One saved, millions consumed: Chicago vegans advocate turkeyless Thanksgiving

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11/25/2018

As millions of turkeys in America are headed for the dinner table, their usual destination for the upcoming Thanksgiving, one of them has an entirely different fate.

Yuiza, a three-month-old turkey on a free-range farm in western Illinois, was rescued from its barn midnight Friday by five members of the Chicago Animal Save, a grassroots animal rights organization, co-founder Kelsey Atkinson said.

The covert mission went smoothly, Atkinson said, except it was tough to decide which turkey to save since the sanctuary they had lined up could only house one. They picked Yuiza because it was smaller than others and seemed to need the most help, she said.

“[It] wasn’t walking around as much as the other turkeys and we wanted to rescue someone who was in need of that care more immediately,” Atkinson said.

Aside from having the tips of its toes and beak cut off like all other turkeys, Yuiza also had an infectious wound on its back that Atkinson used antiseptics to treat. Now the bird can spend Thanksgiving in Atkinson’s house while the sanctuary prepares for its arrival, she said.

Nearly 45 million turkeys are consumed for Thanksgiving in the U.S. every year, according to the National Turkey Federation. Atkinson likened it to a “ritual sacrifice” that is “heartbreaking and completely unnecessary.”

In fact, some Chicagoans are shifting away from the traditionally turkey-centered Thanksgiving cuisine. Over 90 people enjoyed a diverse selection of all-vegan food at a Thanksgiving potluck Saturday night in the John Baran Senior Center.

Mariana Prokop, a homemaker concerned about the violence in animal agriculture, educated her sons, Oliver and Boris, 7 and 4 years old, very early on about the benefits of veganism.

“Oliver was 4 when I told him meat comes from animals, and he was really receptive to it,” Prokop said. “Something clicked with him and he just said ‘I want the whole world to be vegan,’ which is really, really cool.”

Inspired by “Free Birds,” a cartoon movie where all turkeys survived and everybody had pizza for Thanksgiving, her family did exactly that on their first vegan Thanksgiving three years ago, Prokop said, and they are “never looking back.”

“Tofurkey,” a faux turkey made of tofu, was served at the potluck, but many vegans are not fans of meat substitutes. Nancy and Gard Jones, a retired couple, said they are happy with a plant-based diet and have no need to recreate the taste of meat, because veganism changed their overall outlook on food.

“If you read what I have read about how the turkeys are raised, with the hormones and the antibiotics and the treatment that they’re given,” Nancy Jones said. “[giving up meat] is not a sacrifice whatsoever.”

Atkinson said Thanksgiving perpetuates the myth that Pilgrims and Native Americans had a peaceful meal together, which is unrepresentative of the relationship between indigenous people and European settlers.

“We need to recognize the kind of violence behind this tradition and create a new holiday where we’re more intentional with what we’re celebrating,” Atkinson said.

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