In a fascinating personal opinion article, the vicar of Godshill, Father John Ryder, explains why he's talking turkey, but not eating it this December 25…or at any other time of the year.

The article was supplied to the County Press by animal welfare organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"On Christmas Day, many thousands of families around the UK will slip on their paper hats, pull a cracker with a tablemate, and tear into a roasted turkey who was slaughtered for nothing more than a fleeting taste of flesh.

Can this really be the centrepiece of a celebration which marks the coming of God to Earth as a man, the season of goodwill to all?

It is certainly not a necessary, nor a very old custom. Many saints throughout the ages – starting with Paul of Tarsus – have eschewed the eating of meat. And more recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated the question of animal treatment is a crucial one for the faithful. By any measure, what happens to farmed animals today is anti-Christian. As His Holiness explained when speaking about birds on factory farms, "[They] live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds." This "degrading of living creatures," he said, "contradict[s] the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."

It doesn't take much reflection to see he is right. Turkeys, including those destined to be killed for Christmas dinner, can experience affection and many other emotions. They are curious, intelligent, playful individuals with unique personalities. I have had the privilege of knowing a few personally, who have been brought to church for pet services or who have been nursed through an illness by parishioners who didn't want to leave them alone while coming to church. They are gentle beings but also brave, doing what they can to protect other turkeys – and humans – with whom they have bonded.

God designed turkeys to run, fly (yes, wild turkeys can fly), roost in trees, and play with one another. God designed them to make nests, lay eggs, raise their young, and establish communities. Yet on today's factory farms, they are denied the fulfilment of their most fundamental needs. With few exceptions, their entire lives are stressful, painful and degrading, and their deaths are often even worse. Anyone who needs confirmation of the sickening circumstances of turkeys' lives can go to the Viva! and PETA websites to learn more.

Scripture is full of calls for us to be merciful, and Jesus' message is one of love and compassion; yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about the industries that farm animals and turn them into meat. In the UK alone, some 20 million turkeys are slaughtered annually, about a third for the Christmas table. This mass killing is surely inconsistent with the teachings of a God who loves the world enough to have been born as one of us and to have suffered and died for us.

While compassion is my main motivation for not eating meat, there is more: the farming of animals for food accelerates climate change far more than the car you drive; meat, especially factory-farmed meat, is bad for human health; and meat production deprives the poor of food, as it takes up so much more land, water, and energy than plant-based alternatives. Given these scientific facts, it is not surprising that in the Book of Genesis, God gives us a vegan diet. What is surprising is that Genesis was written millennia before these scientific facts were ever postulated, let alone substantiated – proof to me of their divine inspiration.

Fortunately, we have a choice when we sit down to eat on Christmas Day (or any day): we can support violence by eating meat, or we can choose kindness and compassion by rejecting it. The decision should be an easy one for all of us. And it is not a sacrifice.

A vegan diet is not only more compassionate and healthier than meat, it also can and should be much tastier."