Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ye Olde Thanksgiving Post...

Well, after last week’s wrist-slashingly fun jaunt through the interior landscape of my inner torment, I figured it was time for a more light-hearted post. That seems to be how I roll around these parts: from deep despair, examining and exposing old scars, to silly posts about, say, decomposing bananas. (No, that was never a metaphor.) As November is World Vegan Month – and, perhaps intentionally – also the month in which countless herbivores can expect to be thoroughly traumatized around the Thanksgiving table as a stuffed turkey corpse is carved and consumed before our very eyes, yes, it is time for one of my funny posts. Where others would zig, I zag. I will wear you down with my charm, damn it.

Thanksgiving. Back when I was a nascent vegetarian clad in black from head-to-toe (as opposed to my Technicolor wardrobe of today), I was welcomed at the annual Thanksgiving meal with as much enthusiasm as a, I don’t know, fundamentalist at an orgy. (Perhaps that is not an apt metaphor because it seems that the more puritanically repressed one is in his beliefs, the more sexually perverse he is, so, really, a fundamentalist at an orgy is probably quite a natural thing.) (You get what I mean, though, right?) Or maybe a librarian at a book burning is better? There I was, at fifteen or sixteen or seventeen, practically spraining my pupils by rolling my eyes so vigorously at my uncle’s bad and inappropriately ribald jokes – same as the previous year - hearing the chorus of Meat Is Murder by The Smiths play over and over in my head as that electric carving knife buzzed away in the kitchen, trying to not imagine the deepening carnage in there. I would steadfastly avoid the kitchen and fill my plate with Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce, I’d avoid all eye contact and pay attention to my plate alone but, inevitably, someone, usually Mrs. Brown, our family friend from across the street, would bring it up.

“So, dolly, you’re still a vegetarian?”

I’d nod, keep my eyes downward, maybe smile a little to be nice, imagine that if I stared at my Brussels sprout intently enough that she would move on to something else. She wouldn’t.

“You can’t make an exception just for one day?”

I’d shake my head, my inner-voice chanting, “Please move on...please move on…”

One year, this was the detour:

“You can’t even eat the stuffing?”

“I’m okay.” Furtive, even conspiratorial, glances were exchanged around the table and my brother snickered as everyone relived the previous Thanksgiving, the year of The Great Stuffing Deception Debacle. Although my mother cooked stuffing as a side dish in its own pan (in addition to that which was stuffed into the turkey’s anal cavity, mmm) I had been thoroughly traumatized to discover chunks of turkey in this allegedly meatless dish, prepared Just For Me, concealed like landmines under the soft bread cubes and chopped celery.

“Oh, come on! It’s ninety percent vegetarian,” my mother said at the time, which was scant consolation. She looked around the room for validation. As the horror registered upon my face, turkey chunk on my fork and held as far from away from my body as my arm could stretch, she said defensively, “I can’t keep up with what is and isn’t vegetarian,” as if objecting to chunks of meat in a “vegetarian” dish is such an arbitrary, personal opinion. Finally, in exasperation, she said those eternal words that grind away at vegetarians like a set of monstrous molars: Just eat around it.

So, no, no stuffing ever again unless it was prepared by my own hands. The following year, I was deeply engaged in cutting a Brussels sprout, but Mrs. Brown was nothing if not persistent.

“You’ve got such a nice figure, dolly. You don’t need to be a vegetarian.”

There was now a bright pink cloud of self-conscious embarrassment where my face once was but I tried to carry on. Still, I couldn’t leave it at this.

“That’s not why I’m a vegetarian,” I mumbled into my plate.

“What’s that, sweetie?”

“That’s not why I’m a vegetarian,” I said more forcefully and at this point it was certain that everyone was watching us. “To lose weight.”

“Oh? Than why are you? Tell me,” she said, patting my hand.

I sighed. “Because I don’t like to eat animals.” Looking up, I saw the other diners all around us, some in mid-chew, some cutting the turkey on their plate, some self-conscious and at least one (my brother) clearly entertained, practically rubbing his hands together in glee.

“Dolly,” Mrs. Brown tried to explain patiently, like I was some particularly naive visitor from a different dimension, “turkeys are so stupid, they’re not even animals. They're not like dogs and cats. They’re practically vegetables themselves. This is why vegetarians can eat birds: they’re that dumb!” she’d giggle and pretty soon the attention would be off me again, thankfully - it was at that moment when I would briefly feel the spirit of gratitude associated with Thanksgiving - until the next year, when the whole basic scene would repeat itself.

Thanksgiving is often truly dreadful for those who ethically abstain from eating meat, and if it weren’t horrible just by itself, we’re all Post-Traumatic Stress Disordered from the previous years. No wonder all the vegans have an escape plan mapped out in our minds complete with dash marks and arrows out the door (or windows for those really desperate occasions). So, as a little goodwill gesture to all involved, I thought I’d write a little something so omnivores might make it easier on the vegans at their Thanksgiving table this year. Perhaps most helpfully, this can all pretty much be applied for any of our joint dining experiences. No one will yell at you if you print this out and use it as a cheat sheet. Go ahead.

Points to Remember With Regard To Vegans At A Thanksgiving Table

1. We are not content to “Eat Around It.” Would you eat around nuclear waste? Fecal matter? Most of us see meat as what it is, remains of a dead carcass. I’m not trying to be gross here, but you guys are the ones who eat it, not us, okay?

2. A dead “free-range” (or heritage or Kosher or Halal or anything with a fancier title than your regular ol’ Butterball) turkey is still a dead turkey. This is not a value judgment, it’s a statement of fact. Most of us are not comforted by this but we will nod our heads so we can move on. Can we move on?

3. Do not, I repeat for the love of all that is good and just in the world, do not ask us if we’re concerned about getting enough protein (or iron or anything else related to the quality of our nutrition). We are not concerned because we know more about nutrition than the average person. But we do not want to hear about your neighbor’s second cousin who was vegetarian for a month and her skin turned green and she had to get a blood transfusion and then was on a dialysis machine for a year and now she’s infertile because the story has lost its factual basis at some unknown juncture. We don’t want to argue. We just want to eat in peace.

4. Don’t ask us if we ever get bored being vegan. No, we're bored with being asked this, not by what we eat. Look at your average Thanksgiving plate: there is probably meat, a starch, maybe some peas, a roll. Think of the variety of colors and textures and flavors we can eat. Almost all of those diverse colors and textures and flavors came from plants.

5. Do not say that you could “never” be vegan. Trust me, you could be unless you’re planning to move to Antarctica or something. Do you mean that you would simply perish without animal products? That you would die of despair? I’m guessing that this is an exaggeration. More than likely, you would simply prefer not to be.

6. Now is not the time to tell us that you’re eating less red meat. Red, white, pink, whatever. We are just trying to avert our eyes.

7. Plants feel pain! Not being in possession of a central nervous system, I am skeptical of the claim that plants feel pain and it also seems to be a cruel design if plants possess this degree of sentience but lack any real ability to escape threat. Still, I accept that some people think this but I have to balance that with knowing that we need to eat plants for our very survival. We do not need to eat animal foods for our survival: they are a “want” not a “need.”

8. Family traditions and/or heritage. Yep, your family ate meat at most meals. How strange! So did mine. And his and hers and that other guy’s family and pretty much everyone I know including all the vegans I know. Unless you grew up on an ashram or a hippie household or in India, chances are pretty darn likely that you grew up eating meat, as did your ancestors except for those who were too poor or ravaged by this or that natural disaster to do so. Family traditions and heritage are not destiny and thank goodness for this as slave ownership, abuse and addictions could be considered a natural part of one’s heritage. But let’s say that you feel you would miss something that brings you warm memories from your childhood if you stopped eating animal products. Get creative, do some research and work on a vegan version. But wait: we’re not supposed to be talking about this. I’m trying to eat!

9. Do not make fun of our food, you thoughtless schmuck. Okay, we get it: you don’t like what we eat. (The feeling is mutual.) We understand that you think vegans eat nothing but giant bowls of wilted alfalfa sprouts with sad-faced lentils each day and that we are miserable, deprived, pitiable souls. Then please, stop taking so many servings of what we brought. Really. We’re trying to eat, too. Stop it.

10. Please don’t think the latest diet fad you’re following is similar to us being vegan. Really, if you are on some low-carb-blood-type-Paleo-inspired thingamabob, that’s cool. Well, it’s not, but we don’t really want to talk about it right now. We just want you know that we are eschewing animal products for reasons of compassion and ethics, not because some quack duped us into it as he laughed his way to the bank. Really, my plate of food is truly fascinating and I must fully concentrate on it.

So what is there left to talk about? Are we that defensive and bereft of a sense of humor that we should all be relegated to the children’s table? Of course not.

A Complete List of Perfectly Acceptable Topics For Conversing With Vegans At A Thanksgiving Table

1. That awesome new coconut milk ice cream you just tried.

2. The dog you recently adopted from the local shelter.

3. The weather
4. Something you heard on Air America.

5. The degree to which Ann Coulter/Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck suck.
6. Michael Moore is kind of a posturing windbag. We can agree on this.

7. Brown and pink look very nice together, don’t you think?

8. That guy she ran into who used to be in your class. He got very heavy!
9. We’ll even talk about what we’re really grateful for this year when it’s our turn at the table and we’ll try not to sound all smug about it.

10. Seriously, you can talk to us forever about cookbooks and restaurants and recipes we recommend. We live for this! We will write out by hand memorized recipes and book recommendations and we’ll send you links galore when we get home if that’s what you want.

Most of us are also willing to talk about the reason why were vegan and the horrible reality of animal agriculture, but just not superficially while people are trying to eat so that we can look like the pushy evangelists yet again. Can we talk about it later?

You hold up your end of the deal, and this is what we promise:

1. There will be no red paint throwing on fur coats. Nobody ever really did this anyway.

2. We will not force everyone to watch Meet Your Meat before the football game (we already sent it to everyone’s email via our electronic devices).

3. We will not roll our eyes recklessly. We are allowed one or two good eye rolls, though.

Has this cleared the air? Are we ready to sit together again? Let’s give it a try, Pilgrim.


  1. I'm sick of people saying how they'd "die" without dairy and how I should eat something because it "only has (chicken, fish, egg, etc.) in it, so it's 'meatless'". They all act as if we are deprived, or are ready to tell them what to eat. That is why we only do Thanksgiving (and for that matter all holiday) dinners without the relatives. Then they can stuff their faces with their idea of special foods, and we can have veggie sushi, or whatever we want ;)

  2. It never fails to amuse/horrify me how Thanksgiving, a day of plenty and togetherness, has become an endless exercise in self-restraint and teeth-gritting for people who enjoy the bounties of the plant world while peacefully refraining from destroying sentient life. I'm thrilled that we've moved far enough away from my in-laws that there will never again be a carcass in the middle of our table of gratitude.

    I did finally deal with the holiday issue, however, by providing all of the dishes that my family would eat, with plenty to share. Often my dishes were gone long before the gravy-soaked lumps of white flour and animal flesh. We never had to feel deprived, nobody had to feel sorry for us or self-righteous, and one of the greatest ways to promote vegetarianism is by making fantastic foods that show what a complete lack of deprivation we experience.

  3. You got it, BDC!

    Chandelle, I agree with you one hundred percent but sometimes despite your beautiful dishes, people just want to eat the bird and not have you around. No one complained when we started doing vegan Thanksgiving meals with our friends, and it has Transformed the day from one of my most dreaded days of the year to one of my very favorite.

  4. Oh, I am so with you. I was thrilled when my brother- and sister-in-law went veg - we could have Thanksgiving together every year with nobody to bother us! It was so great. But then we moved away, and we don't have any veggie friends yet (everybody we meet is into Weston Price...sigh). So I've been wondering if we're going to have Thanksgiving at all, since we're all alone. :(

  5. I love this, Marla! Happy story: after my mom read my ranty Thanksgiving blog post, she emailed me to ask if 1) I would be okay seeing a turkey on the table, because she could do without it, but other guests would probably object, and 2) I would help her veganize the side dishes and desserts! I have a fabulous mom.

  6. Awesome, VB! I'm going to read your post now! You're making inroads with your family, for sure. :)

  7. Marla, this is one of the... if not THE... best post I've ever read, on any blog, ever. On Thanksgiving or any other topic, but particularly on Thanksgiving. You have outdone even your own most excellent self with this one! I'm so lucky, I've never had to share a Thanksgiving meal with anyone but my vegan husband or a gathering of mostly vegan friends around an entirely vegan, compassionate, meaningful, fun and tasty vegan spread. And I don't plan to ever have it any other way. I still dread the day because I know what's going on "out there," but I too have grown to love the day inside my own little happy cooking-up-a-storm and snarfing-it-all-up-with-abandon peaceful, gentle world.

    VB, that's great about your mom! My mom always despised Thanksgiving (she'd mutter, "Damned pilgrims, stupid g-d pilgrims!" the whole time she cooked and had to make icky small talk with her in-laws, who were ironically descended from Mayflower pilgrims!) She now eats about a 99% plant-based diet, having cleaned it up significantly in the past year or two. (At age 74... it's NEVER too late, and there's always hope!

    Thanks again, Marla, for all your great posts but especially this one, which is an absolute treasure. This line in particular made me ROTFL! "We understand that you think vegans eat nothing but giant bowls of wilted alfalfa sprouts with sad-faced lentils each day and that we are miserable, deprived, pitiable souls. Then please, stop taking so many servings of what we brought." I've experienced this at many a non-Thanksgiving event (omni pot-lucks and such). It's so true! :-)

  8. P.S. I should have said that I haven't had to share a Thanksgiving meal since becoming vegan with anyone who wasn't like-minded or happy to eat all vegan food. This will be our 15th turkey-free Thanksgiving, and our 10th all-vegan one.

  9. Laloofah, thank you for your very exceedingly generous words. Like you, ever since I started celebrating a vegan Thanksgiving so many years ago has turned the day into one of my very favorites of the year. My son doesn't know any way to celebrate Thanksgiving but with tables overflowing with delicious vegan food. You are a true pioneer, Laloofah!

  10. Wonderful. You have said it so well and so many can relate, I'm sure. I have to give my mother some credit for trying to accommodate me and because of that I don't really have the heart to tell her that many regular margarines are not vegan. She does think that I should be polite and eat whatever I'm given at my mother-in-law's house. Of course I don't. There is a well meant but slightly twisted value in my familyl that might as well be stated as manners before compassion.

  11. Hey, BF, that's really wonderful that your mother is trying to accommodate you. I think your family approach is pretty common. I just think that you don't need to be rude OR compromise your values in this situations. It shouldn't be an either-or situation. And why are people giving avowed vegans animal products? This always confuses me...

  12. We had a delicious "gentle" Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday night, planned and cooked by a vegan chef/caterer ( and hosted by More than 100 people registered in advance, paid their $20 at the door, and enjoyed conversation, door prizes, a slideshow of the group's past year's events, and the main attraction -- food: scrumptious seitan-and-superb-fixings. Homemade vegan pies and a quart of donated So Delicious vanilla at every table rounded out the fun feast. As the columnists for local newspaper society pages used to say: "A good time was had by all."

    This was, Marla, the best Thanksgiving Day post I've ever read!

  13. Yes, this is the most beautiful article that I have read on your blog.

    We do not have Thanksgiving, but we have Christmas and other family feasts. Now we have 3 different approaches of the topic.

    #1. I feel harmed when flesh-eater friends invite us. They prepare us ideed vegan dishes, whereas they eat animals and cheese. When those invitations come, I usually tell them if they were happy if invited by a cannibal, who would eat humane flesh at the same table. So we avoid some of those family feasts.

    #2. My husband nevertheless would accept those invitations, because he says that when flesh-eaters see you eat a vegan dish, they are those who feel embarrassed, and thus we can speak about veganism at the table. Therefore we accept some of the other family feasts.

    #3. We tried also to organize suppers at home, and then everybody would eat the vegan dishes that we prepare. But none got convinced of that. At our wedding we had only vegan dishes; most of the people liked them, and although that was ethical and the olny option for us, from an activist point of view it didn't help.

    On the last New-Years-Eve, we organized the feast at home, with only vegan dishes, and gave to our in-laws some faux gras ("fake fat"), which is a vegan replacement for foie gras ("fat liver"). Although they acknowledged that the fake fat tasted better than the liver, and although they are aware about the pain of the ducks, they say that it is precisely the pain of the duck that would make their dish to be the finest. So... animal pain for human joy?

    A friend of ours, when she has Muslim guests, prepares porkless dishes for all the PAX, in order to avoid offending the Muslim guest. But when she has vegetarians or vegans, she only prepares a veggie dish for the "exception", while the other PAX eat pork. Does this make any sense? Since I found out this story, always when we are invited to have supper at flesh-eaters' home, we ask that all the PAX eat the same vegan thing as us, lest we do not go.

  14. You are a courageous and compassionate woman, Georges. I hope you keep posting. Your thoughts, feelings and actions are so interested, and needed. You make so many good points showing the blind arrogance of the meat-eating culture. What your in-laws said about the fois gras is sad; I feel sorry for their cold hearts.

    Thank you and bless you.

  15. Thank you, Susan!

    For the little story, I am not a courageous woman, but I am a male man, although married to another male, although a feminist. :)

  16. Ah, well, that'll teach me not to assume anything, huh, Georges? I DID think that you had an unusually "male" name, but you never know with parents these days. Just like you never know who's marrying whom. Anyway, you are still courageous, regardless of gender! :-) And DO keep posting!

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