Those of us with any experience cooking Thanksgiving dinner already know how to avoid undercooked turkeys and overstuffed in-laws. We’ve earned our stripes stuffing, basting, roasting, carving — and relegating a few unlucky guests to the kids’ table. But here’s a new hassle to add to this year’s list. Animal-rights activists promise to turn the traditional holiday meal into a three-ring circus.

Americans living in the real world may be stunned to learn that serving a plump bird to eager relatives marks them as cruel Neanderthals with a severe compassion deficiency. Even if your idea of “killing” a turkey is forgetting the meat thermometer, animal-rights radicals say the mere act of buying one is brutish and nasty.

But take comfort — in just a few weeks we can start absorbing animal-rights guilt trips about our Christmas hams.

One group of meat-hating activists has circulated a phony “letter to the editor” that it hopes will be placed in dozens of newspapers (each with a different signature, of course). Turkeys “just want to be loved,” the letter reads. “Spend some time with a turkey and you’ll understand.”

I’ve seen turkeys up close. They live up to their rep. They’re weak, slow, fat, and not very agile. And they can’t fly. There’s an urban legend about turkeys being so stupid that they often look up at the sky with their mouths open, fascinated by raindrops, until they drown. Exaggerated? Maybe. But the turkey is no bald eagle.

Tell that to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The group is fond of loudly complaining about churches that hold turkey dinners for their congregations. “Jesus was a vegetarian,” they cry. Funny how those loaves and fishes never make it onto PETA’s website.

This is the same PETA whose campaigns compare meat-eaters to Nazis and Klansmen. No kidding. PETA also believes milk is an instrument of child abuse, and has spent tens of thousands of dollars defending arson and terrorism suspects. Yet somehow, when a little bit of dark meat is at stake, the group finds religion.

The website of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) encourages Americans to “appreciate the sacrifice” of Thanksgiving turkeys by eating a vegetarian meal instead. HSUS is a $95 million lobbying group. It’s not related in any way to your local “humane society.”

Last year HSUS installed its very first “vegan” president. Think “vegetarian” with a cape and tights. He doesn’t wear leather, go fishing, eat meat, drink milk, or even take honey in his tea (owing, I suppose, to the oppression of worker bees). His group also apparently has no problem with cheapening the term “sacrifice” so close to Veterans Day.

Not to be outdone, an organization called Farm Sanctuary is asking Americans to adopt live turkeys into their homes. Thrifty carnivores beware: You have to prove you’re a strict vegetarian to get a free bird. The group also has a program, modeled after the save-the-children campaign, urging you to “sponsor” a turkey. In exchange for money, you get a picture and profile of “your” bird.

Farm Sanctuary doesn’t promise regular letters from these farm animals, but I say if a chicken can play tic-tac-toe, a turkey should be able to scratch out a postcard twice a year.

Animal-rights fanaticism seems to know no bounds. Two months after the 9-11 attacks, as America mourned thousands of lost souls, a group called United Poultry Concerns (no joke) held a “mourning vigil” for dead Thanksgiving turkeys outside a Maryland supermarket. The group’s leader later wrote that Osama Bin Laden’s attack actually “reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world,” since the people killed in the World Trade Center would otherwise have continued to eat poultry.

In any other social movement this absurd rhetoric would have made big news. But in the context of today’s animal-rights death threats, pipe bombs, and arson fires, hardly anyone noticed.

Each November when the President ceremonially declares that at least one Washington turkey will be safe for a while, some of us hope that the “pardoned” bird winds up stuffed and dripping with gravy anyway. Like the Pilgrims, we’re a frugal people. Waste not, want not.

Besides, despite the earnest rantings of PETA activists and their friends, there’s a word for Thanksgiving Day without turkey. It’s called “Thursday.”

However you cook it, enjoy your bird. It’ll drive ‘em nuts.

David Martosko is Director of Research at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choice. To learn