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November 2006
Gobble, Gobble, Genocide
By Kymberlie Adams Matthews


This Thanksgiving I am guaranteed a cornucopia of hugs and quality family time as well as the carving up of a Tofurky. And while I love my mom’s sweet potato soufflé, I’ll find it really hard to enjoy the holiday itself. I can’t help but become reminiscent of growing up singing songs about “little Indians” and being asked to sit “Indian style.” Of crafting Indian costumes from brown paper grocery sacks and creating turkey images by tracing the outline of my hand with brightly colored crayons—artwork hung on the refrigerator with pride. I also recall my mom’s pride in cooking the picture perfect turkey. With adult eyes, I see these events with new clarity and am reminded that this is not a holiday to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving is not about brave and peaceful pilgrims crossing stormy seas on a quest for a better life. Or their landing on the shores of Massachusetts and finding sanctity on Plymouth Rock. And while there may have been a feast after the Wampanoag Indians helped the pilgrims survive their first winter by sharing food, medicine and age-old secrets of living off the land, they certainly did not all live happily ever after.

Those pilgrims beat, tortured, raped, enslaved and murdered the natives, reducing their villages to ash. The first official “Day of Thanksgiving” was actually a declaration made by the governor of Massachusetts after a successful massacre of 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, who had gathered for their annual Green Corn Dance. In less than 150 years, more than 95 percent of Native Americans were exterminated and the genocide of “inferior” races became rooted in American culture.

Is it any wonder I am reminded that the land of the free and home to the brave is founded upon the oppression of humans and other animals to satisfy its gluttony? The slaughtering of Native Americans is not so different from the capitalist system in place today. So much of what Americans are thankful for stems from the mistreatment and exploitation of others.

The contradictions we create to maintain guilt free lives are astounding. Today we kill and displace thousands of people to satisfy our comfortable fossil fuel dependent lives. We defend marriage by denying it to some—claiming a moral stand—yet continue to commemorate the “sacred” union with diamonds derived from the bloodshed of others. We save money by purchasing the products of sweatshop conglomerates who systemically deprive people of their basic human rights—overseas and in our neighborhoods. We live in a country that absolves our corporations of their responsibilities in addressing the harms of their practices. And as we spew values of freedom, democracy and human rights, our foreign policy continues to turn a blind eye to genocide.

Is it any wonder our culture of carnage is celebrated with slaughter?

Our Celebration of Slaughter
This year 45 million turkeys will be served on fancy platters with sides of mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. While dining, no one will think about how their turkeys had their throats slit while still conscious, only to satisfy their human cravings. Or about those who miss the knife and are fully alive when they are plunged into a scalding tank, electrified and boiled. And while they will be massacred at only five weeks of age—still babies—we will not be mulling over the fact that their short lives are lived in torture.

Only a few hours old, baby turkeys have their genitals pinched to determine their sex, their snoods (the flap of skin by their beaks) torn from their heads, three toes sliced off each foot and undergo painful debeaking with a hot blade. They are then crammed into the filthy, overcrowded sheds of factory farms and denied the right to fulfill even their most basic instincts.

While teaching our children to draw hand turkeys with brightly colored plumage, we are also teaching them that turkeys are ours to consume. They are nothing more than “meat.” When taking part in this turkey celebration, we become complicit in the act of slaughtering an “inferior” animal to satisfy our greed.

Since the killing, preparing and eating of turkeys has become the highlight of a holiday founded on genocide, I can’t help but wonder…is this how we give thanks?