Should we rethink Turkey this Thanksgiving?

As Christians who profess to care about how our actions impact others, we should think about where our foods come from.

Thanksgiving is almost here, bringing with it the usual choices about which foods to buy. These choices are most often determined by its price, taste, and whether or not it will impress our relatives. It rarely occurs to us to think about from where our turkey and other foods come—perhaps because, if we do think about such things, it makes us very uncomfortable.

But it should occur to us. Especially if we claim the name “Christian” and profess to care about how our actions impact others, especially the most vulnerable.

If we decide to buy our Thanksgiving turkey on price, for instance, it almost certainly comes from a “factory farm,” an institution which exists to maximize efficient production of “protein units” per square foot. To give an example of just one strategy employed to accomplish this, consider that these farms breed turkeys with breasts so large than they cannot have sex with each other. In order to replenish their supply of protein units, these farms artificially inseminate the females with semen procured from the males. The job of manually stimulating a turkey in order to procure his semen was, quite appropriately, featured on the show Dirty Jobs.

But if welfare of vulnerable animals isn’t enough to move you to resist factory farms, consider that our support of them also has devastating implications for human beings.

The recent typhoon which devastated the Philippines is being called the biggest storm in history—with the frighting expectation of even stronger storms to come. Why? Climate change is making our oceans warmer, and climate scientists predict that this increased energy will make our most powerful storms today seem rather ordinary.

Scary, right? This can move even the most skeptical person to change the way they live. Are you driving a fuel efficient car? Great. Taking fewer long distance vacations? Wonderful. But it is even more important for our world’s ecological integrity that you refuse to support factory farms. The emissions from such farms—including the colossal amount of feces produced by 50 billion animals—is worse for carbon levels than all the cars and planes in the world combined. Though it may be difficult to comprehend, there is a causal relationship between the meat we buy and eat, and the strength of the storms which pound the cities of developing countries 8,000 miles away.

Also consider the growing fear in the medical and global health communities over our inability to treat “super-bugs.” The associate director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently told Frontline that, “For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about ‘The end of antibiotics, question mark’…Well, now I would say you can change the title to ‘The end of antibiotics, period.’”

“Pan-resistant” diseases, resistant to all known antibiotic treatments, kill over 23,000 people each year, and that number is growing exponentially. Frontline is reporting that drug companies are now hesitating to invest in new antibiotics because they don’t see a way to make money on them in the long run. The Lancet recently suggested that the creation of super-bugs could undo more than 100 years of medical progress.

Most of the reactions to this dangerous situation call for humans to change the way we respond to our own diseases. But over 80 percent of the antibiotics used each year are given to animals in factory farms. While we should be using fewer antibiotics to treat human disease, we should resist their use in factory farms as well.

The editors at USA Today recently wrote a scathing editorial calling out the Obama administration for rolling over for big agriculture lobbyists and not doing enough to curb the problems produced by factory farms. Government regulation is an essential part of the answer, and we must do more to end the corporate welfare and special privileges given to factory farms.

But especially given the dysfunctional state of our politics, we should reject the idea that the only solution to these problems is to pass another law. Climate change and drug-resistant disease have already affected many millions, and may affect hundreds of millions more. These huge problems fall heavy on each of us as our choices lead directly to these horrific outcomes. We can continue to make an idol of consumerism, buying our meat based on cost alone, or we can resist factory farming and the global threats it has produced.

Christians, in particular, are called to resist this kind of consumerism–especially when so many vulnerable populations are threatened. We must work hard to change our habits so that we are able to resist the structural sin of factory farming.

And what better day to begin than Thanksgiving 2013?

Image courtesy of Rene Schwietzke.

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  • Hermit1951

    Ok, I’ll admit it. I came into this article as a skeptic, ready to fight the good fight. But you make some very interesting points. While I don’t doubt that the climate is changing, I don’t think raising turkeys, or using hairspray, or even driving to the gas station has very much to do with it. What is earth?………4.5 billion years old? Who is to say that tapping into open pockets of pollution oozing petroleum based gushers, and before we al but exterminated animal life, which now requires us to mass produce animals, that this (warming of the oceans) didn’t happen before…….(the dinosaurs for example, are you sure that was caused by a giant meteor hitting the earth? or could it have been ‘global warming”) I don’t know the answer to those questions, and I doubt that you really know the real answers either. The Earth is a pretty tough thing to break.

    On the other hand, your assessment of making our bodies immune to disease poses an interesting idea. Something I will have to think about. It makes a lot of sense. I’ll ponder that as I drive my Ram to the Store and buy a turkey, and roast it over an open fire…..enjoy your whey and pudding.

  • dalyplanet


    Though it may be difficult to comprehend, there is a causal relationship between the meat we buy and eat, and the strength of the storms which pound the cities of developing countries 8,000 miles away


    This statement is not supported by scientific evidence.

    The recent typhoon Yolanda is not even in the top 25 strongest storms of the modern era.

    For a Professor of Ethics this author certainly plays fast and loose with the facts.

  • ayn123

    Thank you for this timely article.