Thursday, November 25, 2010

Let's Talk Turkey . . .

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Just a few thoughts about Thanksgiving. I've been thinking alot about the origins of Thanksgiving over the past week, since once again some colleagues at work asked me to explain the meaning of this purely American holiday. In the beginning, if I understand correctly, the giving of thanks in question was that of the pilgrims, early American settlers from Europe who were thanking the local Native Americans in New England for having helped them survive the first few very hard winters in the "new" world.
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And Oh, how we continued to thank the Native Americans over the next few hundred years : Massacres, broken treaties, stolen lands, pillage, plunder, deportation, prison camps, reservations. In a word, Genocide. Genocide on a massive and murderously terrifying scale.
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In fact, what we Americans are really thanking perhaps, is we are thanking ourselves for having been so fabulously clever and sophisticated to have succeeded in becoming the dominant and domineering owners of a vast and rich land, at the expense of those who it rightfully belonged to. They have been brushed aside as mere savages. A footnote in American history books. A disagreeable subject not to be broached at polite dinner tables.
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I for one am sorry for all of that. It happened before I was born, but I am still sorry for that. I would be thankful, on this day of thanksgiving, for anyone who may see this to give a minute of silence to remember what was, and what is no longer. To remember what was destroyed to create this shining nation of freedom... America.
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Now, let's talk turkey. Or turkeys, to be exact. One turkey I have been thinking about since September, when I saw it dead on a road in central Pennsylvania, south of Dubois, north of Indiana. Roadkill is another of my pet peeves with "modern" society. We go racing about in our motor cars like Mr. Toad in the Wind and the Willows, proud, arrogant, careless, and we churn over everything in our path, including millions of animals every year. I always think of their last moments of life, the panic, the pain, the horror. For some it may be a quick end. For others perhaps not.
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This particular turkey seemed to be sleeping in the road. Roadkill rarely looks so peaceful. I don't remember ever seeing a turkey so close up, certainly not one which still had its head, legs, claws, and feathers in any case. I'm not sure that I'd call it a beautiful bird. But it was a bird who lived, and who met its end on the cruel yellow stripes of a country road.
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In America today, where the population is approximately 310 million people, living in roughly 115 million households, according the US Census Bureau, there may be about 15% of the population living in poverty who cannot afford to put a turkey on their dinner table for Thanksgiving, as is the tradition, and maybe another 15 or 20% who do not do so for cultural or dietary reasons, which leaves about 80 million households. If we suppose then that many families get together at the holidays and share a turkey, perhaps we can cut that number in half. Which would imply that roughly 40 million American households will have a turkey in their oven today, getting roasted to a glorious golden brown, giving off mouthwatering odors of roasted turkey.
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That means that in the past days, 40 million turkeys went to slaughterhouses all over the nation, and lost their heads, feathers, innards, claws. Quite a sobering thought, that. An annual massacre of millions of turkeys. So that we can give thanks. Thanks for being alive. Thanks for having food to eat. Thanks that so many turkeys made the final great sacrifice for our Thanksgiving pleasure.
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53 comments:

Dedene said...

You've certainly given much "food" for thought on this day. Even though there's no Thanksgiving here, we can take the time to ponder.

mythopolis said...

Wild turkeys abound here in Tennessee, although most stay off the roads. Evidently not so in Long Island, New York where they stop traffic. The wild turkey is a protected bird. They can be hunted in season, however. Wild turkeys actually taste 'wilder' (more gamey) than their domesticated turkey farmed birds. That last shot of the turkey's head up close is grotesquely beautiful!
The Wampanoag indians that showed up at the first Thanksgiving actually provided most of the food, deepening the irony of their plight in the days that followed!

Stickup Artist said...

Sobering thoughts indeed, all of which I have every Thanksgiving. My Mom and I visited a nearby Mission in deference. It was the closest we could get to the Tongva of these parts that are no more. I agree with Myth about the last image. Reminds me of an abstract expressionist painting, a Robert Rauschenberg!

It's difficult to face many aspects of life and be a sensitive person. It takes a lot of courage. Many thanks for shining your Magic Lantern in those dark corners, bringing them to light.

Steve said...

I'm happy and honoured to offer up a minute's silence for all those voices that are now forever silent... both Native American and avian.

Clytie said...

Wow, Mr. Toad. You hit the nail on the head, didn't you? So much of what you say is so true ... Sigh. So often I am ashamed to be "An American" - I hope the readers who don't reside in this country realize that most of us are NOT how we are represented on TV ... in the movies ... or even in real life - and are horrified that people would think this is how we all are.

My neighbor's 11-yr old son got a bow and arrows for his birthday the other day. He was gloating about how he is going to go down in our woods and kill a deer. Or a coyote. Or a cougar. Or basically anything that moves. I told him off so badly his ears were red when he left the house in a huff. There's something different about killing an animal for food ... and killing one just because.

Yikes, I guess you hit a nerve here, huh?

Thank you for this post. Happy Thanksgiving!

Um, about the roadkill turkey - at least this is one bird that got to grow up in the wild, live free, and die quickly - without ever having to go into someone's oven.

I would rather have seen a live turkey wandering around, however. Sigh.

Gwen Buchanan said...

...we have no wild turkeys here in New Brunswick, Canada... and this is the first time I ever saw a Turkey roadkill... it makes me sad, but I feel sad when I see any poor thing lying in and by the road because of two opposing energies being in the same place at the wrong time...

Catherine said...

I think that there's a place for guilt-feelings for every people about some pages of his History.

You're right. The conscience of these previous mistakes shouldn't be considered as "a disgreeable subject not to be broached at polite dinner tables". Every people ought to draw lessons from it rather than avoiding the subject to feel better.


Your unusual picture is a perfect pretext to go about a deep universal problem.

the fly in the web said...

Perhaps a few moments thought on the practices of slaughterhouses and a resolution to do something to change it might be appropriate.

Catherine said...

wow that is a lot of turkeys and your musings are not quite accompanied by the traditional thansgiving turkey on the plate (I have to wait until Xmas for my turkey dinner and I haven;t had one in six years!!) Greetings from Mexico

Miss Kitty said...

Canadians have Thanksgiving too! Ours was a month ago. :) Very nice post though. Have a good one!

distracted by shiny objects said...

In all fairness, I think the first Thanksgiving was a genuine and sincere meal of thanks and friendship. The rest of the story made more tragic for both parties. Perhaps an example to those of us who come after to the importance of "acting locally."
Anyway, there's enough to be disappointed/frustrated about in America these days, I don't wish to bash her on this one. Happy November 26th you all whatever your homeland!! :>)

James said...

I wonder if the roadkill turkey ended up on someones table? Probably not. :(

It's amazing how many dear are on the side of the road around here but then again I live in Bucks County.

I know how "thesausages" of(thanksgiving and the USA) were made and I'm even more thankful that I'm not the one who had to make them.

p.s. We got the first snow of the season yesterday! :) I checked and saw that Paris got snow but I didn't realze that it was so heavy. I'm glad that you got home safely.

Laurie said...

Very sad, Owen. A couple of years ago, I went to a Christmas turkey auction (all dead birds) and took some photos of (and drew) some turkeys on the slab. Their long necks hung down and - to save the public from the horror of seeing a dead things face - the heads were wrapped in brown paper, tied off at the neck. Afterwards, I was struck by the awfulness. Especially as they looked like blindfolded and executed hostages - Sob!

My latest post marks the demise of another of God's creatures - take a look!

Laurie

Roxana said...

such dense post, Owen, so true and sad and unavoidable everything seems. so difficult to react. even to comment on these gorgeous pictures, this yellow burst of life opposed to that silent death - not accusing, not even offering itself to our eyes. yet somebody saw it, and the pictures can - and should - accuse. if even only one person is being made aware of a problem, then it is still worth fighting, i think...

English Rider said...

So, why did the turkey cross the road?

TechnoBabe said...

We had a quiet Thanksgiving day together in our little house. We fried chicken, no turkey, but we had a great day.

Springman said...

While there is certainly a slight danger in over cooking the rationals involved in skewering white European imagrants for their unenlightened attitudes this time of year I guess most of your points are fairly well grounded in the dark side of human nature.
While were at it, feeling the sad loss of everything from a lost culture to a dead bird, save a tear for the most misunderstood and underappreciated of our displaced earthly breathern, the Neanderthal, whose continant was torn away from them and the entire race rendered extinct by the over achieving Homosapiens. That's forever dude!. Excuse me now, I am to choked up to speak.

clo said...

Ah mon cher Owen..
Tu sais je crois qu'il y une maladie commune a toute l'humanité,c'est cette avidité médiocre a vouloir posséder ce qui appartient aux autres,les français et nos amis British et tant d'autres ne sont pas en reste pour cela,nous avons colonisé bien des terres qui n’étaient pas les nôtres,en bafouant l'honneur et les droits de ceux qui vivaient là...c'est un trait commun a toutes les nations,l'abus de pouvoir...
nous ne sommes pas encore sorti du moyen age Owen...il n'y a qu'a voir ce qui se passe partout dans le monde...
Je suis désolée pour cette pauvre dinde qui a finie sa vie là ,si brutalement...j'ai vu la même chose en Ecosse avec des lapins,des dizaines écrases sur les routes, impressionnant...
mais on laisse bien mourir nos enfants dans ce beau monde, dans l’indifférence générale,pour des questions de fric...
j'admire ton courage a parler de toutes ces choses peu glorieuses...
L'homme doit encore grandir Owen ,c'est pas si bon que ça les choix que nous avons fait jusqu'a maintenant...tellement de gens n'ont aucun espoir de lendemains meilleurs...
et en plus bientôt c'est Noel ,l'orgie nationale,monstreuse....
vous les américains vous trucidez les dindes pour le Thanksgiving et ici les français on gave les oies pour leur bouffer le foie a noël...c'est pas très honorable non plus...argg...je suis végétarienne...il n'y a pas d'autre solution...
hugs and kiss Owen...
et plein de fleurs aux parfums d'été rien que pour toi...

The Sagittarian said...

We don't have Thanksgiving down here, and at the moment it would be fair to say it would be a challenge for some families to find something to be thankful about. However, those photos you posted are confronting eh?
Great post.

Margaret Pangert said...

Well, I don't know that I would recommend eating roadkill turkeys--illness, infection, virus, but there are really a lot of wild turkeys on the loose. Inspected turkeys are about $1.50 - 2.00 per pound, and it is a tradition to cook them for the soup kitchens in Harlem, Newark, etc. People still have some connection with giving and gratitude. As for the Native Americans, they had an amazing culture, and we've destroyed it all.

...louciao... said...

Well, obviously the turkey we're talking here is in the language of the specimen lying on the road--ie. dead silence-- because there doesn't seem to be a peep, or a gobble or a croak emanating from Owen's gizzard these days! Turkey got your tongue?

Owen said...

Hi Dedene,
Hope you had a fine expatriate holiday anyway... it always feels a little odd to me, knowing everyone from home has a day off for feasting with family, while here it was off to work like any other day...

Owen said...

Hey Mythop,
I don't know about Long Island, but I did very recently see a funny video on CNN about wild turkeys running amok on Staten Island, hundreds of them...

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2010/11/10/turkeys.invade.staten.island.WABC?iref=allsearch

As for the rest, our repayment of generosity rendered, I guess I've said my piece here, and will now hold my peace...

Owen said...

Thanks Stickup, you are right, it's not always easy having a mind that thinks and reflects, but I suppose it is better than not having a mind... Ah, what were those commercials long ago... a mind is a terrible thing to waste ? Or a mined waste is a terrible thing ? Hope you had a wonderful holiday in any event...

Owen said...

Thanks Steve ! I don't know if turkeys have souls or not, but if they do, it must be getting pretty crowded in turkey heaven by now... I'm sure no one planned for so many new arrivals every year...

Owen said...

Hi Clytie, me too, I would have rather seen him standing, maybe watching traffic go by from the side of the road, and then running off back into the woods... thanks a million in any case. And what you said about many Americans not being like what is portrayed on TV and in Hollywood movies, that is one thing I still love about the place, there are a heck of alot of good people, just trying to get by. We can't change the past, but at least we can remember it.
Take care and have a great weekend...

Owen said...

Dear Gwen... a moment of silence for all roadkill victims then. I cringe every time I see one, great or small. It's a good thing deer and squirrels and rabbits and fox can't drive cars, because if they ever took to the streets of our cities behind the wheels of cars with revenge in mind, it wouldn't be pretty...

Owen said...

Bonjour Catherine !
You are most assuredly right, no country or people has a monopoly on having dark pages in their history books... France's colonial past and slave trading and religious persecutions etc are not shining moments in history either, recent ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the horrors of WWI and WWII, etc etc ad nauseum, the list could go on and on. Which gives reason to seriously wonder about the human race. Such great potential and great capacity for cultural wonders, art, music, literature, but at the other end of the balance : the horror, the horror, to quote Conrad.

Very best to you, I must drop by to see the Five of Us, I just figured out that you've been doing some posting again.

Owen said...

Dear Fly, indeed, indeed, slaughterhouses are yet another visible symptom of the incredible scale of our industrial monstrosities. Mind boggling. But how to return to something saner ? Progress does not go backward, apparently... 7 billion people today... how many tomorrow ? And how many can the Earth support ?

Owen said...

Hi Catherine (Mexico), yes, not typical Thanksgiving sentiments this time around... just wasn't feeling very festive for whatever reasons. Not many turkeys in Mexico ? Or you've just foregone turkey dinners by choice ? Happy travelling...

Owen said...

Thank you Miss Kitty, and happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving then... is the origin of the tradition in Canada similar to that in the USA ?

Owen said...

Hi Distracted,
I agree with you, I imagine the first Thanksgiving, and surely some to follow, were entirely sincere, and that spirit of sincere thanks certainly still inhabits the current tradition as well. But I also think that quite a bit of memory loss has occurred, and people tend to not think about what happened later to the native Americans who helped our ancestors make it through those first winters. So I think it important that we do not forget, no matter how hard it is to contemplate.

And you are so very right, there are volumes and volumes of other issues to be concerned about in today's America, without dredging up all the past horrors.

So, having said that, I wish you a very happy end to this long holiday weekend, may any clouds cast from whatever sources melt away into bright sunshine...

Owen said...

Hi James ! Yeah, talk about Bucks County ! I was amazed at how much roadkill there was in Pennsylvania. I saw tons while there... so at least that says there is still alot of wildlife out there. A friend was telling me the deer population has gone crazy in the past few years. Even with hunting they are having trouble keeping it under control.

We had a second day of snow, all the woods were white when I drove to work today... usually we almost never get snow here around Paris, so two days in a row in November is highly unusual... I hope it doesn't mean the Gulf Stream is slowing or coming to a halt, like some models suggest. Because if that is the case, that would put us in nearly Hudson Bay type climate conditions, which I'm not sure I'm quite ready for...

Owen said...

Hi Laurie, hope to see your pictures from the turkey market one day... and I did just go look, your poor window tricked bird is just another victim of our collective indifference to the natural world...

Owen said...

Dear Roxana, indeed, if just one person sees, if one person hears, if one person cares, then perhaps it can make a difference in some small way. If this same turkey had died of old age and natural causes deep in the woods somewhere, never known and never seen, would it have been the same ? He had no idea his photo would go around the world though, when he set out to cross the road... bisoux et bon weekend...

Owen said...

Hi ER;
I think the answer to your question, "Why did the turkey cross the road?", must be :

The turkey crossed the road in order to play chicken with an on-coming truck. He lost.

Owen said...

Dear TechnoB., many happy returns then...

Nevine said...

OH, Owen, such a saddening post... and many sobering thoughts... and those photos are the most sobering of all. I live in the hill country of Texas and let me tell you a little something about roadkill around here... it is plentiful and oh so sad! Deer, wild boars, pigs, racoons, armadillos, skunks, rabbits... I mean, really, a lot of everything. When I'm driving in to work it's like I'm driving through a slaughterhouse, sometimes. And the poor animals didn't see it coming, either!

Sobering, indeed!

And hey, thank you so much for your support, Owen. I've had a funky past couple of days and your support and everyone else's has somehow taken me out of it. So thanks again!

Nevine

Owen said...

Dear Springman, good sir, many thanks to you for helping to put things in perspective here... and for bringing me a big smile in the heart of the night. Do I detect a faint note of irony, perhaps even of mockery, in your note ? It's ok; I never would have thought to raise the plight of the Neanderthal people here. You do well to remind me of that perhaps earliest of suspected genocides. Though perhaps the true reasons of their disappearance are not fully understood, which is understandable, given that written history hadn't been invented yet.

Indeed, the dark side of human nature is at the root of it all, of the all the human oriented tragedies that have played out in the course of history. Of course the natural world in and of itself, without humans, is a cruel place also, full of beauty certainly, but full of hard realities as well, a dog eat dog kind of place. Or lion eat zebra, or car crush turkey, or Europeans destroy Indians, or whatever example one might choose.

White European immigrants in the Americas are far from the only sources of major problems for the human race over the past centuries, no one group holds a monopoly, in all parts of the planet humans have behaved in beastly manner with one another, between groups, driven by all the dark motivations which drive humans : greed, lust, power, etc.

However, I would beg to differ on your assertion that the Neanderthals were rendered extinct (forever, dude!). I have seen some reports which suggest that Neanderthals did not entirely disappear. Some may have been assimilated into other groups, Neanderthal women dragged off into caves, producing mixed gene offspring, for example. In fact, I think one only needs to read the news today to see abundant proof that Neanderthals are still alive and thriving among us. There is one flourishing tribe of them in North Korea at this very moment.

Happy holidays to you ! A symbolic glass raised to toast you...

Owen said...

Clo, Chère Clo,
Une très très belle série de reflections que tu fais là... je ne peux que d'être 100% d'accord avec toi, et plus encore...

Je ne suis même pas certain qu'il s'agit du moyen age que nous n'avons pas quitté, je pense souvent que nous sommes encore dans l'age de pierre. Regarde comment on continue à jeter des pierres, les uns sur les autres, pour un oui ou un non, pour du fric, le pouvoir, etc...

Il me semble clair que la race humaine s'est lancé il y a bien longtemps sur un chemin qui mène nulle part.

Les habitants d'Amérique, qui sont arrivés d'Asie il y 15000 à 20000 ans, avaient pris un chemin qui me semble, le plus que j'y pense, comme meilleur façon de vivre. Certes, ce n'était pas parfait non plus, ils se battaient bien entre eux aussi par moments. Mais il y a beaucoup d'aspects de leur culture que j'admire profondement. Leur respect pour la terre, pour les animaux, pour leurs ancetres. Leur simplicité en puissance, en harmonie avec le monde, la beauté de leur art, leur connaissance des plantes...

Et nos ancêtres, comme tu dis, ont bafoué tout cela. Comme on a fait en Australie ou la Nouvelle Zéland aussi avec les aborigènes... ils sont genant, ces aborigènes, n'est-ce pas ? Faut les balayer hors de notre vue.

Il y a une boule noire dans mon coeur qui pleure pour tout cela. Nous avons pris le chemin de la cupidité, l'avarice qui détruit tout ce son chemin. On en recoltera les conséquences, car on recolte bien ce que l'on seme, oui ?

Merci Clo, j'ose simplement espérer que peut-être, juste peut-être, il n'est pas encore trop tard. Mais honnêtement, je n'en sais rien à présent.

Bisoux du dimanche soir...

Owen said...

Dearest Saj,
You certainly have had more than your fair share of late. Hang in there, we are still thinking of you... though now events in the Koreas seem to be sweeping all other news off the stage...

Be well... and thanks !

Owen said...

Hi Margaret !
Wherever have you been ??? It's been a long while. I trust good things have been happening with you and you were just taking a break from the blogosphere. Indeed, there are still many good and generous people in evidence on the planet. Let's just hope the balance doesn't swing in favor of the dark side of human nature, discussed above...

Happy holidays to you !

Owen said...

Sister Lynne,
Yep, my moment of silence lasted nearly all weekend finally... Smote myself silent with the weight of those reflections about Indians and turkeys.

Actually, the fact that I was away hard at work in the straightjacket factory Friday and Saturday nights into the wee hours of the mornings didn't help matters either... An awful thing that, having to earn a living in this dog eat dog world, where people who don't or can't work end up like the turkey here stretched out on the yellow stripes of reality...

Yes indeedy, the straightjacket business is booming folks, simply booming ! While other sectors of the world economy are failing, throwing tens of thousands out of work (thanks largely to the greed of our bankers) the straightjacket industry is seeing demand far outstrip supply. Logical, many unemployed people succumb to drink, drugs, and madness in short order. And it really gets ugly when they have easy access to firearms. So they are best off in a straightjacket... which explains why we are selling so damn many and shipping them all over the world.

Now, I sure could use something wet and cold to pour down my gizzard, to help me start croaking again... you know, sort of like priming a pump !!!

This little piece about the turkey that didn't quite make it to the other side of the road is a bit of an echo, a tribute if you like, to David Foster Wallace's essay titled "Consider the Lobster". A fine piece of writing if there ever was one...

Smiles to you big sis ! Croak !

(as he galumphs off into the distance, into the woods...)

...louciao... said...

Methinks a wee nip of Wild Turkey bourbon sliding down your gizzard will prime that old croaky pump!

Clytie said...

Dear Mr. Toad ...

I have had the most interesting half hour or so perusing the comments and responses to this post.

I laughed, I cried. But when I got to the neanderthal man, I just sat down and sobbed.

I hope your week ahead is less busy and stressful. Thank you for this post, it gave us all something to think about ... whether it is how we humans treat each other or how we treat the animals we share the planet with - it all boils down to kindness doesn't it? There's just too little of it in this world.

Owen said...

Lynne,
Ain't much of a whisky man, but a little limoncello might just do the trick... love that stuff ! Can't go for long without croaking out a midnight symphony, now can we ?
;-)

Owen said...

Clytie,
Hang in there, for sure, we need more kindness, and it starts with us. Thanks so much for being there, and reading this, and pondering...

Catherine said...

You know Owen, I wasn't commenting, expecting a comment from you by return. I'm not that kind of person. You answered me above, and that's perfect for me.

Yes, I was thinking exactly to the same exemples as you refered to in your answer.

I love the way you use one of your picture, that could be a photo post by itself, then illustrate a deep subject with it. Very talented.

secret agent woman said...

Ah. a bluebird of happiness post!

Seriously, I often think about the irony of many of our national celebrations given our bloody and destructive history. And I don't actually eat turkey, but I found that closeup of the colorful bird's head both melancholy and beautiful.

Owen said...

Dear Nevine,
I think I mentioned to you a while back that I have a brother in Texas; he also has commented to me about the remarkable amount of roadkill on Texas roads... He once long ago even mailed me a cartoon book full of recipes for how to prepare roadkill for the dinner table, armadillo figured therein as a delicacy...

I did go take a quick look at the sight where the plagiarist resides, and saw they still hadn't taken down the incriminating post. Pretty sad. I didn't want to dignify their action by leaving a comment, but I thought it in their general direction. Pathetic really.

Be well Nevine...

Owen said...

Hi Catherine,
Merci beaucoup... et sinon, pas de souci, j'ai dit que je passerai bientôt parce que je suis vraiment content de voir que tu remets en vie The Five of Us, car j'apprécie bcp tout ce que j'y avais vu avant la petite pause... ton sens d'humour et tes observations sur la vie parisienne sont unique, un régal... voilà... à bientôt...
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Secret Agent,
Oh yes, indeed, sometimes I'm followed by entire flocks of bluebirds of happinees, so thick that I can barely see for all the blue feathers flapping... sort of like Hitchcock's film The Birds...

For sure, there is much to ponder in our history...

Springman said...

God Bless you for getting it!perfectly!

Your humble servant, Springman