This is the time of year when it stinks to be a turkey. OK, it probably stinks most of the time to be a turkey. For the millions of factory-farmed gobblers, a short, overcrowded, brutal life and a creepy death about sums it up.
This is also the time of year when it stinks to be a vegetarian — not as much as to be a turkey, but for my family, it is an issue every year. Two of us at the Thanksgiving table won't eat meat. The rest — cousins, aunts, grandparents and even friends and invited stragglers — most definitely will.
Every year I, being one of the vegetarians, say, "How about a lasagna or a nut loaf?" (I've never made a nut loaf, but I've eaten one and the cook said it was very difficult to make: Took all day — like a turkey.)
" The Pilgrims didn't eat that," says my son, which would be funny if he was 8, but he's a college senior.
"They didn't eat Hershey's kisses wrapped in red, gold and brown foil either."
My husband is adamant about the turkey. He thinks traditions are important. He worries that our son and daughter — 21 and 18, carnivore and vegetarian, respectively — will be unable to sustain their own rituals if we parents change ours every year. Thanksgiving could become, he says, "a peripatetic meandering through the holiday miasma."
You may think turkey is the least of my problems.
Still, every year I make the same appeal. It's my tradition. I get that humans are omnivores. I recognize that meat is a natural part of that. Our closest relatives in the animal world, chimpanzees, eat plants, fruits, insects — and kill and eat other mammals, sometimes even resorting to cannibalism. But we are creatures with a conscience; we are the ones who can empathize, even with a turkey.
Why inflict pain and suffering if we don't have to? We have options, and lots of people say the side dishes are the best part. But my family refuses to give up the turkey. Every year it sits on the table waiting for dissection, diners calling for breasts or thighs or legs. The kids want to break the wishbone. Every year my daughter and I sit as far from it as possible.
Of course, we are not without our disgusting habits. We always have a Tofurky. It doesn't taste so bad, but it looks like a balled-up, unwashed gym sock. And every year we listen to the same bad jokes: "How many tofus died for that?" and "Do you eat it or play football with it?"
Two months ago, we were in the Sierra with friends. My husband stopped to buy beer for the cabin, and I was waiting in the parking lot when a truckload of hunters pulled in. They were talking about how to tell the difference between a wild turkey and other kinds of birds. "If it has feathers, shoot it," said a large man in an orange vest, and they all laughed.
Their haphazard attitude worried me — we were going to be hiking in the woods that weekend — but not the rest of it. I figured as long as they ate what they shot, it was fine. If they killed their Thanksgiving turkey, plucked it, hacked off the head and feet and scooped out the organs and entrails, they were welcome to it.
In my house, the turkey comes sealed in plastic and as far removed from its natural state as possible. Most of the family, admitted meat lovers, say that if they had to kill the turkey, pluck it and gut it, they wouldn't eat it. Then again, hypocrisy is another timeworn family Thanksgiving tradition.
That September night in the mountains when I went outside to look at the stars, a wild turkey was standing in the road in front of the cabin. He was big, and I could smell him, ripe and gamey, from where I stood 20 feet away. But he was beautiful too; his feathers shone in the moonlight, and his long neck and narrow head were held erect as if he were staring at me.
"Hey, there's a turkey out here," a voice called.
"Thanksgiving dinner," came the reply, this time from the porch.
I was happy none of us were hunters, happy to see that turkey half-fly, half-waddle away into the trees.
Diana Wagman is the author of the novels "Skin Deep," "Spontaneous" and "Bump."