As I contemplate the big bird before me, I bless this creature that has given its life so that we may savor our Thanksgiving traditions and nourish our bodies. Though I am “mostly-vegetarian,” I’ll be enjoying this bird with my family. My objections to meat lie in the way animals are raised in modern times, in environmentally- and ethically-awful facilities I cannot name but rhyme with Bactory Barms. This particular bird, however, never knew the cramped quarters of most commercial facilities. He roamed the Ferndale Family farm in fresh air and sunshine, and moved along to enjoy a fresh new pasture every week. Pecking, gobbling, trotting, playing and napping at will.
I pause to scan the QR code on the package, and I’m delivered right to the farm. White turkeys with all manner of red, wrinkled snoods, wattles and carunkles (yes, I had to look those words up) peer at me from the website banner. “We treat our turkeys like they’re part of the family. Because since 1939, they have been” reads the Ferndale Family slogan. My tender heart goes pitty-pat.
I pause again, hand on my heart, to salute all the Ferndale family and all farmers doing right by the animals they raise for our nutrition and consumption. Farming is harder work than I have ever known, and I offer my one-woman standing ovation in your honor.
I click on through to the Ferndale family farm YouTube channel where I get to see more of my wattled friends. I also hear the story of Dale Peterson whose mission it was to grow “happy, healthy turkeys” back in 1939. When he married Fern . . . well, you get how the farm got its name.
When the video ends, I recall Ben Franklin extolling the virtues of the wild turkey over those of the bald eagle. Though he never expressed this opinion publicly, as it turns out (thanks for that tidbit History.com), he did write to his daughter that the turkey is a “much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.1 The turkey, Franklin expounded, is “a bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”1
Such high praise causes me to wonder how much turkey we would be eating now if Ben Franklin had proposed, as American mythology portends, the Bird of Courage for the Great Seal? What if he’d proposed the turkey instead of . . .you ready for this? Moses. Yes, I said it, I mean, history.com said it: Moses.2
Still, I honor Franklin for recognizing the noble spirit of the American turkey, even if only in privately-shared sentiments. I do wonder how the turkey fell from such esteem to representing, according to Dicitonary.com, “a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser.”3 Ouch. Harsh. I think back to the gobblers happily roaming in all that fresh grass, and I’m suddenly glad they know nothing of their fall from grace.
Or do they? I wonder if there are secret coalitions of turkeys ready to march, to protest, to demand the respect that they are due? I wonder if there are support groups for wild turkeys who still grieve? I wonder if Ben Franklin is an icon among wild turkeys?
I wonder if I’m hitting the cooking sherry a little too hard.
Then I recall reading in the Medicine Cards book that many native Americans called the turkey the “Give-Away Eagle” because it gave so much of itself to nourish the People.4 Inspired by the noble turkey, members of native tribes engage in give-away ceremonies when a “tribal member may gladly give away all that he or she owns, and do without in order to help the People.”4 Quite a contrast to modern times where we so-called civilized people scramble to acquire more and more for ourselves.
That’s what advertisers want us to believe, anyway. One sign of hope I’ve seen in this pandemic is a boom in community giving. As more and more neighbors were losing jobs and becoming food insecure, a community fridge popped up in our community. It’s restocked as soon as it’s depleted. Neighbors also drop off food and supplies on my patio for pickup by devoted volunteers who deliver it to unhoused and hungry neighbors.
As I sit here with the remains of my noble bird and the dregs of the cooking sherry, I think of us all, giving what and when we can. Perhaps the life of a free-range turkey represents the best any of us can hope for in this world. Roaming sweet green pastures. Being treated like family. Opportunities to share our gifts. And a thoughtful person to muse over our virtues after we depart.
May I learn to be as generous as the Give-Away Eagle, the noble turkey.
For more turkey mythology, see: https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TurkeyThePeaceEagle-Unknown.html
2Franklin proposed an image of “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm pharaoh who is sitting in an open chariot” along with the motto “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” “>Dictionary.com
4Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power through the Ways of Animals (St. Martin’s Press, 1999)