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Jack Knox: Let's talk turkey about veggies

Oct 07 2012
Members of PETA, dressed as turkeys, demonstrate on Douglas street at Fort street. 

Members of PETA, dressed as turkeys, demonstrate on Douglas street at Fort street.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , Times Colonist

The PETA people were doling out free food Friday.

Two of them stood at Douglas and Fort in full-sized turkey costumes, giving away boxes of tofu poultry substitute. "Gobble veggies, not turkeys," read one of their signs. Nobody does publicity stunts like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

A pair of middle-aged women eyed the animal activists warily.

"What are they doing?" asked the first.

"Handing out turkey," replied the second. "Wait, no, it's Tofurky. Why don't you get some?"

"Um, no," said the first. Which illustrates things nicely. It took PETA 15 minutes to give away 30 Tofurky roasts. Had it been sausage samples in Costco, they would have been gone in 15 seconds.

We know there's at least an element of truth to PETA's contention that the animals we eat don't lead the best of lives. We also know they taste awesome with gravy. Heck, we'd chow down on ebola-ridden whooping crane if it were fried in bacon fat.

That takes us to the cholesterol-clogged heart of the matter: How does PETA expect us to care about the turkeys when we don't care about ourselves?

"Most turkeys slated to be killed for food are crammed into windowless warehouses, where disease, smothering and heart attacks are common," read the organization's Thanksgiving press release.

Sounds like your typical Victoria office job.

"Turkeys," the release continued, "are drugged and bred to grow so large so quickly that their legs are often unable to withstand the birds' weight."

And that sounds like the typical Canadian schoolchild.

Last month, Statistics Canada reported that one-third of Canadian kids between the ages of five and 17 are overweight or obese. While the stats are no longer new (they're unchanged from recent years), they remain disturbing. We're still told this could be the first generation of kids to be outlived by their parents.

These are the same parents who wouldn't dream of letting Junior waddle three whole blocks to school lest he be snatched by some imaginary bogeyman, yet think nothing of poisoning the little beggar with pre-packaged heart disease and sugary drinks that come in containers more suited to college drinking contests.

Not that mum and dad treat themselves any better. More than half of Canada's adults have too much junk in the trunk. Last year, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall released a report showing that rotten lifestyle choices are costing B.C. taxpayers up to $2 billion a year in extra healthcare costs.

Again, this is not new. Canadians eat in the same way they drink and smoke, not ignorant of the consequences, but wilfully blind to them.

Why? In part, says Lori Smart, a registered dieti-tian with HealthLink B.C., because of the environment in which we eat. Children are bombarded with marketing by purveyors of unhealthy food. It would be great to see the same effort put into getting them to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat. (Note that last year, U.S. lawmakers caved to pressure from the frozen food lobby, and voted to classify pizza and french fries as vegetables, thereby qualifying them for inclusion on federally subsidized school lunch menus.)

But here's the ugly truth: We also eat badly because it tastes good. Government can empty school junk food machines, ban trans fats or, in the case of New York City, outlaw the sale of giant containers of pop, but no matter how often Big Mother urges us to eat quinoa, or compost, or whatever, it will never make us drool like bacon.

In 2001, after I wrote a column making fun of PETA's attempts to wean Canadians off the traditional Thanksgiving bird, the organization sent me a free Tofurky, dared me to test-drive it, which I did (keeping a Big Mac at hand in case of allergic reaction). In fairness, it was better than expected - but you could also say that of a prostate exam. It wasn't turkey.

Perhaps, this being Thanksgiving, we should just be grateful that we have this problem. The wealthier the country, the fatter its people. (Maclean's magazine this week reported on the obesity crisis in the Middle East's oil states, which now have five of the world's Top 10 countries for diabetes prevalence.)

But living in a land of plenty doesn't mean we should eat it all at once.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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