Photo: Turkey

As we plan menus for this year's Thanksgiving dinner, consider that a vegetarian lifestyle awakens our spirit of compassion and guides us towards a kinder, gentler society in which we exercise a moral choice to protect animals—not exploit them.

So why not celebrate this year’s Thanksgiving with a turkey-free dinner? Each year, over 5 million turkeys are raised under horrible conditions and then slaughtered for holiday feasting. What a great opportunity to protect animals, by reducing so much pain and suffering. Just skip the buzzard!

It’s not only good for the turkeys; a vegetarian diet is good your health, too! Contrary to what you might expect, turkey flesh is extremely high in both fat and cholesterol. No, you say? Where do you think that deep pool of fat comes from in the bottom of the roasting pan? The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese.

It turns out that what’s good for your health is also good for the planet. Aside from being able to smell them from a mile away, factory farms make a huge negative impact on the environment. Turkeys and other animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. human population—all without the benefit of waste treatment systems. There are no federal guidelines to regulate how factory farms treat, store, and dispose of the trillions of pounds of concentrated, untreated animal excrement that they produce each year. (See: http://www.goveg.com/f-top10turkeys.asp).

Thanksgiving was originally meant to celebrate the fall harvest. We propose that given the suffering animals endure as they are raised and slaughtered for food, and given that all our nutritional needs can easily be satisfied without eating these animals, a vegetarian Thanksgiving is morally required.

Rather than contribute to the whimsical slaughter of millions of innocent turkeys, you can truly celebrate the season's harvest by enjoying all the fresh fruits and vegetables that nature has to offer. Better yet, when available, buy local seasonal fruits and vegetables. By feeding your loved ones wholesome and nutritious all-vegetarian food, instead of meat, you get to show your compassion. And, simply by having a turkey-free Thanksgiving you get to contribute to better health and a cleaner and safer environment.

Be sure to check out our fabulous all-vegetarian holiday recipes available on our website (downtoearth.org) and this month’s Health Tip on "Perfect Foods for Fall."