Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday if you’re a vegan. Just ask Patricia Seals. The Martinez resident stopped eating all animal products in 2008 and was looking for a different way to celebrate.
For the past six years, she has joined vegans and their friends at the annual Thank the Turkeys event at Grass Valley’s Animal Place, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
This year's Thank the Turkeys is taking place Saturday, November 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $65 for adults and $45 for children, and includes a multi-course vegan meal catered by Sanctuary Bistro in Berkeley. Pre-registration is required.
“It’s a good way for people who love animals to celebrate the holiday, and have good food and good company in a completely cruelty-free and compassionate way,” said Seals.
Besides the vegan meal, the hallmark of the event is an opportunity to interact with chickens and turkeys -- as well as other animals -- that have been rescued from farms. One of those turkeys is Jude. In 2012, when his peers were being rounded up to be taken to the slaughterhouse before Thanksgiving, Jude, who had spent his life on a free-range farm in Petaluma, managed to hide in a corner of the barn.
“We started Thank the Turkeys six years ago as a way to introduce the public as well as our supporters to the amazing turkeys and other animals who live in our sanctuary,” said Marji Beach, Animal Place’s education director.
“We kill 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving every year,” said Beach. “Our event is for people to see you can have a delicious plant-based Thanksgiving dinner and cut out the cruelty, by not having a large bird as the centerpiece, and have them as our friends.”
Of the 14 turkeys at Animal Place, “most of them have been rescued directly from farms or were cruelty cases,” said Beach. “And a few came to us a few weeks before Thanksgiving one year, someone had rescued them from a farm, and left them in a box in our driveway.”
Animal Place serves as a sanctuary for farm animals that would most often be killed, either for meat or because they are no longer useful to the farmer. The turkeys that reside there are not a large part of the population, but “they have a lot of special needs,” said Beach. “It can be tough to take care of them, but we take as many as we physically and financially can care for.”
Because the turkeys are bred specifically for human consumption, they have very large breast muscles, which causes them multiple health problems, said Beach.
“They can have arthritis, joint problems, heart attacks, or they can’t fly or perch,” she said. “They often can’t do most behaviors they want to do because they’ve been bred to be really big.”
At the upcoming event, visitors will be able to interact with all the animals at the sanctuary, and feed sweet potato pie to the chickens and turkeys.
“Everyone loves that,” said Beach.
Photographers will be on hand to capture guests feeding pie to the animals. Jeffrey Masson, a best-selling author who specializes in the emotional life of animals, is the featured guest speaker.
The menu will feature such dishes as cremini mushroom caps filled with walnut and mushroom pate, and portabello and spinach bread pudding in a soy custard.
While Beach sees new faces every year, there are quite a few, like Seals, to whom this has become their Thanksgiving tradition.
Seals said the event has saved her sanity in some ways, as she’s grateful to have the opportunity to mark the holiday by showing appreciation for the turkeys when “everyone else is throwing turkeys into their shopping carts.”
Given that Martinez is not exactly a vegan hotspot, she added, she appreciates the sense of community she feels at Animal Place.
“I always go alone, but I’m never alone,” she said. “The people there are happy to sit and talk with you and you’re among friends there.”
Both Seals and Beach said that non-vegans are welcome too, as some attendees bring their non-vegan family members.
“A lot who come to the event are vegan or veg-curious who maybe don’t have a supportive family or network of friends to have a vegan dinner, so this is their chance,” said Beach. “But most of all, this is a fun day to come together with people who appreciate turkeys for who they are and not as something to eat.”