As Oaklanders, we have a lot to be thankful for. For one thing, we have a thriving urban center and yet are moments away from nature. Sometimes, nature even shows up in our backyards.

Recently, three beautiful wild turkeys arrived in my family's yard, spent an hour exploring what we had to offer -- sampling the birdseed and kale seedlings in our garden -- and then moved on.

We were honored by this visit and awed by the beautiful birds. And while we were excited by their presence, we also knew that as these inquisitive wild turkeys visited our yard, tens of millions of their domesticated counterparts were, and still are, being fattened on factory farms as the nation ramps up for our annual Turkey Day.

But as more people learn about turkeys, their unique personalities and how so many of them are raised in factory farms, more of us are choosing to leave them off our Thanksgiving tables.

As we see firsthand with Oakland's wild flock, these curious and intelligent birds will roam an area as large as 500 acres, live in stable social groups, and know each other as individuals. Wild mother turkey hens have strong maternal instincts, watching closely over their brood for several months.

On today's factory farms though, newly hatched turkeys never see their mothers. They are born in hatcheries and transported to industrial factory farms when they are only a day old.


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Unlike their wild counterparts, the turkeys found on most dinner tables never had the opportunity to feel the sun or breathe fresh air. They spend their lives in windowless warehouses, bred and fed to be obese.

Their young bones strain under their own weight, causing chronic leg and joint pain and other issues. With each bird allotted only a few square feet of space, they become increasingly cramped as they quickly reach market weight. After suffering all this, at only three or four months old, the birds are sent to slaughter.

For these and other reasons, countless Americans are choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a meat-free meal.

By putting aside the requisite slice of turkey, we can make room on our plate for what we really love -- the side dishes. Many traditional Thanksgiving Day side-dishes are already meat-free, and by using nonmeat proteins with brands like Gardein, Field Roast and Tofurky, you can create a cornucopia of beautiful, rich and delicious meat-free centerpiece dishes.

As one way to help improve our broken agriculture system while doing something good for ourselves and the planet, we at The Humane Society of the United States encourage people to eat more meat-free meals -- whether by having a vegetarian Thanksgiving or by participating in Meatless Mondays. The HSUS promotes the three R's in food choices: reducing our consumption of animals, refining our dietary choices by switching to products that meet high animal welfare standards, and replacing animals in the diet with plant-based options.

This year, simply by enjoying a delicious, meat-free holiday, we can each join countless other Americans in celebrating our compassion for other creatures.

Kristie Middleton, an Oakland resident, is the outreach manager for farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States and a member of Oakland Veg.