Commentary

Saunders: Maybe we should try a little turkey tenderness

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 22, 2012 

Comedian Dick Gregory told of going into a Southern diner decades ago and being confronted by three men who weren’t thrilled by his presence.

Gregory said he was already seated at a table, knife and fork poised above a chicken, when one of the men said, “Boy, whatever you do to that chicken, we’re going to do to you.”

So, Gregory said, “I picked that chicken up and kissed it.”

He didn’t say what the Unwelcome Wagon contingent did, but it’s unlikely they picked him up and kissed him. It’s equally unlikely that any of us are going to pick up that bird simmering in the oven right now and kiss it.

Matt Rice, among others, wishes you would, though.

Rice, director of investigations for the animal protection group Mercy for Animals, is one of those responsible for bringing us the disturbing undercover videos of farm workers abusing our fine-feathered but oh-so tasty friends.

Year-round concern

I talked with Rice this week about the surreptitiously recorded videos, as well as the “pardon a turkey” billboards dotting highways. I also asked why MfA waits until right before Thanksgiving – when some of us have already sharpened the carving knife and bought the dressing – to begin its turkey-free push.

“We’re concerned year-round,” he said, “but we feel that consumers buying turkeys for Thanksgiving have a right to know how their turkeys are treated.”

MfA’s website says 300 million turkeys are bought each year – 40 million for Thanksgiving.

I have bought a couple of those 300 million, even though there’ve been many Thanksgivings where I didn’t eat turkey. Naw, not for humanitarian reasons, but because I was broke or it wasn’t on the menu at the jail I was in.

In the wonderful movie “A Christmas Story,” the little boy says this of his father, “Now, it was well-known throughout the Midwest that the old man is a turkey junkie, a bona fide Gally Turkicanus freak. A few days before Christmas his eyes would begin to gleam with a wild and ravenous light.”

Most of us are not that hooked on the gobble, but we understand.

Not holding his breath

I asked Rice if his organization and he would feel better if the turkeys were treated more – for lack of a better word – humanely before being slaughtered and during the actual slaughtering process.

“Absolutely we’d feel better if they were treated more humanely. One of the best ways to ensure that they are treated better is for people to stop eating them and adopt a healthier, more humane and environmentally sustainable” – that’s vegetarian or vegan – diet.

Rice obviously isn’t holding his breath waiting for that to happen, but he was encouraged that the USDA reports a “steady decline in meat consumption, not just turkeys and chicken.”

You don’t have to be a granola-munching, Birkenstock-wearing vegan who has sworn off the turkey or the barnyard pimp to think the federal government should regulate how these animals are treated before they reach our plates.

Is it too much to ask Butterball and others to, in the words of Otis Redding, “try a little tenderness” when handling the centerpiece of our holiday meal?

I don’t know about you, but I think a turkey would taste better if its last seconds were spent blithely and happily clucking around the farm instead of being traumatized by seeing a giant blade coming for it and going “What the ...?”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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