Posted by: Bill Tracy | November 26, 2014

Food Fights

Jesus (George Carlin) has returned. Asked about the miracle of the loaves & fishes, he says: Well, technically that one wasn’t a miracle, it turns out a lot of people were putting them back.


It’s nearly 20 years now since the great battle of the turkey bowl. It was a David versus Goliath contest. I challenged a large corporation that had scheduled a “turkey bowling” event just before the Thanksgiving holiday. The plan was to clear out their employee cafeteria and slide frozen turkeys across the smooth linoleum toward plastic beverage bottles in a conventional 10-pin formation. There would be scoring – and so, winners and losers. The winners would be celebrated. Losers get nothing. After the fun was over, the battered and partially defrosted turkey bodies were to be given to poor people who couldn’t afford to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving. So kind of them to share the leftovers of their entertainment. I was angry. The whole thing was callous and demeaning. So I summoned what remained of my youthful idealism and energy and decided to stop the event.

My "talisman" from the battle of the turkey bowl. It decorated a holiday cake and I've kept it as a symbol all these years. (The cranberries are new!)

My “talisman” from the battle of the turkey bowl. It decorated a holiday cake and I’ve kept it as a symbol all these years. (The cranberries are new!)

Maybe it has something to do with being told as a child, “Don’t play with your food.” I don’t know for sure why, but I believe food that provides continued life to human beings deserves respect. Even more so when that “food” was once a living being. Turkeys that would surely prefer to have continued living had given up their lives so that humans could live. Many people don’t think the life of a turkey matters much. It matters that it is a life, a living thing. When one of the people who thinks a turkey life doesn’t matter shows me they can create a live turkey all on their own, then I’ll listen to their argument. In the meantime, I think it’s appropriate to show respect to the body of a once living creature that will provide us sustenance and enable our lives to go on.

When confronting an opponent as heinous as turkey bowling first task is to raise an army, so to speak. I recruited people who agreed with my position and were willing to oppose the corporation – putting their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line as it were. That big corporation could have gotten out of sorts at any time and just fired us all. Once assembled, our little army petitioned the corporation directly, a first engagement of the struggle. As corporations do, it deflected our petition — referring us to a sort of “employee social activities committee” or some such body of volunteer employees. They were the ones who could make a recommendation that such an event would go on or would not. It was sort of the corporation’s supreme court of turkey bowling, I suppose.

Wild turkeys on the street where I lived in Sutter Creek, California (2007)

Wild turkeys on the street where I lived in Sutter Creek, California (2007)

Our strategy employed a classic pincer movement. On one flank, we used a public appeal to all employees, seeking to turn them toward more respectful sources of entertainment. On the other, we vigorously lobbied the justices of the turkey bowling supreme court. We developed personalized letters and hand-delivered them with invitations to meet and discuss the issue. I provided each with a portion of an audio story told by Garrison Keillor in one of his Lake Wobegone episodes. That scene was a hog butchering on the farm, and a youngster was brought up sharply when he did not show proper respect for the animals that were giving their lives so humans could live and prosper.

Tensions rose. Perhaps the majority of employees resented having their fun questioned. The supreme court had meetings to determine what to do. Management soon began to see the whole thing as a morale issue; they didn’t care for it. We were asked to back off, surrender actually. As the commander, I refused surrender. I did give them a seeming concession. I assured them I would not go outside the corporation – that I would not involve news media. The implication, of course, was that we had considered such a thing, and I think such a possibility terrified corporate management. Activity on the battlefield cooled for a few days. Suddenly, everything went silent. No one would say anything.

The whole, sad affair ended not with the bang, but instead a whimper. Turkey bowling day came and went, and turkey bowling never happened. No one ever said another word about it. The corporation wimped out, and we let them skulk away.

What "competitive eating" looks like -- public gluttony. Image from Public Broadcasting System

What “competitive eating” looks like — public gluttony. Image from Public Broadcasting System

That battle was won, but unfortunately, the war goes on. Once in a while I hear or see something about a turkey bowling event in the news. I don’t imagine it can be stamped out in a country where they shoot hot dogs at people in baseball stadiums and think that’s entertainment. But when it came my way, I stepped up and took a stand. Decent people should stand up against this, but then there is so much that is worse – where to start? This has become a country where even decent people have been deluded into believing we must accept children being shot and killed in schools to preserve our “freedom.” Maybe respect for food isn’t our highest priority, but we should keep it in mind during our Thanksgiving rituals.

What Thanksgiving should look like.

What Thanksgiving should look like.

Heinous as turkey bowling is I’ve recently learned of something even more revolting. On Saturday, November 22, Joseph C. Chestnut, age 31 ate 10 pounds of turkey, an entire bird, in 10 minutes to win a turkey eating contest. This “champion” received a $500 prize. The Associated Press report calls him a “competitive eater,” and he is ranked number one in the competitive eating milieu. There is even a governing body for this celebration of gluttony – the International Federation of Competitive Eating, founded in 1997. I suppose if everyone in this country had all the food they wanted to eat I might not find this quite as troubling. Gluttony is still gluttony, and celebrating it seems at least borderline evil, but if no one was going hungry, it would be one of those crimes that only harmed those participating. Unfortunately, here in one of the world’s richest countries, there are 15 million children who never know for sure if they’ll get another meal. I cannot begin to comprehend how we can accept gluttony as wholesome, family-style entertainment and yet not find a way to make sure children can have enough to eat.

Also troubling in the land of plenty are the incidents of people trying to feed hungry people and being targeted by local governments for doing so. Sharon Carter, in Kent, Washington, has been told by the government to stop giving away food out of her home. She has run an informal food bank in her home for six years. Now the government doesn’t like the traffic on her street so hungry people will have to stay hungry. Meanwhile, “competitive eaters” win cash prizes for eating too much food!

Professional chef Arnold Abbott jailed for giving good to hungry people on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. The 90-year-old WWII vet says he will continue to feed hungry people.

Professional chef Arnold Abbott jailed for giving good to hungry people on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. The 90-year-old WWII vet says he will continue to feed hungry people. Image from

The most outrageous case is ongoing in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A 90-year-old veteran of World War II, Arnold Abbott, has been feeding homeless people on the beach since 1999. He is a professional chef, and at one point he sued the city for the right to do it. Now they’re saying he’s a criminal and has been cited three times. He’s facing 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, yet he is undeterred. He told the local newspaper, “We will continue as long as there is breath in my body.” Meanwhile the “competitive eaters” and turkey bowlers make a mockery of food and pretend it is sport.

Thanksgiving is this week. If you’re fortunate enough to sit with friends and family over sufficient and good food for all, be more than grateful. Be concerned. Have concern for members of our human family who do not have food they can be thankful for and can never be sure of another meal coming their way. And then, do something to help if you can. And please have the decency and humanity to call “competitive eating” what it really is – the ugly sin of gluttony.



  1. Thanks again Bill,….and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours………Joe&Lorece

  2. Way to go, Bill……Happy Thanksgiving!!

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