Opinion: That turkey you ate was tortured and well, ... read on

Tater and Tot, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate, were "pardoned" by President Obama on Tuesday.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, The Times’ letters editor, and it is Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Despite today’s forecast rain, November has still been drier than normal for Los Angeles. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Many meat eaters already know that the millions of turkeys raised solely for human consumption on crowded factory farms are ruthlessly debeaked and genetically engineered to the point of total disability. So what new information could possibly make them feel nauseated enough by the bird meat they ate on Thursday to forgo next year’s Thanksgiving centerpiece?

Writing on The Times’ op-ed page, Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer added a new ick factor to the equation, and it has to do with turkey sex — or lack thereof:

The turkeys Americans eat are not like those found in the wild; they have been altered by breeding designed to enlarge the breast. This process has gone so far that the standard American turkey, the descriptively named Broad Breasted White, is incapable of mating because the male’s big breast gets in the way. Here, I tell my students, is an interesting question to drop into a lull in conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Point to the turkey on the table and ask: If turkeys can’t mate, how was that turkey produced?

Some years ago, my friend Jim Mason decided to see for himself how all the hundreds of millions of sexually disabled turkeys are produced. He saw that Butterball, a large industrial producer of turkeys, was advertising for workers for its artificial insemination crew in Carthage, Mo. No prior experience was required. Jim passed a drug test and was put to work.

His first role was to catch the male turkeys by the legs and hold them upside down so that another worker could masturbate them. When the semen flowed out, the worker used a vacuum pump to collect it in a syringe. This was done with one bird after another until the semen, diluted with an “extender,” filled the syringe, which was then taken to the hen house.

Jim also had a spell working in the hen house. Here is his account:

“You grab a hen by the legs, trying to cross both ‘ankles’ in order to hold her feet and legs with one hand. ... [Then] you flop her down, chest first, on the edge of the pit with the tail end sticking up. You put your free hand over the vent and tail and pull the rump and tail feathers upward. At the same time, you pull the hand holding the feet downward, thus ‘breaking’ the hen so that her rear is straight up and her vent open. The inseminator sticks his thumb right under the vent and pushes, which opens it further until the end of the oviduct is exposed. Into this, he inserts a straw of semen connected to the end of a tube from an air compressor and pulls a trigger, releasing a shot of compressed air that blows the semen solution from the straw and into the hen’s oviduct. Then you let go of the hen and she flops away.”

Jim was supposed to “break” one hen every 12 seconds, 300 an hour, for 10 hours a day. It was, he told me, “the hardest, fastest, dirtiest, most disgusting, worst-paid work I have ever done.”

Back to the Thanksgiving table. Now that the family understands how the bird they are eating came into existence, and what kind of a life and death it has had, I suggest to my students that they canvass opinions on whether it is ethical to support this way of treating animals. If the answer is no, then something needs to be changed for next year’s holiday.

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Let the autopsy on the political left begin. Opinion contributor Melissa Batchelor Warnke, a journalism student at UC Berkeley, takes a critical look at her expansive liberal social circle and offers no apology for its identity politics but encourages it to strategize more and work on inclusiveness. She writes: “Life under Trump. Let us be humbled, and let us learn. The left and the far left should never again choose to fight the right’s battle against Democratic candidates. That does not mean there is no room for dissent or open communication in our movement; free expression is the underpinning of progressivism. But when the primary is done and election day comes around, the left and the far left need to go to the polls and cast our ballots together.” L.A. Times

Lee Harvey Oswald might have just been a bad shot, and his apparent mistake on Nov. 22, 1963, cost America its 35th president. Author James Reston Jr. reports evidence showing that Oswald’s real target was Texas Gov. John Connally, the man sitting in front of President John F. Kennedy in the limousine as it snaked through Dallas that fateful morning. Connally’s sin: Serving as secretary of the Navy in 1962, he gave Oswald, then an aspiring defector to the Soviet Union who was having second thoughts and wanted to come home to the United States, the bureaucratic cold shoulder. L.A. Times

There is no evidence yet that Steve Bannon is racist, but he’s still dangerous. Columnist Doyle McManus takes a big-picture look at President-elect Donald Trump’s top political strategist and warns that his ultimate goal is to completely topple the current world order — and if courting racist and anti-Semitic white nationalists helps him achieve that, then so be it. McManus writes: “Bannon’s goal is audacious: a realignment that would make Trump Republicans the dominant party for generations. He’s already proved the power of a conservative populist appeal to white working-class voters. ... If he can deliver on his other promises, especially job creation, his hold on that big bloc of votes will only strengthen. That’s the political challenge that Democrats — and old-school Republicans, too — really need to worry about.” L.A. Times

The events at Standing Rock mirror American disaffection with politics. Protesters have flocked to North Dakota to thwart what they feel is a failure of government to protect its people against an environmental threat. That lack of faith in government, writes Scott Martelle, is what led to the low voter turnout that resulted in Donald Trump’s election as president. L.A. Times

California is big, but it is not a nation. Secessionists supporting the so-called Calexit movement ignore the central traits of people who sustain strong movements for self-determination: a long memory, stubbornness and a vast knowledge of history. These are all very un-Californian. Zócalo Public Square

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