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Go cruelty-free this Thanksgiving


Pity the poor turkey. An inconceivable 20 million will be slaughtered in Canada in 2015, many of those destined to grace family Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Pity the turkey, the dairy cow, the chicken, the pig; in fact, pity all animals that are raised on factory farms to provide us with cheap meat and dairy products. They face horrific conditions on-farm.  Turkeys and chickens genetically bred to grow quickly suffer from constant hunger, painful lameness and searing pain from hot-blade de-beaking and de-toeing.  Dairy cows also endure painful lameness from lack of exercise, improper and dirty flooring, bad stall design and genetics – in fact, it’s estimated that 35 per cent of dairy cows in Canada are lame at any given time.  Transport and slaughter provide no relief from the cruelty, as already compromised animals are subjected to rough handling, crowded transport and questionable slaughter methods.

The legal system provides little protection for farmed animals.  The term ‘accepted management practices’  exempts  conditions such as extreme confinement, often for the entire life-span of the animal, and painful procedures such as those mentioned above. Conditions on most farms are not monitored by government, or any other independent, third party.

Even when animals are subjected to cruelty that goes beyond that accepted as “necessary”, the law provides very little in the way of redress, even when convictions are achieved.  In 2014, CBC’s Marketplace released graphic undercover footage obtained by Mercy for Animals Canada of a turkey breeder company in Ontario that supplies farms with up to 90 per cent of the turkey stock eaten in Canada.  Workers were seen attempting to kill turkeys with  broom handles and shovels, resulting in one bird being alive for more than five minutes after the bludgeoning began. Birds with open wounds and crippling injuries were left without adequate medical care.

The company and five of its employees were charged with eleven counts of animal cruelty. The company pled guilty to one count in exchange for the remaining ten being dropped. They were fined a mere $5,600.

Another case languishes in B.C. Undercover footage of Canada’s largest dairy farm in the Fraser Valley was released, again by Mercy for Animals Canada, in June, 2014. It exposed sickening abuse such as the repeated kicking and bludgeoning of dairy cows. In one case, a cow’s tail was viciously twisted until it broke.  In a complaint to police, Dr. James Reynolds, a professor of large animal medicine at Western University, called it “the most severe case(s) of animal abuse I have ever seen in 32 years as a bovine veterinarian.” Even though the BC SPCA recommended to Crown Counsel that charges be laid against the company, Chilliwack Cattle Sales, and the employees involved, more than 15 months later, no charges have been laid and the public is left to wonder why nothing has happened.

Codes of Practice exist for all farmed animals in Canada. These codes have serious deficiencies, as they don’t address most issues of public concern, such as gestation crates for sows and battery cages for hens, as well as many painful procedures. The codes are not enforced and not enshrined in law in most provinces (although the Government of B.C. recently announced that the Code of Practice for the Handling of Dairy Cattle is being incorporated into the provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act) – rather, they provide minimum expectations for producers to follow. Unfortunately, there’s no way for the public to be assured that even these minimum guidelines are being followed because there is no third-party, arm’s length audit process.  This means that on-farm cruelty must be addressed by complaints from the public – a near-impossible task since most farms are out of the way and are operated behind closed and locked barn doors.

Fortunately, the public’s concerns about the treatment of farmed animals are increasingly being heard by large companies such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Starbucks and others who are demanding accountability from their suppliers.  Perhaps at some time in the future we will see all farmed animals treated with respect, dignity and empathy.

But in the meantime, pity the poor turkey and take time to contemplate that the product of such a cruel system has become a symbol for a family holiday of thankfulness. Perhaps consider extending your compassion to all animals by replacing them on your table with one of the delicious meat-free and cruelty-free alternatives so readily available, such as Tofurkey, Gardein Holiday Roast, “stuffed turk’y” and “turk’s cutlet”.

Food and Drink News/Blog

A Cruelty-Free Thanksgiving

By Debra Probert, VHS Executive Director

I love holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, because they give me a chance to serve vegetarian/vegan dishes to my meat-eating friends and family.  These holidays shouldn’t leave anyone feeling deprived – rather, they should give our omnivorous friends food for thought (quite literally!) about how easy it is to skip the dead turkey for something more tasty, healthy and humane.

Easy and delicious ways to cut corners are the great veggie roasts that are available.  The first is Tofurky (available at Capers Whole Foods, Choices and most organic food stores). I tasted this for the first time at a PETA event at a Toronto hotel.  It was cooked longer than the packaging recommends, using more oil.  The result was a crispy outside, with the look and texture that more closely resembles a well-cooked turkey.  It was delicious!  Of course, you can always just follow the package directions for a very tasty product.  I do mine in a closed roasting pan with lots of olive oil mixed with soy sauce.

Although I haven’t tasted the Celebration Roast yet (available at Karmavore Vegan Shop,  I’m told it’s fantastic (first-hand, from the VHS office manager , Lauren).  She says that it tastes spicier than the Tofurky.  And while the Tofurky stuffing is a more traditional one (sage, bread crumbs, rice) the Celebration Roast stuffing is made up of apples, butternut squash and mushrooms and is, she says, equally delicious.

gardein_frz_StuffedTurky_CSm-225x238Gardein (based right here in Richmond, BC!) has a new product called ‘savory stuffed turk’y’.  Each package has two servings, including gravy, and like Tofurky, comes frozen.  According to the Gardein website, it’s available everywhere – IGA, Save-on Foods and Safeway. I haven’t tasted it yet, but if Gardein’s other products are any indication, it’ll be great.

For the first two, you’re going to have to either buy or make some meat-free gravy. Tofurky makes a veggie ‘giblet’ gravy that’s excellent – I always make sure to have lots on hand for the mashed potatoes.  However, if you want to make gravy, there are plenty of recipes.  Here’s one from

When I was growing up, my favourite dish at holiday meals was the dressing, and I loved it soaked in gravy. Although the Tofurky and the Celebration Roast both come stuffed, I always bake an extra bowl of dressing in the oven.  It’s great the next day in cold Tofurky or Celebration Roast sandwiches, with lots of salt and pepper! Here’s a link to my favourite stuffing recipe.

If you’re really feeling ambitious, you might want to make a veggie roast from scratch.  Lauren has made this complete dinner from Vegan Yum Yum  and found it worked perfectly (even though there’s a warning on the website that you might have trouble making the seitan. If you’re nervous, seitan can be purchased ready-made at any Capers Whole Foods, Choices Market or any organic grocer).

One of the dishes on this link is roasted tomatoes.  If you’ve never had them, you don’t know what you’re missing. And they’re so easy! Just halve any kind of tomatoes, toss them with a bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven until they are shrivelled and the skins are beginning to turn black. They’re great tossed with almost anything (I like them with veggie sausages).

What would a good meal be without dessert? If you haven’t tried one of the recipes from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, then you haven’t lived. We greedily look forward to birthdays at the VHS office, not because we’re generous, but so we can try a different flavour. You can get the book at almost any bookstore. But just in case you’ve run out of time, here’s my  favourite recipe.

So there you have it, a Thanksgiving dinner to die for. Wait a minute – nobody had to die!  What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving!!