Posted by: Bill Tracy | February 18, 2010

Wise Elder or Old Fogy?

Our human ancestors at one time were probably the eaten as much as they were the eaters. More prey than predator. Hunger drove them skulking out of their hideouts to scavenge whatever food would stave off starvation. Unlike the predators of the time, they had neither strength nor means to kill animals for meat. Cleverly, they created primitive tools that allowed them to crack open the bones left behind after the kill was eaten. Our ancestors got to the marrow, and that fed their brain development over time; we’ve never looked back. Two million years later we are the apex predator on the planet. The big brain won. We kill and eat whatever we like.

Wild Turkeys

Wild turkeys in the street at Sutter Creek, CA. Let's see someone explain "turkey bowling" to them.

Today we play with our food. We farm turkeys, slaughter them with pinpoint mechanical precision, freeze them and eat at our leisure. Some people however, have found these frozen turkey objects can be used as bowling balls in the so-called “sport” of “turkey bowling.” The Wikipedia entry offers this definition: “Turkey bowling is a sport which is based on ordinary bowling: a frozen turkey serves as a bowling ball and 10 plastic bottles of soft drinks or water are the bowling pins. The turkey is bowled down a smooth surface, for example, ice.” They don’t say anything about shoe rental. Seems maybe ostrich-skin boots might be appropriate.

I believe this “turkey bowling” is wrong. More emphatically I think it’s reprehensible, wicked, perhaps even potentially evil. Yet, even at that level of revulsion, I did not go after the “turkey bowlers.” They came after me. And a great battle ensued.

The battle played out in the corporate committees and employee lounges of a medium-sized U.S. business. A company of the young and for the young, its culture required that workers have fun on the job. Toys of every sort were available; Frisbees, Nerf balls, balloons and foam aircraft flew in workrooms, lounges and hallways. The fun came from knowing there would never be a scheduled flight – it was all just the most spontaneous of good clean fun. The mandate for fun was a standing item on management meeting agendas and budgets.

Turkey Cake

This decorative plastic turkey topped a cake I bought around Thanksgiving during the year of the "turkey bowling" battle. I've had it ever since and I drag it out every year to commemorate our small victory.

One autumn month in the late nineties when I worked and played in this corporate experiment, an exciting new upcoming event was announced. Just before Thanksgiving the employees were invited to compete in a “turkey-bowling tournament.” They were going to clear the tables from the employee lunchroom and use the smooth linoleum flooring for the lanes. Teams were being assembled. There was talk of an annual event and even a league forming. I knew nothing of this “sport” at that time and could hardly believe what I was hearing. A few probing questions revealed there was a “humanitarian” aspect to this event – they were going to give the turkeys to a homeless shelter when they were done playing with them. So, they weren’t even going to play with their own food, they were going to play with the food of people too poor to buy their own. This sent my social justice sensibilities to red alert, and I decided this was not going to happen.

I had not spent 10 years in the Washington of Ronald Reagan without learning a few things about politics. First I formed a coalition. There were other people who viewed this as blatant disrespect of turkeys and/or poor people. We organized. We developed a position with a strong foundation respecting life. We presented our position and were met with something between annoyance and contempt. How dare we question the good clean fun! As diplomatically as possible (I was an employee here.) I told management I was simply not going to permit this to happen and that I would do whatever it took, short of going to the public media to stop it. (For the politically unschooled, raising the media issue by saying you won’t use them is a veiled threat in itself.)

This company had poor people working for it. Somehow that made me even angrier and more determined. I knew a couple of employees who were homeless; some nights they got away with sleeping on a sofa in the employee lounge. If you got to work early enough, you were their alarm clock. There was a time when I first started working there I was in dire straits myself. I had days when I didn’t have food to bring for lunch, and I’d look longingly at the vending machines in the lounge wishing I had the 50 cents for peanut butter crackers. While I have never starved I do know something of what it’s like to be hungry and have to go without for a while.

I had heard Garrison Keillor tell a story about a farmer slaughtering pigs on his farm and the respect that went along with that act. Keillor talked about being a young boy watching the slaughtering. At one point he began throwing stones at the pigs to see them react. This angered the farmer who grabbed him and scowled, “’If I ever see you do that again I’ll beat you ’till you can’t stand up, you hear?’ And we heard. I knew the anger had to do with the slaughter, that it was a ritual that had to be done as a ritual. It was done swiftly, and there was no foolishness. No joking around. With respect for the animals that would become our food. The throwing stones at a pig violated the ceremony, and this ritual, which they went through.” Our rebel coalition made audiotapes of this story and gave them to all employees on committees overseeing this event. We printed and widely distributed pamphlets, fliers, etc. explaining that “turkey bowling” was a disrespect of the animal that had given its life to feed us. I wondered in print how anyone would explain the big bruises on a turkey on their holiday table? Hard to justify it by bragging how you got a 7-10 split with it.

The battle raged for weeks. The army of fun and frolic had the weapons of authority and power. They were an empire that had never even been questioned, let alone defeated. We upstart rebels imagined we had right on our side. Our only tool was public opinion, and we did our best to convince battlers and onlookers alike. In the end it looked bleak. Management simply went silent. Employees mostly seemed irritated at the whole controversy.

I’d like to say the other side surrendered, that we won a decisive victory. However, it ended, truly not with a bang but a whimper. Signs for the event were simply taken down. It stopped being talked about. No one said it had been cancelled; it was like it had never been scheduled to begin with. The whole thing was deleted from the corporate history books. And as long as I was there, the subject never came up again.

commemorative turkey

My commemorative turkey on an outing in Angels camp, CA.

The real unresolved question for me has to do with how both sides came to take their positions. I can say for myself I was surely influenced by having heard that Garrison Keillor story. I was influenced by having worked with poor people in shelters and soup kitchens. I believe they suffer enough indignity without the more fortunate person playing games with the food before giving it to them. More than anything that got me worked up into raging resentment about the whole thing. How the other side came to their position I don’t know. I don’t believe they were being deliberately disrespectful or uncaring. I think it was probably more thoughtlessness than anything, but who really knows.

There are times when I see myself in that story as a wise elder, teaching respect for life. Other times I just see myself as an old fogy who ruined the good clean fun. Either way the question would probably never have come up if our ancestors hadn’t been smart enough to get to the marrow the predators left behind.

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Responses

  1. Wise elder. I think turkey bowling is reprehensible. I also think we shouldn’t eat meat unless we absolutely have to, and then it should be done with the utmost respect for the animal.

  2. Just recently I saw a photo somewhere of people turkey bowling and I recoiled at the idea: what disrespect for an animal’s body, and what a waste of food! It never occurred to me that the battered corpses would still be considered suitable for food. I’m glad to hear you resisted that form of “fun” where you worked.


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