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.

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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.

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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.

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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