Isabella Colbdorf feeds salad to a turkey at this year's Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony in Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, on Nov. 20, 2011.
Isabella Colbdorf feeds salad to a turkey at this year's Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony in Watkins Glen, in upstate New York, on Nov. 20, 2011. Emma Jacobs/WRVO
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.