Thanksgiving is a wholesome time to come together with family.  A time to eat delicious food prepared with love.  A time to reflect on everything you have to be grateful for.  And when you really take a step back and look at this heartwarming holiday, you realize that Thanksgiving is seriously f@#&% up.Now I’m not here to spoil your holiday or invalidate your family traditions.  I simply want to take a look at both the origins of Thanksgiving and the current practices involved with its observance; Thanksgiving, for all its warm and fuzzy feelings is essentially the celebration of genocide with a genocide.

Let me explain: We’ll first a look at the origins of Thanksgiving, and then we’ll move onto current practices.  It may seem for a bit that I’ve gone off my vegan rocker into a history lesson but I promise I’ll bring it back to the animals.

The History of Thanksgiving

So, there is a bit of debate as to the actual date and circumstances of the first Thanksgiving. proposed dates range anywhere from 1565 to the latter 1600s. I’m going to focus on two of the more accepted accounts, one a little more warm and fuzzy than the other.

One of the more highly cited, and more wholesome-feeling first Thanksgiving was in 1621 with the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians.  According to some of the scant records, Squanto of the Patuxet tribe, who has survived slavery under the English, negotiated a treaty between the Wampanoag Nation and the pilgrims, an element of which offered mutual protection.  The pilgrims has just harvested their first crop and were “exercising their arms,” meaning firing their guns.  The understanding is that Massasoit, the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader heard this and came to aid in a supposed attack.  When he and his warriors arrived they were invited to join the feast, though they had return with more food as there wasn’t enough there. this feast apparently lasted three days.

Today, this relationship established between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims is mourned by the Wampanoag who gather every year with hundreds of native people at Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock for the national day of mourning.  Before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000-100,000.  The arrival of European traders brought along a deadly plague, which killed up to two-thirds of their population, while many others were captured and sold as slaves.  And yet these people still welcomed the pilgrims.

The second highly cited first Thanksgiving, and one much less wholesome-feeling, occurred in 1637, said to be the first officially proclaimed all-pilgrim Thanksgiving.  The Massachusetts Bay Governor, John Winthrop, declared this feast “a celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots [one of the native tribes].”  It was essentially a victory feast for the massacre of the Pequot people.  See, the Pequot had not agreed to the treaty Squanto had created with the Wampanoag.  Their tribe had already been reduced from 8,000 to 1,500 by English-borne diseases, and around time of the massacre the Pequots were celebrating their annual green corn dance ceremony.

In the predawn hours, English and Dutch mercenaries surrounded the sleeping Pequot and ordered them to come outside.  Those who did were clubbed to death or shot and those remaining inside shelters were burned alive.  William Bradford, the former governor of Plymouth described the massacre, saying,

“those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. it was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice.”

It was the day after this that Governor Winthrop declared the day of celebration and thanksgiving in honor of this horrific event.

So that is the groundwork for our Thanksgiving holiday. Built on the genocide and violent destruction of an entire people.  Now you may be saying that this is tragic and inexcusable, but it’s not what people are celebrating on Thanksgiving today.  The modern holiday is far removed from this showcase of our inhumanity.  However, I’d like to challenge this claim: while perhaps our intentions and thoughts are nowhere near this historic genocide, our actions are incredibly in concert with those early settlers.  You see, we, knowingly or not, celebrate this original genocide with a second genocide.  And that is the genocide of turkeys.

The Turkey Genocide

Now you may scoff at this concept of a turkey genocide, but what turkeys go through is nothing short of horrific, barbaric, and terrifying.  According to the USDA, more than 45 million turkeys are killed in the United States just for thanksgiving.  That’s one sixth of all the turkeys sold in the US each year.  Before being slaughtered, turkeys spend their shortened lives cramped on top of one another, even in so-called free-range and cage-free facilities, a term which means nothing.  Due to these atrocious conditions, turkeys are rife with disease, respiratory infections, ulcerated feet, blistered breasts, and ammonia-burned eyes.  They are pumped full of antibiotics yet 75-100 percent still contain disease when they reach the slaughterhouse.  They are bred to grow so fast and abnormally large that they are made lame by their own weight and often have to use their wings to reach food and water.  Were a human child to grow at this rate, it would weigh 1,500 pounds by 18 weeks of age.

Because of their size and inability to move properly, turkeys must be sexually violated to breed them.  The makes are assaulted for their semen, which his forced into the females.  At birth, turkeys are mutilated.  They are painfully debeaked and detoed without any anesthetic.  When they are only 12 to 26 weeks old, turkeys are grabbed by their feet and jammed into crates without food or water and shipped out to slaughter.  There is no law in the US to regulate the treatment of birds during the catching, transport and slaughter process.  Once at the slaughterhouse, they are strung up by their feet, especially painful for this unnaturally large birds. They may also be stunned by an electrical stunner or run through an electrified water bath so their feathers come out more easily. they are conscious for this process and then have their throats cut.

This is the process that is repeated 45 million times every year for American Thanksgiving alone, as we come to the table to show our thanks, very literally honoring the memory of our country’s original genocide with the now longest-running and bloodiest genocide of our species’ history.  So I’ll say it again.  Thanksgiving is seriously f@#&% up.

Now all that said, you can certainly have a vegan Thanksgiving and reclaim this horrific holiday for something we can all be truly thankful for: delicious food free of cruelty.  And on Friday, I’ll show you exactly how to have an epically ethical Thanksgiving dinner so stay tuned!  And this year during your Thanksgiving, perhaps take a moment to reflect upon the extreme suffering inherent in this holiday both historic and present and honor the memory of those lost, both human and animal alike.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on thanksgivings and your traditions.  Let me know in the comments!

See ya next nugget!

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Videos/Resources:

Turkey/Animal Rights Resources:

5 Months To Live (A Turkey’s Experience)

OPEN YOUR EYES

United Poultry Concerns

Various Article on Turkeys from UPC

Undercover At Butterball by Mercy for Animals

 

Thanksgiving History Resources:

Genocide and the Thanksgiving Myth by Brian Wilson

Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning for Indians by Moonanum James and Mahtowin Munro

No Thanks to Thanksgiving by Robert Jensen

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving by Michelle Tirado

 

12 thoughts on “The Truth About Thanksgiving: Celebrating Genocide With Genocide

    Lance Kinley says:

    I left one message on the patreon website about how it is so sad what happens to turkey’s and around my family that still eats meat they have ham on the side. I on the other hand will be feasting on vegan all the way. I will be making homemade pumpkin pie, a pot of green beans mixed with red potatoes and carrots, and homemade dressing. My sister who is also vegan will be making a veggieloaf, freshly made cranberry sauce, and vegan mac & cheeze. I hope your vegan thanksgiving will also be as plentiful.

    wow that sounds delicious Lance! thank you for sharing your feasting plans :) and it is very challenging being around the consumption of animals, but i’m so glad that you’ll be a living example of how tasty and abundant vegan food can be!

    lesley rice says:

    Hi little nugget aka emily. omg. This video was epic and so educational. I had no idea about the historical accounts of ‘Thanksgiving’ holiday origins. I knew the turkey torture part but re that part, your video just slammed it home, if you will. ;(
    This Thanksgiving I am so grateful for YOU and the tidbits of information you so perfectly present! On the other hand, I have unintentionally alienated myself from our clueless son (a high school history teacher!) and dil (two gkids and one on the way) who do not get it and won’t even listen to anything I have to say (lovingly, of course). So….I was asked by them to ‘host’ Thanksgiving this year but they know my dedication and that I would not prepare a single animal product in my home/kitchen. I indicated, however, that I would be more than happy to prepare a scrumptious vegan feast that they would potentially love, if they would just try it. Then they said they would bring their own ‘food’ like ‘ham’ so we could all sit down and have a Thanksgiving feast together. (Staunch conservative Christians, btw.) Poop. I don’t even want it near me. ‘Giving Thanks’ and seeing the remains of the poor animals on my table just doesn’t seem right. I don’t know what to do except I will not compromise my dedicated personal promise to never be a part of the horrific deaths of any animal. I guess I won’t be a part of our grandchildren’s lives much…..sad on that level but my other levels are rejoicing to know the compassionate side of living.

    thank you for sharing this lesley and i’m so sorry to hear about this struggle of yours. family is honestly the most difficult element of living a vegan lifestyle- not eating animals is simple, but family dynamics are anything but! i think it’s wonderful of you to make them a vegan meal and it sounds like they don’t really understand that vegan food doesn’t need to be “supplemented” ;)

    i wish you the best in the holiday time and hope you find a way to connect with your family without compromising your values. what a tough place. my thoughts are with you and i thank you again for sharing this and for watching :)

    Beth-Ann Oxendale says:

    Hi Emily,

    I am Canadian, so we celebrated thanksgiving in October. And I am glad to say that all though my dinner was simple it was delicious and vegan.

    When I was little I went to a family friends house. They had turkeys out in the yard. Apparently I called them pretty birds. I don’t remember this, but I still think that turkeys can be very nice looking birds. If only they were allowed to live free of human cruelty.

    I hope you and Ooby have a great day and as I like to say “Any day that ends in -y is a good day to go vegan”

    thank you for sharing this Beth-Ann! it’s sad how we so often lose our childhood connection to animals. i’m do glad you have not- eating vegan honors those “pretty birds.” ;) and i love that saying!

    Cordelia says:

    So, I’m vegan, and I know it’s important to acknowledge the horrors we inflicted on the native Americans. But on the other hand, I’m living in Australia now and thanksgiving is one of the few nostalgia holidays I can celebrate that helps with the homesickness. My question is, is there any way to celebrate thanksgiving with a tofurkey loaf without being a bad person or supporting a racist view of our history?

    you can most certainly celebrate thanksgiving! that’s why i said at the end of the video that you can reclaim the holiday for something good. celebrate what it means to you. as long as you are aware of the reality and acknowledge the victims, i think you can certainly have a thanksgiving of your own making :)

    c oliver says:

    I am English, so we don’t do thanksgiving, we have our ‘kill a turkey day’ in December, Christmas, we celebrate Jesus christ by killing animals… well i don’t any more, since becoming an ethical vegan I don’t give thanks by killing any animal anymore, i celebrate by respecting all life.. Last Christmas i was the only one eating a vegan lunch.. This year Myself and my family, including the dog will eat an entire plant based meal, because since becoming vegan myself two years ago i felt it my duty to share what i had learned, about that ‘humane myth’ from brave people like Emily, thankyou my dear for spreading the truth . Now my daughters and my chap have willingly given up the flesh and fluids of other species and will join me in a compassionate lunch.. my fur baby doesn’t care what he eats as long as he is fed :) … Peace to all x

    wow this is incredible coliver! i’m so glad to hear your family (pooch included) are going to dine ethically this year. and i’m honored to ahve been a part of your vegan journey in any way. thank you so much for sharing this. much love to you and your family!

    Hi, it’s very interesting to learn about the full history of Thanksgiving. Didn’t know this. It might also be of interest to consider the issue not just from an ethical point of view, and a vegan one, but I would also suggest that we should ask, How does GOD the ALMIGHTY feel about everything people celebrate. Is Christmas any better? Or Easter? Or Halloween? etc etc. Should we try to find excuses to celebrate something anyway, as long as WE can find a view that satisfies us? To find happiness do we need to celebrate something, or can we be happy from knowing that we please God, provided we find out about the truth first, as outlined in God’s Word the Bible? May I suggest http://www.jw.org for information about origins about other celebrations, plus for insight into how to establish are satisfying and lasting friendship with GOD. I’ve been a full-time vegan for more than 5 years so far, but that just satisfies my body’s health situation. Let’s find out what gives us satisfaction all round, a good conscience, and a good relationship with GOD. Thank you!

    thanks for the comment and your insights Angie!

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