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
The Last Shall Be First
When I last wrote and referenced Black Lives Matter, I left out something crucial.
In the post-Vatican II Catholic Church there arose a concept termed “a preferential option for the poor.” It means that God’s favor rests preferentially on the most injured people in any society. When I first heard the term, I asked what about me? Doesn’t God love me? I am not poor.
I have a brother and a sister and if one of them had a terminal illness I would pray for the one who is sick. My preference would be the sick one. Any parent would do the same. That does not mean that I do not love both of them equally. It means the situation is not equal, not God’s love.
It is the same with Black Lives Matter. White people hearing this phase rather naturally asked, “Don’t all lives matter? – Are you saying that my life does not matter?
All lives do matter, but history, especially recent history, tells us that some lives matter significantly more than others in many societies. That is the essence of Black Lives Matter – the demand that white people recognize the profound cultural difference between the inherent value put on their lives, versus that of racial or other ethnic minorities. Racism is a sickness, a disease and a crime, and its victims are black people and other minorities. To continue to ignore racism’s consequences and its victims is to favor those who commit the crime of racism over the victims of that crime.
God’s favor rests with the victims of the crime of stripping the dignity from human beings, always has and always will.
Warren County, Virginia
Lexington and Concord Battle: When the American Revolution Began – A day to be commemorated by the American Patriot
Two hundred and forty-six years ago on 19 April 1775, the “shot heard round the world” was fired at the battle of Lexington and Concord. A handful of American farmers, shopkeepers, clergymen, men, and boys engaged the British Army, whose objective was to take and destroy patriot property, powder, and weapons.
Eight of our men, American Patriots, were killed right away defending their rights. Fed-up with the status quo they were determined that they would no longer be molested, abused, brutalized, restricted to their homes, weapons taken, not allowed to speak freely, not allowed to elect their own government leaders… have no representation to determine their taxes, barred from earning a living…nor would they continue to have a standing foreign Army rule their communities and live in their homes, taken by force! They resisted and confronted their oppressors.
There were more than 1,500 British soldiers that they faced that day. A handful of Americans faced the British at dawn. By the end of the battle, nearly 4,000 civilian patriots had joined the fight. Hearing the gunfire they ran toward it. Not away from it. The enemy retreated. Forty-nine Patriots were killed 39 wounded, and 73 British Redcoats killed, 174 wounded. Among our leaders was a young doctor, Dr. Joseph Warren, the man for whom this county, Warren County, Virginia, is named. He arrived at the Lexington Green after hearing gunfire bringing his medical bag to minister to the dying and wounded.
Here in Warren County Dr. Warren’s picture and history now hang in every school and government building. (I am honored to have had a small part in having him remembered in our county.) Two months after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, on June 17, Joseph Warren age 34, would die a martyr’s death fighting at Bunker Hill, so that you and I could live free under a Constitution…a free people… not ruled by a tyrant King! We live free because our forefathers shed their blood for US! Let us never forget them.
The Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Aka Liberty Man-Teacher and Living Historian of the American Revolution History
Front Royal, VA
Clarifying the historical record on voting rights and modern politics
James Finck’s article has some valid and helpful insights, but he is wrong on his overall argument regarding Voting Rights. In sum, we need to be reminded that we are not living in 1789 or 1963. Society and technology have made some advances since then.
Mr. Finck observes that Democrats for many years in the “Solid South” kept blacks from voting. Let’s be clear. Senator Richard Russell told President Lyndon Johnson that when the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forwarded after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, was enacted, the Democrats would lose the South forever. Russell was right. Even currently, 56 years later with the exceptions of Virginia and Georgia, all the Senate seats in the states of the old Confederacy are now Republican held.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prevented changes in voting laws from being imposed with pre-clearance by the Justice Department. The Act had its intended effect. Blacks voted and many black citizens were elected to public office throughout the South.
Voting Rights became the Democratic Party’s issue while voter suppression has of late emerged as a Republican strategy. As late as the administration of George W. Bush, Congress passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act. Ronald Reagan approved an extension. Rep. Bob Goodlatte was a moderate on voting rights in the Congress but toward the end of his career, as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he would not even hold a hearing on the subject.
Did Bob Goodlatte change? Perhaps, but what clearly changed was the Republican Party. When the Supreme Court approved the Shelby decision striking down the pre-clearance provisions of the 1965 law, states primarily, but not exclusively, in the South rushed to impose voter suppression laws.
Donald Trump had it right when he said if everyone voted, Republicans would have a hard time winning elections. Trump didn’t want people to vote in Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia because they had a high number of black voters. Black voters heavily favor the Democratic Party. How to beat them? Prevent them from voting.
Some states have long used mail-in voting. Military personnel deployed in foreign lands use mail-in voting. Tom Paine never imagined that the U.S. military would be based in Iraq or anywhere else. Yes, the Founders wanted it to be hard to vote. Voting rights for women or blacks, unthinkable. Mail-in ballots were never an issue until Donald Trump and the Trump Party made it an issue. Voter fraud was rare, but it became the thin reed on which to base voter suppression.
Has Jim Crow left the building? Most certainly not and that is why we need a new voting rights law that makes it easier, not harder to vote. It is alarming that so many of our fellow citizens do not bother to vote. Voting is the foundation of our democracy. Those who undermine voting rights undermine democracy itself.
Warren County, Virginia
(Note: Tom Howarth holds a Masters’ Degree in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; he taught constitutional government at Northern Virginia Community College; and is a former aide to the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ.)
Jim Crow Voting?
Possibly one of the most important fights of this new century is being waged right now in the halls of Congress, in state houses across the nation, and with lesser significance on social media. The question is about voter accessibility and who has the right to determine it.
With COVID-19, voter accessibility was expanded and quite possibility responsible for Biden’s victory. The Democrats who benefited from COVID rules want to make those changes permanent on the federal level, while Republicans who suffered want to return to traditional rules through state governments. President Biden weighed in last week, calling Republican attempts a return to Jim Crow.
It is worth taking a look at Jim Crow voting practices, but historically speaking, what seems ironic is during Jim Crow Democrats tried to keep Black Americans from voting booths while today Republicans are trying to force them to have to use them.
First things first. What does the Constitution say about voting practices? According to Article I, Section Four, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.” In other words, voting laws are made state by state. The Federal government has passed amendments dealing with who can vote, but not how. Even then, as discussed in an earlier column, the Constitution does not say voting is a right, only that you cannot deny voting based on race, sex, or age. The Constitution does not prohibit states from blocking voters for different reasons.
Gender a good example of this. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, states could choose for themselves if they wanted to allow women to vote. In fact, starting with Colorado, thirteen states, mostly in the west, gave women the right to vote before the Federal Government forced the rest to catch up.
Because states can decide who votes, they can also decide who does not, as long as the reason is not illegal. So, for Jim Crow, the 14th Amendment stated you could not deny anyone the right to vote based on their race, skin color, or condition of previous servitude (used to be a slave). What southern states did was establish poll taxes or education tests as requirements for voting. Since most Black Americans at the time were poor and uneducated, this legally stopped the vast majority of Blacks from casting a ballot. To be legal, states that wanted to stop Blacks from voting also had to stop poor and uneducated White Americans from voting as well. There is some suggestion that some poor whites were willing to give up some political power to retain white supremacy.
With this in mind, are new proposed voting laws in Republican states the same as Jim Crow laws? Biden clearly thinks so. It seems like at the heart of all the laws are two things: mail-in voting and voter IDs. On the surface, these new state laws are saying that in-person voting with an ID is the only way to stop voter fraud. Below the surface, however, they are saying that mail-in voting is allowing Democrats to go door-to-door to collect ballots from those who traditionally do not vote. Democrats are arguing that Republicans are trying to restrict voters, especially Black voters, by making them show up in person. This assertion is that it is harder for the poor to make it to voting stations and afford IDs, while Republicans claim voting is the only official activity allowed without an ID.
Is it like Jim Crow? Yes and no. Republicans are not trying to pass new laws per se. They are trying to retain the laws from before COVID. It is actually Democrats trying to change or keep new election laws. But yes, it is true, Republican laws will limit participation. However, the laws are really just a screen for the real issue that needs to be addressed. Should all people be allowed to vote? This is a difficult question because our instinct in a democracy is to say yes, but we also get the question confused with should all people have the opportunity to vote? Those are different questions.
The Founding Fathers did not find the question difficult. They believed that all people should have the opportunity to vote but that did not mean that all people should be able to. The Founders limited voting only to men who had a stake in society. This was shown by owning property or controlling their own means of survival. If you worked for someone else, then you were not truly free and so did not have voting rights. Property requirements did not deny citizens the opportunity to vote. It was seen and even hoped that all Americans could become property holders and hence vote, but it took some effort on the part of the person.
One other requirement we see across all thirteen states was that the men had to show up. They had to. Most early voting was done by voice. Early in the 19th Century, voters would turn in a piece of paper with their vote, but even then, the votes were published. At the time, it was believed voters should openly support who they voted for. Even though transportation was more difficult in early America than today and they had a functioning postal service, part of a stake in society was the expectation of showing up.
No person who wants to vote should be denied the privilege to do so. Extending voting days to up to a week should guarantee access, yet the process, at least according to the Founders, should be done in person as intended. Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Voting should not be easy. It should be important. As a bare minimum, voters should at least show up. As for Jim Crow, there are some similarities, but there are those who risked their lives in the 1950s and 1960s for the opportunity to vote in person. Let’s be careful not to compare them to those who want to be able to sit at home and mail in their ballot instead of having wait in line.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog.
Where are you this Easter season?
Jesus said the greatest commandment is that; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus also said; “…Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ya shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). In my letter (Jesus In Valentine’s Day), I suggest that in showing His great love for us by going on the cross, He is saying “Be Mine”; “Love me, too”! So, seeing Him there, where do you stand? God is asking where you/we are. He actually does know; so what He is REALLY asking is if you/we know!
In this regard, imagine a very young child sitting on a couch beside “Mama” while watching intently as a manly figure enters the room. A big smile appears and its little heart “jumps” with sheer joy; for this man is known as “Daddy”! Sitting down across from the couch, Daddy lovingly and adoringly observes his wife and child. And then it happens; His eyes meet with those of his “little one” and instantly, the child turns over on its stomach and slides down off the couch! He then begins to quickly crawl towards Daddy. The father, while watching his little darling, is wondering what the child is up to. Upon reaching Daddy, a hand grabs his pants leg and pulls to stand up. Daddy’s heart is then “captured” as he sees his child struggling mightily with both hands and feet to climb his leg! Still wondering what the child will do, Daddy helps his little darling onto his lap. And so, onto Daddy’s tummy, and the pulling at a shirt pocket to stand up. The child’s intent is now apparent, and there is a “swelling” in Daddy’s heart as two little arms reach around his neck and pulls him close. Tears of love and joy follow, for he hears his “little one’s” small, soft voice; although imperfectly and yet, unmistakably say, “I Love You Daddy!”
Seeing and feeling such a display of love, this father surely would willing LAY DOWN HIS OWN LIFE FOR HIS CHILD!
Folks, the way to get the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love him! He first loved us, and besides commanding us to love Him; He loves to be loved!
Why love Him? There is a song that speaks of broken vows and the saddest words of parting; so nothing will ever be the same except in memory. This is the “picture” of what happened in the Garden of Eden, but because of His great love for us, He could not be satisfied with only memories of what used to be. Therefore, His desire to bring us back home took Him to the cross to die for us!
Can you see, hear, and perhaps feel, the anguish and pain from the cruel whipping and the nails driven into His hands and feet; His body covered by blood; and perhaps groaning as His arms are yanked from their shoulder sockets? His desire and intent is now evident; for we hear Him say; “Father Forgive Them…”!
So have you, will you, go to Him and tell Him that you love Him? And believe and trust Him as your Lord and Saviour? God is indeed asking, “Where are you this Easter season?”
Rev. Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, Virginia
Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards reflect on Arbor Day
Twenty years ago, on Arbor Day 2001, the Front Royal/Warren County Stewards “adopted” the Happy Creek Arboretum. For 20 years, the Tree Stewards have planted and labeled trees and shrubs, and planted perennials and bulbs to beautify the Arboretum. Throughout these 20 years we pruned, mulched, watered, sprayed, and fertilized these plants, thus saving the Town hundreds of dollars in man-hours. We also arranged to have installed dog refuse bag stations, a water fountain, an information Kiosk, and other amenities to make the Arboretum attractive to visitors.
Although the Tree Stewards have worked on many other Town and County projects throughout our 24-year existence, our work at Happy Creek Arboretum is our longest focus on a single project. We invite the public to visit the Arboretum and enjoy this beautiful spot within the Town.
A. Joan Brubaker, Tree Steward
Warren County, Virginia