“At times we can overlook that eating animals requires that they die. Gratitude, it seems to me, requires that we not lose sight of the fact that the raising and killing of animals is part and parcel of our eating. There are proper ways for animals to be cared for, and to be killed–and these should be of a piece with one another. The care and the killing, when done well, are themselves an exercise in gratitude; and also something to be grateful for.” -John A. Cuddeback, “Eating Meat With Thanksgiving”, Bacon and Acorns
Over 40 million factory-raised turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving. Their lives begin as as the result of artificial insemination, hatching in incubators, after which they are crammed into confined sheds where they are driven to such madness that they would peck each other to death- except that their beaks are cut off with a hot blade. Once debeaked they are pumped full of hormones, so that they can transform the would-be 17 lb Turkey of the 1970’s into the 28 lb Turkey of modern day. This radical transformation disables the Turkeys’ ability to walk, causing many to break their legs under their own weight, and ending in multiple organ failure for many of the short-lived birds. The process can be worse than this, but these attributes are standard to how modern America achieves it’s meal of “thanks” to God for blessing America.
Can Christians lift their hearts to the Lord to offer real words of thanksgiving when our hands steward the very creatures of God we use to celebrate with such villainous indifference? Surely we wouldn’t treat our household pets the way we treat the animals we consume? Or perhaps the reason we are ok with Turkeys and other livestock being handled this way is because someone else is treating them this way?… Surely if your child’s teacher told the parents that the kids would be participating in the raising of Turkeys for a school project, and that they would be doing it in a factory-farm style, that you would object, not wanting your child to witness the tortured-abuse that turns a Butterball turkey into the monster that finally dies in the name of “low-low prices”? Surely you would personally feel unwell if made to participate in cutting through the cartilage and nerves of thousands of Turkeys’ beaks in order to stop their ability to struggle against the pain of their miserably short lives? How is it that in a few short decades we can stare stoicly at these facts and shrug off the guilt with detached slogans like “that’s just how it is”? Have our ethics been bought by the hush money discounted meat? Are the cheap, quick, and easy supermarkets so much more attractive to us than seeking out a local, small farm that is raising true, good, and beautiful Turkeys?
John A. Cuddeback’s Thanksgiving meditation doesn’t spend any time going into detail on the horrors of modern farm practices. He assumes we know, or could know if we really wanted to. He implies nonetheless that we should know and will know if we wish to practice true gratitude. And he explicates that gratitude involves submitting to an inherint order in God’s creation, which ultimatley involves a greatful practice of both the caring for and killing of the animals we eat. Rather than argue against ill-treatment, Cuddeback argues for greatfullness, a practice America has institutionalized through many holidays- Thanksgiving being the most iconic. Gratitude marks the heart of this Christian nation, because gratitude is at the heart of the Christian life. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Whether you have children, or simply can remember once being a child yourself, you’ve somehow been witness to the child who mistreats his or her toys, leaving them out where the rain can degrade them, throwing them down so that they break, and/or setting them down and forgetting about them while out somewhere so that they are lost. The parents are often frustrated and sometimes furious over their child’s apparent lack of appreciation. And we hear them say as much: “you’re gonna learn to appreciate the things your daddy work’s hard to buy for you”, “go clean that up, you need to learn to take care of your things.”… And in the same way a child cannot simply say to a parent “What? I told you ‘thanks’ when you bought me that toy, who cares that I carelessly broke it?” So too we cannot as stewards of God’s creation say “thanks” to God over our Thanksgiving meals, complete with savaged and deformed, 28lb turkeys, and expect the hypocrisy to go unnoticed. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Proverbs 15:17
We take care of the things we care about. This is part of how we show gratitude, and this is something we will always do. The question is: who/what are we taking care of? When we can answer this question, we can see what we care about. In our gratitude, we see our hearts’ exposed. Furthermore, Christians know that part of what it means to “care” for a thing is to honor its nature. You don’t use a screwdriver as a hammer- it violates its nature, and we call that “abuse”. The subject of human nature is at the core of what we today label “humane” or “inhumane” in ethical disputes. And, it is in the nature of a turkey to have its beak, and to be able to walk around under the sky, in the sun, scratching and pecking at bugs in the earth. Conversely, when we exchange that which is natural for the unnatural, we suffer deep consequences. Indeed, the exchange of that which is natural for the unnatural is at the heart of idolatry itself, which wages war against our gratitude to God everyday, including Thanksgiving. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” Romans 1:21-22
This Thanksgiving, let us seek to honor God, through the honoring of His Creation, according to its given nature. Let us give thanks through our acts of care for all creatures of our God and King.
Pasture Raised Turkeys
Factory Farmed Turkeys
(If you don’t want to look at this, are you ok with eating it, or paying somebody else to do this to an animal, and giving thanks to God for it?)