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Opinion: Why I no longer have turkey for Christmas dinner

Unlike turkey flesh, vegan foods are cholesterol-free and high in fibre and other nutrients, importantly they are also delicious, writes Elisa Allen.

Elisa Allen PETA

THE TIMES, THEY are a changin’.

Just a few short years ago, my family thought nothing of slipping on a paper hat, pulling a cracker with a loved one, grabbing a plate, and piling it high with the flesh of a turkey who was slaughtered for a fleeting moment of taste.

Today, we find it much more fitting to celebrate this season of goodwill to all with a delicious vegan centrepiece.

And we’re not the only ones. Tesco’s annual Christmas report has revealed that one-fifth of hosts will cater for vegans or vegetarians this year and that online searches for “vegan Christmas” have increased eightfold in just six years – which a spokesperson for the supermarket put down to rising awareness of the sustainability and health issues surrounding meat consumption.

That makes sense, given that earlier this year, the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the food system’s environmental impact concluded that avoiding meat and dairy “products” is the “single biggest way”  to reduce your impact on the Earth.

Eating meat and other animal-derived foods has also been linked to an increased risk for Ireland’s top killers: heart disease and cancer.

Who’s on your plate?

My journey towards vegan eating began when I started to think about what – or rather, who – was on my plate. I read that turkeys relish having their feathers stroked and trilling turkey songs.

Each one has a different personality: some are social, and some are shy, but they all seem to enjoy eating together as a family. At sanctuaries, these naturally curious birds will investigate new sights and smells.

Sanctuary workers have told me that some turkeys will remember you and sit closer to you each time you visit. If you come back often enough, they may choose you as a favourite and come running to greet you when you arrive.

Of course, most turkeys don’t get to enjoy these experiences. Some of those raised for food are confined to severely crowded, windowless sheds that provide them with few
opportunities to engage in natural kinds of behaviour, including flapping their wings and
foraging. They might never even breathe outdoors air or feel grass beneath their feet.

Farmed turkeys are generally face the chop when they’re between 3 and 5 months old. Some will be improperly stunned at the slaughterhouse and may face the scaling and defeathering tanks while conscious.

The lives of these sensitive birds, including those raised on so-called “free-range” farms, are violently cut short – and at an alarming rate. This year, it’s predicted that almost 1 million turkeys will be cooked on Christmas Day in Ireland alone.

This Christmas, I hope you’ll join me and so many others in serving a vegan feast. Unlike turkey flesh, vegan foods are cholesterol-free and typically high in fibre and other nutrients. They also have a lower carbon footprint and take fewer resources to produce than animal-derived foods do.

And importantly, they’re delicious – and sure to satisfy all the friends and relatives who are gathered around the table, anticipating a mouth-watering dinner.

There are plenty of great vegan options out there: SuperValu has some tasty nut roasts, while Tesco is offering cauliflower Wellingtons and vegan red velvet brownies. And of course, there are loads of other suggestions and tempting recipes at PETA.org.uk.

Here’s wishing everyone a very merry and humane festive season.

Elisa Allen is the Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) UK

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Elisa Allen  / PETA

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