Walle's Shadow

 Somewhere there is a farm. It is called a free-range farm, a euphemistic term meant to assuage guilt over consuming the flesh of another. On this farm live turkeys, white and big and perfect. Though they have some open space to enjoy, mostly they are confined by the thousands in sheds. Their toes have been cut off at the first digit to make picking them up for slaughterhouse transport easier. A portion of their upper beak has been seared off to make confining too many social animals together safer.

In a couple weeks, they will all be dead, victims of a holiday that is, at its core, about gratitude and compassion. These turkeys will be a part of the Thanksgiving dinner in the most horrific way - as the main course.

All but one.

One turkey "saved herself". This should not imply the other turkeys want death. They do not. Like all creatures on this earth, they too want to live, breath, exist. It's such a basic thing.

Walle wandered off the farm, forgotten by the turkey farmer. She walked and walked, placing one mangled foot in front of the other until finally, finally!, she was picked up. We are all grateful it was someone who saw a needy animal, not a turkey dinner.
When Walle arrived, she was sick with a respiratory illness, probably brought on by both the unsanitary and unnatural living conditions as much as wandering alone int he world. Through it all, her drive to be part of something inspired us all. Each morning, she greeted us with the innocent calls of a young turkey, calling us over to her for attention. She would gobble up her food and then nestle down next to our laps, always after climbing up on us and inspecting our faces. Her world was such a brutal, uncaring place, and yet through all that, she gave us reason to be thankful.

After treating her respiratory sickness, she entered her own special flock. White-breasted turkeys are bred to gain a gross amount of weight in a short period of time. They are bred to be obese so they can be killed younger. All turkeys killed in this country are babies - 4-6 months of age, a mere 5-7% of their normal lifespan (for wild turkeys in captivity, it would be longer). So Walle lives with "broilers", chickens raised for meat consumption, and one other female production turkey, Marjorie.

Normally when a young turkey meets an adult, it is they who follow the grown-up, watching and learning. Our expectation was for Marjorie to become a teacher to Walle, show her the ropes, help her find all the good eating and sleeping spots.

We were wrong.

Walle is a leader. Where she goes, Marjorie follows.

This Thanksgiving, Walle would like nothing more than to crawl in your lap and sing to you. She would regale you with turkey tales, tell you stories of her kind in her own words. Everything in her world, she would want to share with you. That is her nature, that is who she is. We are grateful for this simple love of life, for her existence. She has enriched our world, and we hope to have enriched hers.

Have a Happy Vegan Thanksgiving! If this is not possible, if you are amidst people who do not understand, Walle does. Come back to these pictures and know you are, in her eyes, perfect and amazing and the purveyor of chest scratches, food, and good company. She exists because you care. Thank you.