My favorite holiday is coming up: Thanksgiving. But when I tell people that, at least people who know I'm a vegetarian, they invariably ask, "But how can you enjoy Thanksgiving without turkey?" And I want to (and sometimes do) ask, "How can you enjoy Thanksgiving WITH turkey?"
Every year 250 to 300 MILLION turkeys are killed for food in this country, and about 45 million are killed just for Thanksgiving. If that number (and the image of them all piled up in one place—brrr!) isn't chilling enough, consider this: raising animals for meat (and yes, turkey, chicken and duck count as meat) is our greatest single contribution to global warming.
Even Al Gore is getting with the program: after years of being the official spokesdog for global warming, just last week, in an interview with ABC, he admitted the unthinkable (for a heavyset Southern gentleman of jowly inclinations). "It's absolutely correct that the growing meat intensity of diets around the world is one of the issues connected to this global crisis—not only because of the CO2 involved, but also because of the water consumed in the process. You could add in the health consequences as well."
And then he confessed that his environmental concerns had, in fact, led him to seriously reduce the amount of meat he eats, though he stopped well short of embracing vegetarianism (or, gasp, veganism), or suggesting that others stop eating meat.
But as a first step, by a big white dude in a suit, I'll take it. After years of needling from the more radical (i.e. non-corporate) side of the environmental movement, it's about time Al spoke truth to power—the power being the massive meat industry and its big, beefy (ha!) lobbying arm. On top of that, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article about a former fisherman who now spends his days flying around looking for piles of chicken manure from the air: runoff from poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula has destroyed the ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and points further south. Poultry farmers, who function in a kind of indentured servitude under crippling contracts with the big poultry concerns, operate with razor-thin margins that make environmental compliance next to impossible. So they block entrance to their farms, resist inspection and pile up chicken shit.
The only way to find the illegal crap stashes, which will, with their bacterial payloads, eventually wash to the Bay, or the nearest body of water and THEN the Bay, is to spot them from above. First the chicken shit killed the fisherman's livelihood, then the fisherman cracked down on the chicken shit...
And that's just one aspect of our glorious meat-production system. Jonathan Safran Foer's most recent book, Eating Animals, has had him blanketing the internets and the NPR airwaves to bring us the news that Peter Singer brought us many years ago: eating animals is fucked up, intellectually inconsistent with the devotion we feel for our "pets" (dogs and cats) and, oh, it's bad for the environment. Unless it isn't, in which case you're eating humanely-raised grass-fed, organic, free-range meat (which constitutes some 2-4% of the meat produced in this country, so guess what? You're probably not).
As irritating as Foer's tone is, it's hard to be against his attempt to illuminate the issue. As he puts it, "We have the burden and opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness." We should know better, we do know better.
So don't turn away: if you have a shred of concern about the environment, if you've ever seen a glimmer of intelligence in the eyes of an animal, ANY animal (just look—it's there) consider forgoing the big bird this year. Spend the money you would have given to Perdue by going to FarmSanctuary.org to sponsor a turkey. I did—her name is Olive.