For a holiday grounded in tradition, this Thanksgiving is going to feel unsettling: face masks, socially distanced gatherings around an outdoor fire pit, and even Zoom calls with relatives from afar. In the midst of such a shakeup, perhaps the most grounding step we can take is to reflect on our old traditions and whether they truly serve us, our families, and our communities — especially when it comes to the focal point of the holiday for millions of American households: the bird on the table.
The origins of the turkey at the center of our holiday meal are actually murkier than the widely embraced narrative of the “First Thanksgiving” celebrated between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe, which was, in reality, an unremarkable occasion that may not even have featured turkey at all. And, of course, the account completely sidesteps the grim history of raids, murders, and other crimes committed against Native Americans by European colonists. Nonetheless, the turkey took on a starring role in early American literature — particularly the 1827 novel Northwood by Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday to bring the U.S. together and stave off the inevitable Civil War. Unfortunately, though, the turkey and its holiday could not thwart the South’s unrelenting quest to preserve slavery by going to battle with the Union.
Despite the raging war, or perhaps aided by it, warming tales of Native Americans and new generations of European Americans all holding hands and giving thanks have persisted in our textbooks and our culture to this day when we now collectively eat a whopping 46 million turkeys. But gone are the days of turkeys raised on family farms, or even the less palatable forced marches of wild turkeys to slaughter. These birds’ modern place — inside the industrial animal agriculture industry — is now not only the turkey’s tragedy. The production of our Thanksgiving meals is actively harming us, and especially the most marginalized among us, all while masquerading as a badge of national unity and gratitude.
Let’s start by peeling back the fancy “American Humane Certified” and similar labels on brands like Butterball that were designed to win consumers’ trust while obfuscating the injustice, environmental devastation, and cruelty behind their products. For the harrowing reality behind the packaging, we can give thanks to the vertical integration of poultry farming over the past half-century by a handful of these massive corporations, forcing former family farmers into below-poverty wages and mountains of debt. Meanwhile, inside poultry slaughterhouses, workers — the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color — are also low-paid, often needing to rely on food stamps to get by, and, as recently revealed by Oxfam, many even resort to wearing diapers because of being denied bathroom breaks.
Then, as the pandemic gripped the nation earlier this year, fast-paced, dangerous slaughterhouses quickly became hotspots of infection. Forced to continue working by Executive Order despite rising cases, slaughterhouse employees were often denied adequate PPE and the ability to practice social distancing. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, there have now been over 42,000 coronavirus cases and 200 deaths in meatpacking workers. One plant inspector called the slaughterhouse a “ticking time bomb.”
This recent crisis is just the tip of the iceberg of the dismal and oppressive history of factory farms and slaughterhouses. An article in Environmental Health Perspectives explains the mechanism behind a unique form of environmental racism: “Swine CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] are disproportionately located in black and brown communities and regions of poverty.” These factories host massive open-air lagoons of pig manure, which are then sprayed onto crops as fertilizer. Surrounding communities report high rates of respiratory irritation, depression, and fatigue and lower quality of life. As for turkey farming specifically, says Jeanne Melchior, acting president of environmental nonprofit Protect Our Woods, “The smell of the turkey houses is terrible. … You can see mounds of manure stacked in the fields. They try to spread it or haul it off, but when it rains, it just runs into the rivers.”
And as more than 41 million Americans (again, heavily concentrated in Black and brown communities) struggle with hunger, animal agriculture consumes enormous water and land resources. Over 500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of turkey, and for beef, this number skyrockets to 1,800 gallons (whereas kidney beans require just a tenth of the latter figure). Collectively, about 27 percent of our global water footprint can be attributed to this industry, which takes up just as great of a proportion of the world’s ice-free land. In the absence of meat, dairy, and egg production, we could free up an area of land as large as the U.S., China, E.U, and Australia combined — while still feeding everyone.
With what, though? When we begin eschewing this harmful menu default, we can start embracing new traditions that foster resilient, healthy, and sustainable communities. Harking back to that old Thanksgiving mythology that largely omits America’s rich, complex, and often tragic indigenous history, many Native American chefs are addressing the lack of cultural representation in standard American holiday cuisine by “decolonizing” their dishes, which, according to Nephi Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association, means “to examine what you’ve been taught around food or nutrition and to take a deep look to see if the standard American dietary pyramid reflects you as an individual.” He further elucidates that this “could be a plant-based meal … It comes down to responsibly sourcing your food based on your views on decolonization and food security.”
All Americans can join Nephi in asking ourselves that question: What does our Thanksgiving meal truly mean to us? Already, millions of people are discovering that we can actually live our values of inclusivity, diversity, and justice through a healthy and hearty feast. Last year, nearly a third of Americans were contemplating enjoying a meatless Thanksgiving dinner. And as the holidays creep up, a new ASPCA survey has just found that over 70 percent of people who heard about the dangers behind factory farming during the pandemic have begun moving away from these products.
This holiday, we’ve already been forced to press pause on what we’ve always done. Let’s use this opportunity to start a new Thanksgiving default, one of resilience, one that helps everyone thrive, and one that centers plants on our plates. With endless possibilities like BBQ roasted cabbage with tempeh, butternut pumpkin with lemon tahini, North African spiced carrot and parsnip salad, and even vegan pumpkin pie ice cream, this new tradition will be something everyone (and our taste buds) can be thankful for.
Laura Lee Cascada
Front Royal, Virginia
No Good Happens After Midnight
When I was a teenager growing up in Front Royal, my father would tell me and my sister two things before we went out on the town: “First, remember it takes years to grow a tree and only minutes to cut it down.” He told us the tree was like a reputation that takes a long time to build and only one foolish, thoughtless action or word to destroy. Be careful, be smart – what we did or said had consequences.
The second piece of wise advice was, “Be home by midnight because nothing good happens after that time.” My dad would reinforce this by explaining that we will encounter situations where people may ignore their better judgment when dealing with social pressures. This could be caused by drugs/alcohol or outside influences, driving some individuals to act without thinking of the consequences of their bad decisions, especially under the cover of darkness. He would reinforce his statement by telling us that he and other family members would have peace of mind knowing we would be home before that time. They cared and let us know it. The consequences were clear when not heeding his sage counsel, which could be the loss of the car and being grounded. We would often hear at school, following a weekend, that some of our classmates had gotten into serious trouble from not heeding or hearing caring, parental guidance.
It was my father’s concern for our well-being and his good advice that I followed during my adolescent years. It was the same advice that I passed on to my kids when they were teenagers and out of our protective sight.
I feel obligated to write about this as a result of the trial of the young man in Wisconsin who was acquitted in the killing of two people during the civil unrest in Kenosha. It’s unthinkable for me to comprehend that an under-aged teenager managed to take a semi-automatic weapon in public without adult supervision, even more, unimaginable that he could travel to another state and involve himself in an area of dangerous civil unrest. Most troubling is that a certain segment of our population, and elected leaders, have elevated this young man to a position of respect and hero status after killing two human beings; solely to promote their own self-serving ambitions and craving for attention. Just think if this young man had someone in his life who saw the need to impress upon him the above wisdom maybe this situation would never have happened. After the aura of gratuitous back-slapping has worn away he would not be stained for life when the spotlight becomes as dark as midnight.
The actions and resulting consequences for our kids today have escalated to an unbelievable degree compared to when I was a teenager or when my kids were growing up. It’s scary that as a society we have become so blinded by the political dogma that we can no longer separate common sense right from wrong. The consequences of our actions as adults may now be creating a generation of young people that feel unpowered, even encouraged to make a bad decision.
No good happens after midnight and shame on us adults for allowing it to happen to any of our kids.
Front Royal, Virginia
For the Record
I want to publicly congratulate and thank Melanie Salins for stepping up to the plate. She has displayed unrelenting fervor for this community. If you have ever been as lucky as I to have a one on one conversation with her, you know how much she desires to support others who have experienced injustice.
As someone who is compelled by the current state of affairs (not specifically Warren County, but overall the reports from Public Schools throughout the last decade-only worsening) to homeschool my children, I respect Melanie for the years she has sacrificed educating her children. Every time I see them I am amazed by their vocabulary and manners. I am encouraged by her election to the school board. Perhaps she can help drive the positive change needed to reassure parents that they can trust again and enroll students.
The negative things said of Melanie have been untrue. Even when accused of being involved with illegal activity, Melanie upheld the board’s code of conduct by remaining silent. Melanie’s appointment was not illegal and was advertised as required by law. She was competitively interviewed along with other applicants prior to the board vote.
As with any position and experience, there are lessons to be learned. Melanie has shown me at every turn how willing she is to learn.
She will continue to do a good job for our community.
Thank you, Melanie, for putting up a tough fight. I pray God leads you and gives you the strength to continue each and every day! May His light guide you as your term has just begun!
To those who saw past the rubbish and voted her in: thank you, from outside of your district! To those who are less than happy for her election: keep your chin up and give her a chance!
Warren County, Virginia
Religion In Government
I am inspired this week by an assignment my wife is doing for a Law in Education class. Her assignment was to write about religion in school and particularly release time for religious classes. It is an interesting assignment for her because, unlike most of her class, she grew up in a state that actually does have release time in the high school. Religion, in general, is an interesting subject and historically speaking I have found most people are confused about what the Constitution says.
When I teach classes on the Constitution, after I cover the checks and balances and go over how the Constitution protects the people from the government and the government from the people, I then like to throw out some interesting questions to my students. First, I ask what the Constitution says about political parties, hint it says nothing. Then I like to ask, which article covers the separation between church and state. This is a trick question because even though the vast majority of Americans believe this line is in our founding document it is not. In actuality, the original Constitution said nothing at all about religion or God. You cannot argue for or against religion using the original document, there is simply nothing there to support your claims. Now after the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress amended the Constitution with the First Amendment which contains the Establishment Clause that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You can interpret that for yourself if that clause restricts religious influence on government or just whether government cannot interfere with the practicing of religion. If you are wonder where the wall between church and state comes from, it was in a letter Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury Baptist Association.
If you are so inclined to see the Constitution as a Christian document, there are two good arguments. First, all the framers of the document were Christians, not all active church goers, but all would profess a belief in Christianity. Secondly, the Supreme court will not take up a case about religion until 1878. So, for eighty-nine years the courts, nor the government had any problem with some blending between church and state. The state simply could not interfere with how people practiced their own faith. That is until the government decided to crack down on polygamy in Utah in 1878. The courts really did not start taking up religious cases until the 1940s. If you are inclined to believe there should be a wall between the two, the best historical ground is simply if the Founders wanted to protect Christianity, they could have done so. Almost every state Constitution in 1789 had religious protections. The Founders did not just forget to add it.
However, while not everyone reads the Establishment Clause the same way, what is important is how the courts have interpreted it and the Supreme Court today has seen it as a wall. Today, whenever the courts have to decide a religious issue they apply what is known as the Lemon Test. In 1971, the Supreme Court struck down a practice in Pennsylvania where the schools were helping to pay for teacher’s salaries and books at religious schools. Alton Lemon led the charge against Pennsylvania for violating the Establishment Clause. Acknowledging the First Amendment’s language is vague, the Court determined a simple three question test to determine if any government is running afoul of the Constitution. The Lemon Test asks, 1) the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, (2) the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion, and (3) there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.
For my wife’s assignment, the Lemon Law had not come into effect when the Supreme Court originally denied an Illinois school board the ability to allow release time in 1948. The case, McCollum V. Board of Education said that since the school was allowing religious education on school grounds that it was unconstitutional. However, four years later the Court saw things differently in the case of Zorach V. Clauson in 1953. In this case, New York was allowing students release time for religious instruction off campus. They saw the difference in schools supporting religion as opposed to just accommodating it. Though it was not a unanimous decision Justice William Douglas wrote in favor of release time, “The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise, the state and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly.” In other words, Douglas was arguing that the government does not need to be hostile to religion to be separate.
Though release time from schools is still allowed by law, the Lemon Test since 1971, though controversial, has moved government more towards a wall of separation. The controversial part of the test is “excessive entanglement” and what that means. The test was supposed to clarify the Establishment Clause and yet in some ways has only made it more confusing. With conservatives now the majority on the bench the question is will the Lemon Test continue to apply or might the Court swing the other direction and protect religious rights as we have seen with Hobby Lobby in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
Parents/Guardians of High School age students (Public, Private and Homeschool)
If you are interested in a wonderful opportunity for your High School student to learn about community service, engage with other local students, and learn more about leadership, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a wonderful program through Rotary International called Interact and RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership). You can learn for yourself by going to www.rotary.org or watching this video.
Specifically, and locally, there is a “free” full-day event at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center on Saturday, December 4, with guest speakers, free lunch, snacks, and a Rise Against Hunger Service project, where we will package 10,000 meals in two hours, in order to help fight global poverty.
Students will network with other students (from their school and others) to learn how to become true humanitarians, positive citizens, and be good stewards of their community and World.
Michael S. Williams
Vice President, Rotary Club of Warren County, VA
Lifelong Youth Advocate
Governor Northam and Transitions
The morning after the election, I drove into town and a man (not a gentleman) in an SUV began tailgating me. As I sat at the light at Rt. 55 and Commerce Ave., I saw that he was just inches from my bumper. He had his hand on the top of his steering wheel and he gave me the middle finger. I then realized he didn’t like the Democratic bumper sticker that I have not yet been able to peel off my car.
I drove on after the light changed thinking that he had deliberately demonstrated what kind of person he is.
Now, we are seeing our President and Governor Northam demonstrate what kind of people they are in accepting the results of a free and fair election that didn’t go their way. And in the same issue, we see the results of more good work completed by Democrats in Congress, including Senators Warner – who led the fight for more money for rural broadband – our Senator Kaine, and now Governor Northam’s administration is delivering.
It’s not just broadband that’s being delivered. Democrats have delivered much-needed funds to our local community to spur delivery of needed improvements including expansion of sewer lines that will help us manage flooding due to extreme weather events. We have a climate crisis on our hands and work to do to deal with its consequences.
And it would seem we have had no help at all from our own Rep. Cline who continues to oppose, as recently as Nov. 5, the final passage of any legislation that delivers much-needed assistance to rural communities in the Shenandoah Valley.
Some people choose to be mean. Others are afraid of those mean-spirited people. That is not leadership. That’s caving in and stoking hateful behavior. I do recommend reading “Peril”, by Bob Costa and Robert Woodward. Hatred and the promotion of falsehoods establish the basis for extreme violence, no matter who is preaching it or finding tortured logic to condone hatred of people based on creed, country of origin, race, or sex. Hatred easily becomes violent. Our species is awfully good at killing.
As for the man who made that obscene gesture? He knows who he is and what he is. As for that bumper sticker? It’s going to require a blow dryer to melt the glue enough to peel it off.
Warren County, Virginia
Ronald Reagan asked a very famous question “are you better now than you were 4 years ago?”
The wisdom of our founding state and local fathers incorporated into state laws and local charters the value of having nonpartisan elections. It was their intent to elect quality candidates that would focus on local issues and not party dogma (which includes our school boards) in building the quality of life in our individual communities They felt that at this level that partisan politics would only repress the communities’ ability to make good community decisions.
With the increased activity and influence of the WCRC endorsing candidates in our nonpartisan elections, are we better now in Front Royal than we were 4 years ago? What has the town council done to improve the lives of its citizens in that time? Over the last four years the Council has:
- Focused excess energy toward state and national concerns rather than on local town problems
- Ignored or delayed town financial commitments, creating a hostile environment among town and county officials (failure to pay for the new police station)
- Participated in activities that could be perceived to be conflicts of interest in their business relationships, causing a decrease in town tax revenue
- Fostered a hostile work environment by threats of staff terminations or actual firings
- Spent taxpayer dollars on useless lawsuits that went nowhere
- Reduced town revenue by eliminating our own Tourism department and outsourcing to an outside firm
- Failed to pursue a long-term solution to our water problems, stalling future growth of jobs and housing
Most of the elected Town Council were endorsed and financially supported by the WCRC. In the 2021 election cycle, this unfortunately has been extended to school board candidates as well.
Every day we become aware of more situations that confirm the influence of party politics, demonstrating the disingenuous character of the WCRC endorsed candidates past and present
It is my hope that the people in our community will choose the most qualified people running for these nonpartisan positions of which we have some great non-endorsed individuals running.
I have always been told that I am a glass-half-full guy but my expectations from our community changing are very low. Hope I am wrong.
Front Royal, Virginia