Thursday, November 11, 2010
Thanksgiving without blinders...
I apologize if this sounds strident or condescending, but this is what happens on Thanksgiving, right?
Is it really so strange that vegans look at the world, at the accepted norms and values around us, with an outsider’s perspective of incredulity and dismay? We have this built-in refractive lens, cultivated over years or in one big epiphany that changes us forever, a lens that makes it impossible to see what others may take as a birthright and accept it as the truth. We have a different sort of vision and sometimes it renders us pretty incapable of feigning otherwise. This isn’t always so. Speaking personally, it is often the fact that I can put blinders on that makes life manageable. Those blinders are not always reliable, though.
Sometimes when someone is eating an ice cream cone, I see dairy cows in confinement, their babies wrenched away and milk stolen. I cannot help it; it’s not that I want to see that. There are times when I’m on the train and I see fur trim on the coat of a fellow passenger, and all I can think is miserytorturedeath until I can find something to distract myself with instead or one of us gets off the train, whatever happens first. I go to my son’s school sometimes and the smell from the cafeteria immediately brings to mind crowded broiler hens with their beaks seared off. I don’t want my mind to go there, I’ve tried to train myself over the years to do anything but think of it, but sometimes I cannot control these gut reactions. They’re honest responses to a violent world I can’t pretend doesn’t exist and doesn’t affect me.
People who ask vegans to not know and feel what we know and feel are asking us to be complicit in a lie, in a crazy-making mass deception that says that what is plainly obvious does not really exist, and if it really does exist, it’s not so awful. Speaking of it is far worse.
Around the Thanksgiving table this year, many of us will be told in subtle and overt ways to muffle what we know and just play along with the annual charade society has created around the holiday. We are the minority in our families and in our communities: we are the ones who need to make the accommodations. That is not a dead bird on the table: it is a symbol of our family bond, of our blessings. The happiness of the event depends on us maintaining the lie, averting our eyes and just getting over it already. Even if you don’t eat parts carved off the dead bird, you should smile and be nice. In such situations, it’s impossible for me to not think of an abusive alcoholic who insisted that his family pretend that everything was acceptable and okay.
It is not acceptable and okay. It’s also no surprise that every year around this time, things start boiling up more than usual between herbivores and omnivores. It is just damn hard to pretend to not see what one does.
This doesn’t mean that the vegans at these countless Thanksgiving meals need to be rude or standoffish. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to force everyone in attendance to watch Meet Your Meat. It means that we’ve already determined that we’re not going to play along with this lie that everything is all right. Most of us will white-knuckle it and power through, concentrating on our beautiful side dishes, trying to not look up too much. Others of us are able to truly disengage and close ourselves off, feeling not much.
This year, as I’ve been doing for many years, I am fortunate enough to be going to a vegan Thanksgiving celebration. No one will ask me to be complicit in a lie. I will not ruin the day for refusing to “take just one bite and make everyone happy.” It will not be implied that I am a ridiculous extremist for maintaining my convictions, even on Thanksgiving. It will not be implied that I’m selfish for being the way I am, the way that feels right to me. I will not be resented for being the elephant in the room, and I will not resent others. I will laugh and enjoy myself and eat without judgment.
It will be a day of true gratitude and love, consistent with the true spirit of Thanksgiving.