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Loretta Swit talks turkey in Orland

M*A*S*H star and animal rights activist Loretta Swit emphasizes the need for people to think about what they are eating during a speech at the Farm Sanctuary in Orland on Saturday.

ORLAND - Vegans, activists and an actress from the TV show "M*A*S*H" ate fake turkey at the Farm Sanctuary to encourage people to think about Thanksgiving dinner alternatives.

Close to 250 people went to the sanctuary for the Celebration For the Turkeys, an event to bring attention to the way the birds are raised on farms. Besides the Thanksgiving dinner, the public fed pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce to 36 turkeys rescued from factory farms and livestock auctions.

Turkeys often have their beaks and toes cut off and grow so large their bone structure can't support their bodies, said sanctuary education coordinator Rebekah Taylor.

Loretta Swit, who played Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, said language is power when it comes to making people think about what they eat for dinner.

"We eat steak, not a cow. We eat veal, not baby calves," Swit said to about 80 people Saturday. "We are not born carnivores."

Swit said she wasn't trying to change anyone's lifestyle or eating habits. It's depressing to find people who are willing to listen about how some farm animals are abused.

"You only know what you know," she repeated throughout her speech.

Swit said she handled just about every kind of animal known to man while she was the host of an animal show on the Discovery Channel. She loved every one of them, she said.

"You find out there's a lot of cruelty," she said, "and if you care enough, you make a difference."

Swit said she didn't know Gary Burghoff, who played Cpl. Walter "Radar" O'Reilly on "M*A*S*H", lived in Paradise. After the event she planned to try to get a hold of him, she said.

Taylor, who has worked at the sanctuary for two years, said about 45 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving.

Since 1986, the Orland sanctuary and the sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., have saved almost 1,000 turkeys with the help of people who paid $20 to adopt the birds. People from as far as Los Angeles and Arizona come to the sanctuary to eat.

"It's a Thanksgiving tradition," she said. "They care about animals and come to celebrate."

The sanctuary gives people the opportunity to see turkeys as they would want to live, Taylor said.

"They are thinking, feeling creatures," she said. "They're sensitive."

The sanctuary seeks to educate people and have them consider animal issues, she said.

Scott Jason can be reached at

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