Members of a local animal-rights organization urged Thanksgiving revelers Sunday to take the turkey out of this week's traditional celebrations as part of a nationwide push for a "cruelty-free" observation of the national holiday.
Members of Compassion for Animals, a Beverly Hills-based animal-rights group, gathered at a turkey coop in a Sepulveda backyard and entreated Thanksgiving celebrants to serve vegetarian fare such as "meatless" balls or stuffing without the bird. Meanwhile, a small plane pulled a banner overhead that read, "Thanksgiving is Murder for Turkeys!"
"We're trying to get people to think about abandoning the practice of eating turkey at Thanksgiving," said Kenneth P. Stoller of Compassion for Animals. "We are gorging ourselves at the expense of another feeling creature."
Stoller, 33, a Pasadena pediatrician who said he plans to celebrate Nov. 26 with a tofu stuffing seasoned with traditional Thanksgiving spices, maintained that "whenever turkeys are hurt or abused there's a certain amount of suffering." He said this is especially so in modern poultry farming, which raises turkeys in cages that are one-foot square and butchers them by decapitating them while they hang by their feet.
"If you're hanging upside down heading toward a circle saw, I think it would be a little disturbing," he said.
Maida Henderson, 35, associate director of Compassion for Animals, said that turkeys are "living, feeling, warm-blooded organisms with brains and a central nervous system. They have eyes, they focus and they smell.
"Right, boys?" she asked, turning to the coop where four Broad Breasted Bronze cocks, a turkey variety popular among American consumers, waited during the press conference. The fully grown birds responded in unison with resounding gobbles.
The banner flyby that went from Whiteman Field near Pacoima to Anaheim and back was sponsored by a coalition of several animal-protection groups, including Fund for Animals of Studio City, Mercy Crusade of Van Nuys and Save the Animals of Los Angeles.
It coincided with similar banner-waving in nine cities across the country, said Gene Burke, 50, a Compassion for Animals member who said that he planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with "Swedish meatless balls in sweet and sour sauce."
Disneyland Crowds Targeted
The nationwide drive to spare the turkey on Thanksgiving was born of a flyby sponsored last year by Gentle World of Umatilla, Fla. The group, which advocates vegetarianism, flew a banner with the same message over Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to "a terrific response," Burke said. This year's local effort was designed to reach crowds at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.
Research into animals' physiological responses has shown that higher vertebrates, including birds, experience pain, said Michael Wallace, the curator of birds at the Los Angeles Zoo. But he said the view that turkeys suffer under modern butchering techniques is "a little bit extreme."
"They're killed quite quickly," said Wallace, who holds a doctorate in wildlife ecology and poultry science. "They don't have time to suffer."
But Compassion for Animals members disagreed, saying that people would be more sympathetic if they only knew more about the native American bird that Benjamin Franklin lobbied to have designated the U.S. national symbol instead of the eagle.
"We'd just like people to see how nice turkeys are with their colorful plumage, sparkling eyes and gentle ways," said Burke at Sunday's meeting at the half-acre animal menagerie of Sepulveda real estate broker Ed Premo and his wife, Barbara.
"You can see how non-aggressive they are," said Barbara Premo, 37, pointing to the four male turkeys that she adopted "to save them from the platter" after their original owners tired of them. Having since named the birds Big Guy, Turk, Frick and Frack, Premo maintains that each turkey has "his own personality."
"One has a foot fetish," she said, referring to Big Guy who goes by "B.G." and favors white tennis shoes. "Turk is gentle and Frick and Frack are like Siamese twins. Where one goes, the other follows."