rescued. 
  • I can give to help indigenous people who are on the front lines of our global fight against the climate crisis and amplify their voices.
  • I can sponsor a turkey here at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and share her story and images with positivity and hope.  
  • I can share photos of myself with turkeys and talk about what I love about them as individuals. 
  • I can attend vigils in front of live markets where people are going to pick out a turkey to be killed. 
  • I can give to organizations like Chilis on Wheels that provide vegan meals on holidays to people in need or volunteer at a vegan food drive.  
  • I can make choices about what gatherings I go to, so that I feel positive about my relationships and keep my boundaries. 
  • I can limit my consumption and only cook what will be eaten to limit food waste on this day devoted to overconsumption. 
  • I can bring vegan dishes to a non-vegan Thanksgiving dinner and try to reduce the overall consumption of animal products and promote vegan food. 
  • I can also be kind to myself if I feel like I need to be alone or not participate in Thanksgiving. And feel okay being upfront and honest about why.

But at the end of the day, you may find yourself at a table where a dead turkey is laying in front of you and there are decorations with cartoon depictions of the “First Thanksgiving.” And this is going to happen across the country despite how hard we’ve worked and how sad it makes us. Sometimes we compromise to be close to family.

So, if that happens, we just have to do our best. We can strive to be emotionally honest about the terrible history of Thanksgiving and the suffering of turkeys while not blaming those around us. We can act with love and compassion. We can cook as many vegan dishes as possible and act lovingly and with kindness to our friends and family while holding the 46 million turkeys in our hearts. 

For me this year, I will stay here and talk to Amy, Tomoko, Tony, Beatrice, and the rest of the magical, special turkeys here and tell them I love them and that I am sorry…and that we will all keep fighting with them and for them, this month and every month.  

Links about veganism and turkeys: 

Links about the myth of Thanksgiving: 

Organizations to help: 

Sponsor a turkey at Woodstock Sanctuary:


For the animals,



Rachel McCrystal
Executive Director


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