Kai at Lancaster Farm Sanctuary 2021 Nov High Res

5 reasons for a turkey-free Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are choosing to go turkey-free for the holidays: according to Sentient Media1, today’s U.S. consumers purchase about 30 million turkeys for Thanksgiving, down from 46 million a decade ago.

In this millennium and especially this year, there are at least five big reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey-free, plant-based meal. For those who haven’t yet made the upgrade, Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund partners like PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) cover why and how:

1 – Spare the turkeys

Turkeys can live for 10 years, but most are slaughtered for human consumption at 5-6 months of age. Those short lives are nothing to celebrate: most of today’s turkeys are bred to have freakishly large breast muscles so they can’t move naturally — and farms commonly amputate their beaks and toes. “Humane” labels cannot be trusted, as PETA documented this year at Pennsylvania turkey farms tied to a Whole Foods supplier.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving with young kids, reinforce their natural compassion for animals by sparing a turkey this year. If you’re simply a kid at heart, it’s never too late to try a turkey-free vegan holiday meal.

2 – Boost your health

PCRM physicians and dietitians list the reasons why turkey isn’t a health food: Fats in the dark meat. Cholesterol in the light meat. The risk of food poisoning from preparing that dead bird.

A plant-based Thanksgiving meal is the heart-healthy choice — and the best way to avoid that holiday “food coma” too!

3 – Enjoy a more scrumptious meal!

To quote an opinion writer in this week’s Washington Post2: “I’m not saying roast turkey tastes bad. I am saying it’s nearly flavorless. The best that can be said of Thanksgiving turkey is that it sits there modestly on the plate while the mashed potatoes and gooey green beans work their magic.”

PCRM’s free Vegan Thanksgiving cookbook provides recipes for dozens of delicious plant-based alternatives — like Autumn Stew and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie. PETA’s ThanksVegan Holiday Guide includes recipes plus convenient commercial options like Gardein Holiday Roast and Califia Farms Almondmilk Nog.

4 – Save money

The New York Times3 says Thanksgiving 2021 could be the most expensive meal in the holiday’s history — and turkey is the biggest reason why.

Sure, many food and supply costs are rising — but plant-based foods are comparatively affordable.

5 – Reduce your carbon footprint

The Environmental Working Group ranked turkey as #6 on a list of most greenhouse gas emissions from common proteins4 — after lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon.

Plant-based protein sources like beans, nuts, and vegetables, on average, have a lower carbon footprint than turkey and other animal-based proteins.

Happy turkey-free day, everyone!

Turkey photos:

  • Kai, a turkey rescued after jumping off a slaughter truck and surviving for days on the edge of a busy highway. He now resides at Lancaster Farm Sanctuary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I volunteer every week.
  • Rescued turkeys at Animal Place in Grass Valley, California, enjoying an annual Thank the Turkeys event in 2018.


1 Turkey Farming: How Intensive Breeding is Transforming the Industry, Caroline Christen, 11/18/20

2 Opinion: Let’s be honest: The roast turkey was bequeathed to us by Satan, David Von Drehle, 11/19/21

3 This year’s Thanksgiving feast will wallop the wallet, Kim Severson, 10/25/21, updated 11/4/21

4 The Top 10 foods with the biggest environmental footprint, Tanya Lewis, Business Insider, 9/19/15

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