Saturday, November 21, 2009

Excellent!! Gobblers are guests, not fare, at vegans' Thanksgiving spread

Gobblers are guests, not fare, at vegans' Thanksgiving spread
By Virginia Kopas Joe or 724-837-1725
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, November 24, 2003

Talk about turning the tables. At this Thanksgiving feast, Tom Turkey gets served dinner with all the trimmings.

Welcome to a vegan holiday at the OohMahNee Farm Animal Sanctuary in Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County. Yesterday, 150 guests fed the fowl and sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner that promoted the sanctuary as much as the vegan lifestyle of its activists. Vegans do not eat meat or dairy products.

Based on their strut, the plump poultry, with names such as Tom and Gertrude, seemed to appreciate their version of paradise as they ate both people food and grain from the outstretched arms of visitors.

"I realize that the turkey breast, turkey leg and wing that everyone wants causes incredible suffering to a living animal," said Mia Branthoover of Pittsburgh, who made the hour drive east from Downtown yesterday.

It might be politically incorrect to say that the poultry and people diners pigged out, but they did fill up on a vegan dinner that looked and tasted like traditional Thanksgiving fare, but without meat, dairy products, honey or animal-based flavorings.

The, uh, meat of yesterday's menu -- enjoyed by human and animal alike -- was a product called seitan. Wheat gluten-based, the seitan was stir-fried and served with gravy made of arrow root and cornstarch. There also were mashed potatoes with margarine, lots of vegetables, and pumpkin pie.

Shelter founder Cayce Mell said the feast also was a chance for the community to learn what goes on at the place with the funny name. Mell founded OohMahNee, a play on the word "humane,'' in 1995 to rescue and rehabilitate farm animals, as well as to promote the vegan lifestyle.

There are more than 700 chickens and turkeys and another collection of about 700 cows, pigs, rabbits and sheep enjoying old age at the shelter. Volunteers rescued them all from the slaughterhouse.

"These are beings,'' she said with conviction. "It's not called a leg, a wing, a breast for nothing.''

She believes that animals, on the planet long before man, have a natural evolution that shouldn't include a trip to the dinner table.

"Your compassion shouldn't end at your species,'' Mell said.

Indeed, the farm animals at OohManNee live a in a virtual Eden. They roam free on more than 230 acres of fenced-in land and are fed grain and leftover produce donated by a grocery chain.

They will live out their lives at the non-profit shelter, thanks to the $290,000 annual budget Mell raises through grants, donations, hard work and her vision.

OohManNee has six paid staffers, and the site includes 12 barns, a makeshift office, and an education center in an old farmhouse that contains grisly photographs of animal auctions and slaughterhouses.

Mell, 28, runs it with her husband, Jason Tracy, and the couple live with their son, Aedan, 3, above a garage. The sanctuary has grown from the day the couple took in a handful of abandoned hens.

Mell traces her devotion to animals to her high school days in rural New York when she found her mom crying over a news account of how dogs are treated --- and eaten -- in the Orient. Tracy's interest was local: He grew up around farm animals in Mount Pleasant.

In August, the couple and a dozen volunteers drove to an egg farm in Ohio and picked up 1,048 Rhode Island Reds that an egg producer no longer needed. More than 700 of the hens have been adopted by so-called gentleman farmers and suburbanites who promised to protect them and never put them back in cages.

Yesterday, volunteers promised they will be working for more Thanksgivings for more animals.

"We'll really celebrate on the day when there are more people here than animals,'' Mell said.

Anyone interested in adopting any animals living at OohMahNee should call 724-755-2420. The sanctuary is on Route 819 in Hunker, Mount Pleasant Township. Web site is

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