Turkeys Away

“Oh the Humanity!”

Did you watch the whole episode? How could you possibly think this was a good idea?

Tossing a Bird That Does Not Fly Out of a Plane
by Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic

Here in Yellville this cold and rainy weekend, there are turkeys everywhere—turkey shirts and turkey costumes and turkey paraphernalia. There is a raffle giving away birds for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a brisk trade in turkey legs, too, pulled out of a barrel smoker. At the bandstand, a judge announces the winner of the “Miss Drumsticks” contest, who gleams and sparkles in her pageant finery. “It’s Miss Drumsticks because they’re judging who has the best thighs,” an older woman explained to me, matter-of-fact.

But—and this is unusual, and much to the dismay and consternation of many locals—there are no live turkeys. None in a cage towed behind a pickup. None thrown from the courthouse roof. None pitched off the bandstand and picked up by screaming teenagers. And none dropped out of an airplane. That is what the Yellville Turkey Trot festival is famous and infamous for, you see: living, breathing, squawking birds getting lobbed out of a low-flying aircraft.

Turkeys, it seems worth mentioning, do not fly. Although the wild, dark-feathered ones you see in flocks on exurban roads are capable of fluttering up into and in between trees, the factory-farm-bred, white-feathered ones you eat on Thanksgiving are closer to the penguin side of the avian flying-ability spectrum. The birds can slow their descent by flapping wildly and catch the wind and glide, should they find themselves free-falling from 500 feet. But some die on impact, fleshy anvils with useless wings.

Once a year for the past seven decades, with just a few breaks, Yellville has had a dozen or so fowl demonstrate this gravitational reality. The Turkey Trot is a much-anticipated event for people with a lot of Ozark pride but without a lot of money, organizers and attendees explained—a transgressive event that locals love to love, love to hate, love to go to, and really love to talk about. “There’s a festival that goes on in Fayetteville that’s huge. They have booths there where you walk up and you just stop in your tracks and go, ‘Holy cow, that’s neat!’” Bob King, the owner of a local retreat property, told me. “We’re a small-town festival. It is important to people.”

As the lip-synch contest echoed and the quilting guild showed off its wares, some worried that the everything-else portion of the weekend would wither away, too. Local-business owners fretted that a vital source of income was gone—with some hoping that a plane foisting the birds would show up, cops and politicians and op-ed writers and vegan busybodies be damned. “We will have to see how the numbers end up,” said Keith Edmonds of the Chamber of Commerce, a note of resignation in his voice. Every time an aircraft passed overhead, little kids checked to see if a bird would come out.

Was it worth it, ending a town’s beloved annual event to save a few birds from a few moments of confused terror? Was it meaningful, given how many billions of birds raised for meat face a far more gruesome life and death? Would it stick, given the steeliness of the residents of this corner of the Ozarks and the devotion of Americans to their meat-eating and cold-weather traditions?

I was not sure before going to the festival, and I was even less sure after it. But I knew this: This was not a Thanksgiving story about throwing a bird that does not fly out of an airplane. This was a Thanksgiving story about the human will to throw a bird that does not fly out of an airplane.

Ample documentary evidence recorded in the years since, as well as the testimonies of a number of townsfolk, indicate that this was and is pretty much what happens when you drop a turkey from hundreds of feet in the air. The panicked animals try to right themselves. Some catch a gust. Others do not. Some die when they hit the ground. Others survive with broken bones. Yet others are grievously injured when they are fought over by local kids. Some perish of apparent shock. A few, it is fair to note, are rattled, but physically unharmed.

“I was standing in the alley behind one of the buildings in town, and that plane came right overhead,” said Rose Hilliard, who attended last year’s festival to try to save some of the birds. “We’re all trying to chase it down and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can’t outrun 15 kids! There’s no way.’ They weren’t supposed to drop them over town. They were supposed to be across the river there, across the creek. But the pilots kind of think they can do no wrong and they’re proud of it.” The turkeys she encountered were heat-stressed and in shock and bruised, she told me. “It is not entertaining to watch a frightened animal trying to get away from a crowd of people. That’s— I don’t call it entertainment.”

Their very bodies are no less cruel than what humans do to those bodies. Turkeys, as you might remember from elementary school, are native to the Americas. Domestication occurred hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years ago. Right around when the Yellville Turkey Trot was getting started, in the 1940s, big agricultural companies began to breed domesticated turkeys intensively to obtain more meat from them, faster. The experiment was an astonishing success: The broad-breasted white, the bird that is most likely on your Thanksgiving table, went from a 15-pound bird in 1960 to a 30-pound bird today, and it grows to that weight far more quickly than nature intended.

These are Franken-creatures, like bulldogs or racehorses. They cannot reproduce naturally, and their body is incompatible with a healthy, long life. The birds, if not slaughtered, face grotesque problems with their skeleton, their heart, and their respiratory system, as their cartoonishly oversized breasts distend and stress their body. “They get these compound fractures and leg injuries—often these things can’t be fixed—because they grow so fast,” said Susie Coston, the national shelter director of Farm Sanctuary, a major farm-animal rescue organization. “They are just too big.”

Another strange thing about them: The birds suffer from compulsive insatiability. If you leave food out for them to eat at will, “they just never stop eating,” Coston told me. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They eat so much that they injure their intestinal tract.”

If you withhold food, as is necessary to keep them alive, she said, “they are always hungry.”

Falling from a plane might be a reprieve for a turkey.

You can read deeper for the whole “Evil Librul Bi-Coastal Elitists Ruining Good Clean ‘Murikan Fun” subtext which is so totally of a piece with all the other stories about how Evil Librul Bi-Coastal Elitists are ruining ‘Murika and that’s why we support Trump. “He gets us.” Which is why of course Democrats and Leftists lose elections say the “Centrists”.

Some branches of my Club used to hold “Rattlesnake Roundups” where you’d toss a bucket of snakes into a ring and charge people to stomp them. Very lucrative in certain areas.

I never saw the attraction.

But I eat meat and I make no apologies for it. I just don’t think it’s a necessary part of every meal and I’m just as happy with Vegetable Lo Mein or Rice and Beans as I am with a Beef Steak. My personal identity is not invested in it- whatever. Sheep Eyeballs? Yum!

And if you have some Levitican problems and think Ham cursed by Yahweh I guess you’ll not be wanting to try my Bacon Wrapped Scallops in Lobster Sauce.

Good. More for me.

I swear, I thought Turkeys could fly!