Operation Turkey Undercover: The Frightening Truth About That Thanksgiving Day Bird

Thanksgiving is almost here and I am so pumped. I absolutely love this holiday.  I love seeing my family after being away from home for so long, I love the mouth-watering home cooked food, and contrary to many of my black Friday wary peers, I get a complete adrenaline rush from trying to find the best deals amid hordes of sale crazy shoppers.

Yet, there is something about this holiday that I don’t look forward to: stuffing my face with turkey. In fact, I refrain from eating the stuff all together.  While I am a prideful, animal loving vegan, health reasons alone are enough to eschew this Thanksgiving Day bird of choice. I know Thanksgiving is only one day each year and if you want to eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s not the worst nutrition crime you could commit.  Yet at the same time, I just can’t sit back and let these facts go unshared.  Here’s an inside peek at the turkey knowledge circulating in my nutritional researched-stuffed brain when I glance at the bird on the table:

1)   46 million turkeys are raised every year just for this holiday alone. These turkeys are big mutant cousins of the turkeys that the pilgrims ate. The turkeys on our tables are fed incredibly high-calorie diets so that they grow much larger than any wild turkey would, and at an unnaturally fast rate.  Today’s farm raised birds become so top heavy that their legs can barely hold them. Their beaks and toes are cut so that they don’t scratch each other. Modern factory-farmed turkeys cannot even breed naturally due to all of their malformations. All turkeys we buy in the supermarket rely on artificial insemination to reproduce.

Turkeys. Flickr: cyanocorax

2)   Turkeys carry creepy pathogens. There’s this bug called campylobacter. It’s the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States. Campylobacter is a dangerous little critter, estimated to infect more than 2.4 million Americans each year. Turns out a whopping 90 percent of turkeys produced in America are contaminated with our friend Mr. Campylobacter.  This is a consequence of birds being housed in super crowded cages with less than three square feet of space to move and being regularly dosed with antibiotics.  Speaking of antibiotics…

3)   Antibiotics: Turkeys produced on factory farms are fed a disturbingly large quantity of antibiotics as a routine preventive measure to ward off illnesses between them and to accelerate growth.  When you eat turkey, those antibiotics don’t suddenly disappear like Harry Houdini. They are transferred directly to you.  This is scary because when you ingest unnecessary antibiotics by eating Mr. Gobble-Gobble, your own healthy intestinal bacteria get wiped out, making you less able to fight off diseases. Oh, and the bacteria that the drugs are designed to kill eventually morph into stronger, more powerful versions of themselves.  Scarily, these bugs can transform into superbugs in which we, nor the turkeys, can form a natural resistance.

4)   Turkeys are full of synthetic hormones: the turkeys sold in supermarkets are routinely pumped full of artificial hormones to promote muscle growth, and those hormones are passed directly to you if you eat it.  That might sound good to all the bodybuilders I know are reading this article, but actually our bodies work hard to keep a natural balance of hormones in our circulation and eating animal products treated with hormones equals trouble for this healthy balance.  Excess hormones increase your risk of cancer.

5)   More toxins in turkey: eat turkey and you will be getting a nice helping of dioxin too.  What’s dioxin you say? Dioxin happens to be one of the most toxic chemicals known to science and is recognized as a cancer-causing demon among the scientific community.  It is estimated that 93 percent of our exposure to dioxin comes through eating animal products. 

It’s hard to believe that a seemingly “harmless” bird could contain all this junk, right? I find it hard to believe myself.  If you want to eat a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving I won’t shake my head (this is assuming I actually saw you eating turkey), but I will encourage you to load up on all of the other delicious Thanksgiving meal alternatives instead.  Savory sweet potato pie, roasted vegetables, a hearty vegetable stew, cranberry relish, and berry cobbler are dishes that I look forward to. I could go on with all of the amazing, healthy foods that will be at my Thanksgiving Day table….So even though eating turkey might not be the best idea considering the pathogens, dioxin and all that jazz, I’m still a big foodie and am looking forward to some good holiday eatin’ and my adrenaline rush inducer of choice (aka black Friday shopping).

Having a delightful and delicious time with my family and friends need not include a turkey.  Thanksgiving is a time to show thanks, after all, and avoiding turkey and other unhealthy foods every day allows me to be thankful for my good health now and for years to come.




1)   Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, “Campylobacter,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.ced.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/campylobacter?gi.html#2

2)   ActionPA, “Dioxin Homepage,” managed by ActionPA.org, http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin

3)   John Robbins, The Food Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001), 128.

4)   www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4037499