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The Salt
2:05 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Where Turkey Is The Guest, Not The Entree

Originally published on Wed November 23, 2011 5:12 pm

Most people think of turkeys as the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. But at one farm, the turkeys are the guests.

At the 26th annual Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony in Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, a line of turkeys come walking out the door of the barn. They stroll towards long low tables set up on the lawn, with scarlet tablecloths and seasonal squash centerpieces.

There, a feast awaits. There's pumpkin pie topped with cranberry, and platters of green salad — hold the dressing. The spread is surrounded by a crowd of spectators.

"Hi sweetheart, Mommy's here," Jamie Cohen says to one of the birds. She's named her Velma. Cohen lives in Baltimore, and drives five hours one way to attend the feast. She has sponsored one of the diners for years. Her chosen bird died of natural causes last winter. (It costs a one-time fee of $30 to sponsor a bird.) So she's picked out a new brown bird.

"I wanted to pick out a new turkey and she's as sweet as she can be, loves to be petted, loves to be kissed and held," Cohen says.

As you might have guessed, Cohen doesn't serve up turkey at her Thanksgiving meal.

"We don't want to eat them," Cohen says. "They're no different than dogs and cats. They feel pleasure and pain."

The turkey feast is hosted by the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen. Susie Coston, the Sanctuary's manager, says she wants to show people how to honor the birds that are normally part of Thanksgiving dinner.

"One of the things we try to do is to let people really meet them," Coston says. "They all have names. And they all have personalities. And they all have friendships, and we want people to see them for who they are."

Most of the turkeys chow down on their dishes.

There's one human VIP at the meal: Seth Tibbot, who created the Tofurky. That's exactly what it sounds like — a "turkey" made out of tofu. He says Tofurkys will be on about 350,000 tables this holiday season.

At the end of the meal, Tibbott pets a very stuffed turkey named Elizabeth.

"That's how I am, by the way, after Thanksgiving dinner," Tibbot says, looking at the bird. "I get about two steps away and then I'm down on the floor."

It's Tibbott's very first time here at the Feeding of the Turkeys. He says it's transformative. "You don't really have face time with turkeys in my line of work."

Tibbott says if he had any Tofurky on him, he would give the birds a nibble. But he's not sure they would eat it.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

Turkeys are the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals, of course, but there is a farm in upstate New York where turkeys are the guests at the meal. Reporter Emma Jacobs visited the 26th annual Feeding of the Turkey ceremony.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here they come.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Here they come.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: A line of turkeys come walking out the door of the barn. They stroll curiously towards long low tables set up on the lawn, with scarlet tablecloths and seasonal squash centerpieces and a feast - pumpkin pie topped with cranberries and platters of green salad - hold the dressing. The spread is surrounded by a crowd of spectators.

JAMIE COHEN: Hi, sweetheart. Mommy is here.

JACOBS: Jamie Cohen has been sponsoring a turkey at the farm for years, but it died of natural causes last winter. So she's picked out a new brown bird.

COHEN: Hey, Velma. Vel.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COHEN: I'm talking to her like she knows her name. Velma.

JACOBS: Cohen makes the five-hour drive from Baltimore every year for the feast.

COHEN: And I wanted to pick out a new turkey, and I - she's as sweet as she can be and loves to be petted, loves to be kissed and held. And I picked her, and I knew she'd be easy to spot like she was today.

JACOBS: As you might have guessed, Jamie doesn't serve up turkey at her Thanksgiving meal.

COHEN: We don't want to eat them. They're no different than dogs and cats. They feel pleasure and pain.

SUSIE COSTON: She's very shy. That's Snowberry. So if somebody can go feed her...

JACOBS: Susie Coston runs the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, which hosts the turkeys' dinner. She says Farm Sanctuary wants to show people how to honor the birds that are normally Thanksgiving dinner.

COSTON: You're going to go get the pies and take them off the table and feed everybody. So one of the things we try to do is let people really meet them. And so like we, you know, they all have names, and they all have personalities. And they all have friendships, and we want people to see them for who they are.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hey, eat that food.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEYS CLUCKING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: This one will not eat berries.

JACOBS: Most of the turkeys chow down on their dishes, but there's one human VIP at the meal: Seth Tibbot, who created Tofurky. That's exactly what it sounds like - an alternative turkey made out of tofu. Tofurkys will be on about 350,000 tables this holiday season. At the end of the meal, Tibbot is sitting on the grass, petting a very stuffed turkey named Elizabeth.

SETH TIBBOTT: That's how I am by the way after Thanksgiving dinner too. I get about two steps from my chair and I'm down on the floor.

JACOBS: It's Tibbott's very first time here for the annual Feeding of the Turkeys. He says it's awesome, transformative.

TIBBOTT: You don't really have face time with turkeys in my line of work. You know, you think you would, but you don't.

JACOBS: Tibbot says if he had any on him, he would give the birds a bit of Tofurky, but he's not sure they would eat it. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.