Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving without blinders...

Turkeys, like other animals unfortunate enough to please the human palate, are born to be forcibly impregnated, grow impossibly huge in the briefest amount of time possible, get wedged into a crowded, horrid place and are then killed, plucked, decapitated, plastic-wrapped, sometimes frozen, shipped and consumed in quick order. They are born for the sole purpose of being slaughtered in a hurry, to be literally served on a platter. They are stuffed with wild rice or dried bread or even oysters, they are basted in their own oils and they are roasted until golden, until the little plastic thermometer pops out, until the timer goes off. Limbs are removed and their flesh is carved until just the skeleton of a once-living bird remains. On Thanksgiving alone in this country, 46 million birds’ corpses are said to symbolize the spirit of the day and as such are expected to evoke warm feelings of gratitude, blessings and togetherness.

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.


  1. It's reasons like this why I enjoy your blog so much! And this won't be nearly as eloquent, but I remember eating turkeys at Thanksgiving (years ago now), and not even making the connection between them and other living, feeling beings. Of course a part of me knew I was eating an animal, but it's amazing, the power of denial.

    Of all of the holidays, Thanksgiving is one of the hardest for me to deal with now. The dead bird in the room is so blatant and sad, maybe more shocking since I live in vegan happy land the rest of the year. I just think, how come no one else sees this? How come no one else looks at this animal and feels sadness? It's just so tiring to be hunky-dory when your heart is aching.

    I definitely envy you for having a vegan Thanksgiving, and I'm contemplating starting up some new, happier traditions in the coming years. :)

  2. Fortunately, in the UK, we do not have Thanksgiving and do not have to worry about family celebrations till next month. Well, I am fortunate in not having to worry about my family, but not everyone is so fortunate. I do sponsor a turkey on behalf of myself and a family member.

  3. Allysia, thank you so much and I think you perfectly spoke to how it feels to be the vegan at a Thanksgiving meal. Just painful. The power of denial is strong, indeed. I do definitely recommend getting a vegan celebration going. Thanksgiving used to be my most dreaded, loathed holiday of the year. Now that I have this vegan celebration, it's my most anticipated after Halloween. (Although it pains me to think of what's happening that I've excused myself from witnessing.) For the first four years or so, we did both: our vegan Thanksgiving and then the "regular" one. Over the years, it became clear that the turkey-eaters would prefer to not have us around on this day either, so it was a win-win just to have our vegan one. Best of luck to you in creating meaningful celebrations that you enjoy, Allysia. I'm excited for you!

  4. I always love hearing about your traditions, Vanilla Rose. Sponsoring a turkey is a great tradition, one we do as well.

  5. I'm not going to a vegan Thanksgiving but I have family members nice enough to be bringing some vegan dishes for my boyfriend and I and I probably won't be circling around to watch the bird be cut. Your blogs are so beautiful and true and it's great to hear that others are as compassionate and care as much as us other empathetic vegans!

  6. This post was a fantastic read, and a fantastic way for me to be introduced to your blog.
    Beautifully worded, and 100% correct. I don't really understand the Thanksgiving thing, but that's because I've never celebrated one. It simply doesn't exist in Australia. That said, I can relate in terms of painful Christmas dinners and Sam Kekovich shouting at me through the TV screen every Australia Day, claiming that I am somehow "un-Australian" because I don't eat lamb on this ridiculous occasion.

    Congratulations on a fantastic post.


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