Chickens and Turkeys in America: A Vegetarian's dilemma

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What were two vegetarians doing by facilitating picking up live chickens and turkeys for eating by refugees in Tucson.  Overall a very small percentage of the world’s population are considered to be vegetarians.   India due to religious reasons leads the world.  I do admit that on occasion I will eat fish.  In fact, last night I ate sushi.  But overall, I tend to eat lots of tofu, nuts, vegetables and fruits.

Recently a woman who lives on the outskirts of Tucson called the Iskashitaa office and offered us turkeys and chickens because her backyard hobby had gotten out of hand.   We had taken a few orders during the week but on Friday the day that we were to go to Marcia’s (pronounced Mar see (short) a) home, a number of refugees having learned of the birds, upped the order.  In total, we were to pick up 30 chickens and 15 turkeys.

Jack and Canelé drove in Jack’s car. Huda drove numerous refugees from Afghanistan and Eritrea.  I drove our van with a few more refugees, a large dog cage for the turkeys and numerous boxes for the chickens. 

We arrived at Marcia’s and immediately smelled and heard the turkeys.  Marcia a well-tanned earth mother and her partner greeted us along with a large green parrot named Roscoe.  Marcia had warned me that the turkeys would be large, at least 25 pounds each.  But after seeing them I realized that they wouldn’t fit in a box and that the dog cage we had, although quite large, would only fit 3-4 turkeys. 

I wasn’t about to try to catch a turkey as I was already doing enough to assure their deaths.  The last time that I had seen live turkeys was in Escondido at the Hidden Valley Retreat of Self-Realization Fellowship. These were wild turkeys with babies and of course nobody was going to harm them.   

There were lots of turkeys of various ages in cages.  The key to catching them was holding their feet together with one hand and putting the other hand under their stomachs in order to carry them. They seemed quite docile as Marcia and her partner brought four to the dog cage and shoved them in.  They immediately pooped. Marcia said that they were nervous.  The refugee who had loaned us her dog cage said, “my dog is not going to be happy”.  (This refugee was quite funny and wanted to keep some of the turkeys and chickens as pets. However, she was quite clear that her brothers would have none of that). 

The chickens were already in boxes, however we needed to transfer them to the boxes that we brought.  This wasn’t overly difficult, although Marcia indicated that we had to keep tight lids on the top otherwise they would get out.

With the van loaded with four turkeys and 21 chickens we made our way back towards the office.  A number of other refugees were waiting for their birds.  I looked at the four large turkeys and wondered how we would get them out of the dog cage and into the cars without proper boxes.  One of the refugees told me that she would just hold her turkey.  Another said I’ll put it on the floor of the car.  One refugee, a rather large woman didn’t hesitate and opened the cage door and pulled out one turkey and gave it to another refugee.  Another refugee, who had ordered nine turkeys, one for each member of his family, took one and put it on the floor in the backseat as the chickens, without the box lids being held down, started coming out of the boxes. 

Finally, all 21 chickens and four turkeys had been transferred from the Iskashitaa van to the cars of a number of refugees.  Marcia had said that we would come back for more and I gave her phone number to some of the refugees so that they could do their own round-ups.

Did I feel guilty?  On some level yes given that I will never again eat chicken, turkey or other mammals unless they are made out of tofu or other vegetable products.  On another level, I was doing this for the “team” helping to get protein to people who would make good use of these animals.  Marcia’s birds were all raised on organic feed.  Does this matter given that the animals were raised in over populated cages?

I asked myself a few times where I was.  I had visions of both Nepal and India where I consistently saw live chickens and other animals in the public.  I realize that it isn’t so unusual for a family to take a live animal and then butcher it for their own consumption. 

I think a lot about the contradictions in this life.  How Jack and I could help to facilitate the deaths of chickens and turkeys although we both choose not to eat these.  I think about the current administration and how they want to turn America back to “whites only” and how this will undermine what this country stands for.  I also think about how Yaya and his family of nine will enjoy that turkey and chickens being able to eat meat something that was probably no more than a dream for the multiple years in which they lived in a refugee camp. 

 

Position: Programme Manager

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