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Today is a day for giving thanks. And thanks we give – for health, for family, for friendships, and happiness.

We sit down to a table laden with food. Our treasured recipes, the soup, the salads, the sides, and that most-loved Thanksgiving food of all: the turkey.

It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of Thanksgiving – the traditions, and the excitement of seeing friends or family members who we don’t often see. The meal, in all of its splendor, often becomes a reflection of what the cook did with the ingredients, not the ingredients themselves.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s not just about what I’ve put on the table, but what came before that. The farmers who dedicate their lives to growing our crops, and the animals whose lives were sacrificed.

As a Canadian, I can’t vote in the US where I now make my home, so I vote with my everyday purchases. At the top of this list, comes the food that I buy. I’m not perfect when it comes to buying food. I have a weakness for junky salt & vinegar chips, and the occasional processed grilled cheese sandwich. But when it comes to buying meat, there is no question: it needs to have been humanely raised by farmers who care about the animals, and treat them well from birth to slaughter.

This year, I bought our turkey at the Knickerbocker Market in New York City. The store owner and butcher Mike is a food scientist, and knows his meat better than just about anyone I know. Having built a relationship with Mike over the years, I know that whatever I buy from him has met his own high quality standards.

A respect for food is something that I hope to pass on to my kids. Even though my kids are young, it’s important to teach them to be thankful for what we eat. I want them to understand that choosing our foods is always just that – a choice. We can pick the good stuff – the foods that have been farmed or grown with care, or we can choose the junk.

We’ve been talking a lot about turkeys over the last few weeks. Kids, and often adults, don’t always make the connection that our meat comes from an actual animal. It’s easy to forget, especially when it’s processed, sliced, and packaged and virtually indistinguishable from its original form.

Respecting our food means understanding where it came from. The kids have been asking tough questions – are the turkeys they talk about in school the same thing as the turkey we have for dinner?

The answer is yes. No lies, no half truths, we eat meat, we make that choice, as difficult as that choice sometimes feels. But I also wanted to teach them that despite the fact that we eat meat, we can also love and respect animals.

We ended up adopting three turkeys through the Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey program – one for each of my kids.

Our kids were pretty excited that our three turkeys – Clove, Tulip, and Martha, are now leading happy lives in three separate shelters, eating their favorite foods: tomatoes and pumpkin for Clove, cranberries and grapes for Tulip, and apple and corn for Martha.

We spent some time on the computer looking at the pictures of our newly-adopted turkeys. The kids pointed out their wrinkly necks and laughed about their food preferences. The paper adoption certificates are on their way in the mail. It was some of the best money ever spent. The kids loved the experience,  learned about turkeys, and built a stronger connection to their food and where it comes from. 

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope that it’s full of good food, good company, and good times. And a big thanks, of course, for the food itself. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without it.

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