Thursday 20 July 2017

If you were a turkey would you like Christmas?

Lay of the Land

Fiona O’Connell

We've survived the Mayan prediction that the world would end on December 21, but 2012 was the end of the world for my 'Elder Lemon' budgerigar. He recently flew over the rainbow to join his 'Lemony Hen'.

Speaking of birds, isn't it strange that St Nicholas, upon whom Santa Claus is based, came from Turkey, given that we feast on a bird of the same name at Christmas?

We consider turkey the quintessential festive dinner, yet Germans get goose bumps over roast goose, while Czechs won't stop carping on about giant goldfish.

Foreign delicacies can be shocking. Live monkeys are brought to the table in some parts of the world, where their skulls are sliced open and the brains eaten. While 'hot dogs' are all too literal in parts of Asia.

It goes to show that what we consider edible is largely due to cultural conditioning, which we often accept without question. Like the notion that we need to eat meat at all.

After all, animals "have a life of their own that is of importance to them, apart from their utility to us," says American philosopher, Professor Tom Regan. "Like us they are somebodies, not somethings."

Another American, President Benjamin Franklin, lamented that the bald eagle was chosen as the symbol of America instead of the turkey, who he considered a "much more respectable bird".

"You Haven't Lived until You've Hugged a Turkey" is the title of a documentary made by Irish counselling psychologist Sandra Higgins, who also runs Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary. She believes turkeys share "a language of emotion through which they have a lot to tell us if we listen". It had clearly fallen on deaf ears in a recent RTE report about school children making a profit from rearing turkeys for slaughter. Not one of them seemed to view these creatures as anything other than commodities to be packed, live, in boxes. Reporter Ciaran Mullooly ruefully joked that "almost everybody" was happy, as the camera cut to the bewildered birds.

Business matters, but curiosity about the natural world is also vital. Did any of those children learn, for example, that the flap of skin that hangs over a turkey's beak is the wonderfully named 'snood', or that the gobble of wild turkeys can be heard a mile away?

Thousands of turkeys will cease to gobble this Christmas, as people gobble them. So much for The Silence Of The Lambs. I wonder if Hannibal Lector would view the big bird as a poor substitute for 'homo sapiens'?

If he enjoys a double entendre, along with a nice glass of Chianti, perhaps the 'Lay of the Land' can ease his cold turkey with a succulent nut roast.

Sunday Independent

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