Almost four hundred years ago the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Plymouth settlers following their first successful harvest in the New World. While there is considerable debate as to whether Turkeys were even on the menu, we've come to associate the demise of these poor creatures with the same event that brings our families together.
Every year we now house, slaughter and then serve over 45 million Turkeys in this act of "celebration". What arrives on our table bears little resemblance to the wild turkeys that once roamed with those first settlers and as consumers, we have little understanding of the process involved.
Thanksgiving Turkeys are forced to live in cramped cages that are too small to even flap their wings, their toes and beaks are cut off without painkillers, and they are killed in the most inhumane manner imaginable as a PETA investigation reveals.
While we turn a blind eye to the abuse of animals in slaughterhouses, as a society we have been very vocal in condemning those accused of animal abuse outside the slaughterhouse.
Football player Michael Vick continues to be hated to this day for engaging in illegal dog fighting. The CEO of Centerplate was forced to resign after a video of he was caught on video kicking his dog.
The reaction to these animal abuses is understandable and laudable, but how are the 88% of us who condoned the abuse of our Thanksgiving turkeys any different?
There is no morally coherent difference between the dog who was kicked and the chicken, pig, cow or turkey that most people will eat today. How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner?
Norm Phelps, in his book Changing the Game: Why The Battle For Animal Liberation Is So Hard And How It Can Be Won notes that our paradoxical values about killing animals for food can be explained through the principle of bounded ethicality. The principle of bounded ethicality states that when a belief conflicts with a behavior that people are motivated to maintain due to self interest, cultural norms and so forth, most individuals will find a way to convince themselves that their ethical principles do not apply to their own behavior.
Perhaps this is why stories about dog meat market in China and slaughtering dolphins in Japan lead to overwhelming outrage in the social media, mostly in the form of comments calling "those people" barbaric by those who have no trouble endorsing the inhumane treatment of animals culturally deemed worthy of consumption.
It is time for us to examine our fundamental views about animal ethics, to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, "are we really less barbaric than 'those people' who kill dolphins or eat dogs?"
Many omnivores vehemently defend their choice to eat meat by rhetorically asking why we should worry about animals when so many people are starving . Ironically, human starvation is just another reason to reconsider raising animals for food. Every year about 760 million tons of food is fed to farm animals. Of this enormous quantity, only a fraction of calories is consumed as meat, while about 40 million tons of food grains can end the most extreme cases of human starvation.
Of course there are those meat-eaters who throw out claims similar to Anglo theologian C.S Lewis when he argues that animals are sentient but not conscious of being sentient, so torture and death do not harm them. According to this logic, it would therefore follow that it would be okay to eat newborn human babies or our pet dog, which, just as our Thanksgiving turkey, are also not conscious of being sentient.
Vegetarianism is on the rise. A study profiled in a recent New York Times piece finds that 12% of Millennials have now embraced a vegetarian lifestyle, as compared to 4% Gen X'ers, and 1% of Baby Boomers. We should embrace the anti-animal cruelty movement.
For us to live in accordance with a 400 year old tradition seems unimaginative, medieval and frankly not in line with a progressive society we aspire to become.
So, let's not force turkeys to live a short, cruel and thankless life and instead endeavor to create new traditions based on thoughtful reflection, reasoning and compassion.
Co-authored with Jay Pang, Silicon Valley based software engineer and founder of Programming Interview Prep, a startup offering programming interview coaching.