How to Talk Turkey
From All-Creatures.org Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM pattrice, VINE Sanctuary Veganism is the Next Evolution
November 2019


Most people know very well that animals have feelings and personalities and that being killed is a terrifying and painful experience for them. The problem is that they don’t care or, more likely, have got some sort of callous over the part of their heart that would ache (or the part of their conscience that would object) if they allowed themselves to be conscious of the hurt they are causing.

Your job, in part, is to open up those locked-down hearts.

Turkey Amelia
Amelia at United Poultry Concern's Sanctuary - Photo by  Davida G. Breier

At this time of year, many people struggle to figure out how to tell friends and relatives why they will not, or cannot, sit and smile at a table laden with the dead body of a turkey. Many also wrestle with the renewed realization that people they love are capable of callous cruelty, seeming to value the fleeting pleasure of the taste or texture of turkey flesh more highly than not only the life of the bird but also their relationship with the friend or relative who is begging them to be more kind.

Let me be clear: I do not have an easy answer for you. But I did have a little success with this post to my not-yet-vegan Facebook friends last year. (Several of the people I had in mind while writing let me know that they had seen and read it and were thinking seriously about it.) I also know a thing or two about how people can more effectively communicate with people they care about while in the grip of intense emotion.

So, let me offer a few tips on “talking turkey” this Thanksgiving:

1. Be Truthful

This is always essential, and I cannot stress how increasingly important it has become at the present political moment. As spin, lies, and conspiracy theories increasingly dominate our social spaces, we must be ever more careful to be as truthful as we can be. So, don’t spout possibly dubious statistics or repeat some “fact” you saw on a meme, because you may be as mistaken as the vegans I have heard mixing up the things that are done in the egg industry with the ways that birds raised for “meat” are treated, and that could backfire on you if the person you were trying to persuade does some research and finds out that what you said isn’t true. Also avoid hyperbole and analogies. The truth is bad enough without being exaggerated or compared to anything else.

2. Speak from the Heart

You maybe don’t need those statistics anyway. Don’t get me wrong! It’s great to know the facts, particularly when it comes to the environmental impact of animal agriculture, but my guess is that what you want at this time of year — when people are centering what are supposed to be heart-warming gatherings around the body of a dead bird — is for people to begin to care about turkeys. So, do learn enough about birds in general and turkeys in particular to be able to speak with confidence about their experience of the terrible things people do to them, but also remember this: Most people know very well that animals have feelings and personalities and that being killed is a terrifying and painful experience for them. The problem is that they don’t care or, more likely, have got some sort of callous over the part of their heart that would ache (or the part of their conscience that would object) if they allowed themselves to be conscious of the hurt they are causing. Your job, in part, is to open up those locked-down hearts.

3. Practice Non-Violent Communication

If you’re speaking or writing to people you care about, be mindful of that care. Consciously remain aware of your affection for them, and this will help you avoid expressing your own frustration or rage in ways that will lead to defensiveness rather than openness. Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” In other words, say something like “I can’t stop thinking about what she must have suffered” rather than “you don’t care about her suffering!” Don’t presume that you know what somebody else is thinking or feeling. Instead ask questions, and make them real questions rather than barbs disguised as questions. You are confused, right? You don’t understand why the family can’t get together for a big happy dinner without sacrificing a bird. Ask. Kindly, but persistently: Ask.

4. Remember the Turkeys

It’s all too easy, when friends or families disagree about something, for long-standing resentments to creep into the conversation. A discussion about dinner can turn into a disguised dialogue about why this one never loved that one or why the other one never gets enough respect. But — even though you are going to be using “I statements” to express your own care for turkeys and your unblinking awareness of their suffering — this isn’t about you. This is about turkeys, who are among the most gentle and sociable animals on the planet. Center them in your mind and in your heart. Ask yourself what they would like you to say. Perhaps tapping into their almost magical ability to make friends with anybody will unleash your own communicative genius.

5. Congratulations — You Broke the Consensus

You may not, probably will not, convince everyone (or even anyone) not to feast on the flesh of birds this Thursday. But do not feel that your words were in vain. Traditions persist when members of social groups all agree that they are harmless. Simply stating your disagreement chips away at that consensus. If you made people feel uncomfortable by not allowing them to unthinkingly participate in something that causes suffering, that’s not nothing. If you managed to create that discomfort while remaining unfailingly truthful, heartfelt, and kind, that will have even more of an impact. Sincere questions tend to worm their way into people’s minds, to trouble them when they are alone with their own consciences. So, dig into a piece of vegan pumpkin pie while jotting notes about how the conversations went this year, which dialogues you want to pick back up after the holidays, and what you want to try next time.


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