BISMARCK, N.D. Francis the turkey was at Sara Gunhus' house for Thanksgiving but fortunately for Francis in spirit only.
Francis' physical self was happily trotting and gobbling on an East Coast farm, while the dinnerware clinked, the conversation flowed and the vegetables and tofu were passed at Gunhus' Grand Forks home.
Thanks to the $15 that Gunhus spent to ''adopt'' the turkey three years ago, Francis will never end up on a dinner platter on the fourth Thursday of November.
Since finding a brochure in a ''tofurkey'' a turkey-shaped tofu loaf in 2000, Gunhus has adopted more than half a dozen turkeys for herself and family members through the ''Adopt-A-Turkey Project.'' It is run by Farm Sanctuary, a New York-based nonprofit group dedicated to protecting farm animals.
Francis, her first adoptee, is her favorite.
''It just seemed like a good idea,'' said Gunhus, 29, an accountant and vegetarian. ''They have a whole bunch you can pick from. You pay $15, they send you a picture and a little adoption certificate.
''For Christmas, everyone (in her family) got a framed picture of a turkey ... in their stockings,'' she said. ''It's kind of a joke in our house now. It was definitely a memorable gift. Nobody's ever forgotten their turkey.''
Thousands of people nationwide have taken part in the program since its inception in 1986, either by physically adopting a turkey or sponsoring one of the birds, as Gunhus did, said Lorri Bauston, Farm Sanctuary executive director.
The program helps people see turkeys as living, breathing animals, she said.
''Turkeys are very affectionate and enjoy human companionship,'' Bauston said. ''The turkeys at our shelter like to cuddle with people, and one turkey would give visitors a 'turkey hug' by pressing her chest against people and stretching her head and neck over their shoulders.''
Mike Halvorson, president of the North Dakota Turkey Federation, said farmers do not view programs such as the one operated by Farm Sanctuary as a threat to turkey consumption.
But they can be an annoyance, the Tolna farmer said.
''Where we get concerned or it starts to bother us is when it starts to put us in a bad light,'' he said. ''We're raising turkeys to feed people. If you took all the meat off the market today, you'd have a lot of people it doesn't matter if they have money or not that would be going hungry.''
Halvorson joked that adopting an East Coast turkey is ''like buying a star in the sky.''
Gunhus sees it differently, though she doesn't take the turkey adoption program too seriously. She has sponsor-adopted two turkeys for herself, and cannot remember the name of the second one.
''That's pretty sad,'' she said, laughing.
The Thanksgiving meal at Gunhus' house this year even included a gobbler, brought by family members.
''I don't want someone telling me I have to eat meat, so I don't want to be preachy with other people,'' Gunhus said.
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