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Living Among Meat Eaters at Thanksgiving

Living Among Meat Eaters at Thanksgiving

Dear vegan friends and animal activists,

Yes, it’s here again. The hardest week in the year for so many of us who live in the United States. While everyone dismembers a turkey corpse in front of us, celebrating taste and texture of a dead being, we sit there overwhelmed with sight and smell–affronted, disappointed, and probably heart-broken.

We see people we love celebrating over death.

Hey, one of them once again might ask you why you are a vegan.

Another one may say, “really, don’t you want any?”

A third may say, “Don’t you love your grandmother any more? She worked so hard on the stuffing.”

A fourth may say, “How can you celebrate Thanksgiving with us without eating our food.”

A fifth may say, “I know you really want the ‘drumstick,’ come on, take one bite, I know you want it.”

Need I continue to enumerate all the rudeness you will be facing just a few days from here?

Here’s my advice, IGNORE THEM. Really, it’s the hardest but wisest thing to do.

A Thanksgiving meal is not the time to explain or defend your diet. You become their entertainment.

I have said in The Sexual Politics of Meat, that through meat eating, animals become absent referents. We restore in our minds that absent referent every day, but especially on Thanksgiving, which is why it is so painful to us. Your family does not want the absent referent restored (except when they control the discussion and make it playful or aggressive, with some food shoved toward your mouth).

Back in 1974, The New York Times Magazine devoted their cover to an article called “Thanksgiving with a Conscience.” It was about a vegetarian Thanksgiving. If a vegan Thanksgiving is a “Thanksgiving with a Conscience, ” what is your entire family devouring? That’s right, a Thanksgiving without a conscience. Do they want to be reminded of it in the midst of their enjoyment? No.

Anyway, they know their Thanksgiving meal has an absent referent at it center. They just don’t want to or don’t know how to or are afraid to change. View all of them as blocked vegans. Everything they say and gesture and do toward you are signs of what is blocking them.

They would prefer to bring you back within the family system that has always worked for them (until you changed and came up with this weird diet). Your role, whether you realize it or not, is to assure them that the family system can change and assimilate your veganism.

They may sabotage you–promising vegan food and not delivering. Or creating a hostile environment for you as you eat your vegan food. The saboteur is working very hard to to keep your ideas away from him or her. This is actually a good sign! The more aggressive; the more they reveal how much you have disturbed them, the harder they are working to restore the acceptability of eating dead corpses.

Are you at peace eating a Thanksgiving with a conscience? Because, to them, you may look unhappy, be argumentative, and eating very poorly. “At least,” they think, “a Thanksgiving without a conscience has its immediate rewards.”

In Living Among Meat Eaters, I argue that the unspoken question behind all the negative behavior that assails a vegan, is “Are you at peace?” They don’t believe you can be at peace as a vegan, and, especially on Thanksgiving, some are going to make sure they prove that to themselves and everyone else!

My advice, take lots of great vegan food. Reveal the abundance of eating like a vegan. Be sure to have a vegan dessert. Interpret all hostile behavior as their personal quests toward veganism, revealing what is blocking them. Have an answer, and repeat it over and over again, one that succinctly conveys your position:

  • “You raised me to be compassionate anad caring, and I have found an important focus for this.”
  • “I found out what was happening to animals and the Earth and I knew what I had to do.”
  • “I love my family and I love being a vegan; just because I changed doesn’t mean I don’t love my family.” (Give some hugs at this point.)

People eventually tire of a broken record and will move on to another subject. What will they remember from that interaction?

You truly are at peace with what you are doing.

Your food looked really good.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not such a bad thing after all.

You have now prepared them for the next holiday meal. You have given them unspoken guidance on how to eat with a conscience. And perhaps, this year, you will actually get to enjoy your food.

Turkey Chicks Image Source: Nathan Siemers/Flickr

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7 comments on “Living Among Meat Eaters at Thanksgiving”

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Alvyn Morrisey
1 Years Ago

If we stopped eating animal products, what would happen to the chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows, pigs? Who would feed them and why? I don't know if eating meat is good or bad for one's long-term health. For each article/comment that says it's bad, there is another that says in moderation it's good. Meat eaters cite the articles that support their aspect; vegans cite articles that support their point of view. In sum, does it matter? Being a vegan seems like a way to be in a club and look down on non-members. About as meaningful as being in a sports team fan club. Everybody in my club sure hates them Yankees.


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Eyota
2 Years Ago

My family is filled with both vegetarians and meat eaters. We make thanksgiving a special time for all. I, as a meat eater often get lectured by vegans about my hunting and eating of meat. I am 3/4 Native American and was raised in a modern environment, although to never forget where I came from. Hunting was and still is a way of life, one my people did with balance and peace until those from Europe came. Ironically many young European descendants are the ones doing the most lecturing, meanwhile holding their fancy smart phones and dressed in the hippest clothes. I guess what I am getting at is we all have a different view of how life should be lived, maybe we should be living it then instead of cramming it down other peoples throats.


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2 Years Ago

My family is filled with both vegetarians and meat eaters. We make thanksgiving a special time for all. I, as a meat eater often get lectured by vegans about my hunting and eating of meat. I am 3/4 Native American and was raised in a modern environment, although to never forget where I came from. Hunting was and still is a way of life, one my people did with balance and peace until those from Europe came. Ironically many young European descendants are the ones doing the most lecturing, meanwhile holding their fancy smart phones and dressed in the hippest clothes. I guess what I am getting at is we all have a different view of how life should be lived, maybe we should be living it then instead of cramming it down other peoples throats.


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Martha Courtney
2 Years Ago

Maybe someone here can help me. Some background info if you don't mind: I've been trying to eat vegan for maybe 5 months now; my best friend and mother for about 3 months. I live in the heart of Appalachia ( I like to call the area where I live the "red meat, fast-food, white bread, deep-fried capitol of the world"). Vegan-friendly >anything< is not easy to come by, although we now have a Moe's Southwestern Grill, Hot Head Burrito and and Earthfare grocery store. I was previously a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 11 years (until about 11 years ago) and have many vegetarian cookbooks and now have a couple large vegan cookbooks and,of course, the internet to help. I'm still having trouble at times putting together tasty and healthy vegan meals. The recipes sometimes end up being tasteless mush. :-( Thanksgiving is always done at my cousin's home nearby. My mother warned her and my other cousin's wife weeks ago that we have been eating vegan. My cousin is STILL offended that years ago when I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian I didn't eat her meats she prepared. Her personality is such that she will ask "why why why" about something, but interrupt and not allow you to answer, sometimes then saying she doesn't want to know about it or doesn't believe it (such as about factory farming cruelty or increased cancer risk with meat and dairy consumption). Incidentally, her family has been rampant with cancer and she herself has had breast cancer 2xs. They live off of fast food. My mother plans to attend the Thanksgiving dinner and will do the best she can, and says that probably, as previously, she will site her diabetes as the reason for not partaking in the bulk of the food (this diet has brought down her blood sugar levels, btw). I don't know what to do. She will be offended if I don't eat her food. She will be offended if we bring more than the dish we have been asked to bring (fruit salad). She will be offended if I don't come. Although the suggestions in this article are good, especially "I found out what was happening to the animals of the earth…." , but, I don't think they will solve my problem. Also, our families being Christian has previously brought up topics of "Jesus ate meat"…response:…"but probably much less of it and there was no factory farming" blah blah blah… you get the point. I guarantee that ignoring them won't work at all, but only seen as rude. I have a lot of anxiety over dealing with them. Thanks for reading and any additional creative and respectful suggestions.


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Carolyn
2 Years Ago

Really wonderful article. I would only wish for a more holistic approach. I wish a vegan philosophy could also be aligned with an anti-genocidal one. There are actually two equally important absent referents, the turkey and the natives of this country who were also slaughtered for the sake of this holiday. The idea of a "Thanksgiving without a conscience" is an oxymoron. Thanksgiving as a holiday that simultaneously celebrates and obscures the slaughter of both animals and humans. Thanksgiving, by itself, is unconscionable.


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MelindaLu
2 Years Ago

When it first came out, I read Robbin's book A Diet For A New America. It broke my heart. I became a strict vegetarian for many months after that, but I had no energy. I need a little meat once in a while. I don't feel great about it, but he said that if people just cut down 10% on their consumption of animal products, it would save forests and make the world a better place. Of course, when I do eat a little meat, I make sure it is either from a farm I personally know or I question the waiter relentlessly about where they get their meat from (and if I do not like their reply, I don't order a dish with meat in it). I wish I didn't have to eat meat...but I feel crummy if I don't have at least a little once a week or so. And I also try my best to do the 100 mile diet, which means no coffee, no chocolate and the only thing I allow myself (because I grow SO much of my own food) are avocados that come from California. At least 80% of my food comes from less than 100 miles away and at least 40% of that, I grow myself. This year I am going to try a grain crop. I am excited and I have cleared a space. But I hate turkey and I do not celebrate Thanksgiving by stuffing my face. I celebrate it by giving thanks for my life and my liberty and my husband. ~~ML


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Audrey
3 Years Ago

Great post. This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis (living with meat-eaters), so I really appreciate posts on how to deal with it.


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