Sanctuary Reinvents Thanksgiving

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“And what would happen if there were no turkey? Would the tradition be broken, or injured? …Or would Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel disappointing or inspiring? Would fewer or more values be transmitted? Would the joy be lessened by the hunger to eat that particular animal? Imagine your family’s Thanksgivings after you are gone, when the question is no longer “Why don’t we eat this” but the more obvious one: “Why did we ever?” -Abridged from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) has taken an old tradition and given it a fresh, life-affirming reinterpretation: Thanksgiving becomes ThanksLiving. Celebrating it’s 8th year, there are a few ways ThanksLiving is different from Thanksgiving, most importantly that turkeys are not eaten. Rather, ThanksLiving is a celebration of life, and turkeys are the guests of honour. They too share in the feast, which is completely vegan, another important difference. This celebration is enjoyed without anyone dying (and is, consequently, a much more environmentally friendly celebration).

ThanksLiving TurkeyWFAS, located in New York state, is a kind of eden where animals live after being rescued from cases of “abuse, neglect and abandonment”. They currently care for 6 turkeys (Timmy, Tomoko, Loren, Jean, Beatrice and Petunia) who, for ThanksLiving guests, serve as ambassadors for an alternative human-animal paradigm, one based on kinship and care, not exploitation and consumption. WFAS observes that “Turkeys are sensitive, social individuals, and in conditions where they are permitted to thrive, they are seen for the complex, adaptive, and intelligent animals that they are.” Sanctuary guests certainly affirm this after spending a day with the turkeys. One guest who blogged about the event wrote “How extraordinary it was to be a part of this tradition that seeks to reinvigorate this holiday with ethical meaning. Truly, you have not lived until you have enjoyed a delectable vegan ThanksLiving meal alongside living Turkeys, who playfully beg for scraps at our table of plenty.” (Source: WFAS practices daily the maxim that animals are someones, not somethings.

The event sold out in three days. A first-time attendee said “The entire experience was inspiring and humbling. I enjoyed every aspect of this experience. I cannot wait for next year to bring more friends and family to experience ThanksLiving!” This demonstrates clearly that Thanksgiving can be a non-violent tradition and remain intact. It can be a win-win tradition, wherein humans can enjoy a healthy meal with family and friends, and turkeys can enjoy the benefit of not being co-opted into a tradition that literally puts their cooked corpses at the centre of it.


Jenny Brown, WFAS director reports that “46 million Turkeys will be slaughtered in the US alone for Thanksgiving”. Ultimately these 46 million turkeys are born because their species has been made iconographic to one calendar day of the year. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Tradition is elastic. We can take the traditions that we inherit and reinterpret them. It’s not an affront to the tradition. A slight tweak can spare 46 million lives. This year, let’s put compassion at the centre of the table, not turkeys. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving with the gift of life.

For more information about turkeys and their lives as farmed animals, visit WFAS.

Photo credits: Splice Photography

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