A PARADOXICAL HISTORY
The funny thing is, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday – and it had nothing to do with the meal. It was the one holiday that my whole family would come together, somehow there was never any drama, in fact there was a warmth pervading everything. The holiday represented a rare sense of unity that I shared with my family.
Present-day, there are few things in the world that make me as uncomfortable as the thought of Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving dinner has come to serve as a mega-proxy for every other meal I must suffer through as I watch the people I love pick apart animals without a single thought given to the life that is now their meal, and the havoc they are wreaking on our planet.
Thanksgiving is meant to be a celebration of all the things for which we are grateful. I can no longer brave the dead corpse on the table, it is horrifying and all consuming. Rather than being thankful, I become despondent with the world, I am angry at the righteous ignorance I see in my loved ones, the willful cognitive dissonance they partake in, and the unnecessary cruelty they support in the face of all the information I have shared with them. They of course are part of the majority in America, a meat eating republic.
EVOLUTION OF TOLERANCE
Like many vegans, my personal evolution from eating turkeys to finding the whole meal despicable took many years, and moved through several stages. I started out as a child who did not want to eat animals, after sufficient societal brainwashing I became an omnivore who “loved animals”, and never saw the disconnect between loving a dog and eating a pig. I had pet birds, but my cognitive dissonance was so deep that I never saw them in the chicken pieces packed into that styrofoam container.
In college I was minimally exposed to the horrors of factory farming and so I cut out “red meat”, which meant that I was still buying (read: killing) vast amounts of birds, fish and baby and mother cows through my consumption of dairy products. At some point I remembered the little girl who didn’t want to eat animals and I started watching PETA videos. That was the end of birds and dairy on my plate…and shortly thereafter I took the last step and investigated aquaculture and immediately stopped being a speciesist in the most strict manner.
At each of these stages my tolerance to the Thanksgiving meal was different. When I was eating birds, I happily hosted Thanksgiving dinner and partook in the slaughter and consumption without a second thought. One year my dad ceremoniously bought me an electric knife as if it were a rite of passage, and the feelings of pride that I felt were overwhelming. Never did I see that knife as an instrument of cruelty and death, in fact it was a symbol of my dad’s love.
Once I finally included birds in my circle of compassion, I still hosted Thanksgiving. After-all, it was my favorite holiday. I somehow felt duty-bound to prepare the meal for my family, despite the fact that I understood that all the animals on the table deserved consideration too. It never occurred to me that I could say no – I was still living within the veil of influence of the majority and did not consider my own rights or beliefs. Touching the dead bird was difficult for me, but I somehow felt my feelings were illegitimate and to be ignored.
When I became a vegan I stopped hosting the meal, and felt that was all I could do to protect my fragile sensibilities surrounding the body parts and byproducts that my family members expected to be a part of their meal. I sat through the usual line-up of cruelty (a dead turkey, a piece of a pig, cow’s milk/butter in practically everything, bacon…) and never discussed how I felt. I was fearful I would lose my family, that if I stood up for my beliefs they would shun me – and so I internalized everything. After two years like that and much study into various civil rights movements – I finally saw another way.
ANIMAL RIGHTS ARE MY CIVIL RIGHTS
This year I decided I had endured enough, I felt it was time to ask my family to leave cruelty off the table and begin living my truth with my family rather than always being “different” with separate “special” food. So I asked them to leave the loathsome centerpiece (and all other animal products) off the table in order to make sure I was comfortable during our family holiday.
I clearly explained to them how I felt, offering examples like “How would you feel if you came over and I had a roasted dog or horse corpse on my table?”, or, “If I had a slave chained in the corner at my Thanksgiving meal, would you come?”. Most importantly I asked the question, “Where do your rights end and mine begin?”.
As many vegans before me have discovered, I was brutally awakened to find that my meat-eating family place more value on their “right” to eat a defenseless animal than considering my feelings and beliefs.
The elementary and absurd “reasons” my family presented to me are for the most part not worth mentioning, many in the vein of “I like eating meat”, or “Animals are raised for us to eat”, or “My body craves meat so I eat it”. Some of their reasoning deserves philosophical dissection – for although these arguments are equally absurd, they may seem legitimate to many omnivores who have not given these topics considerable thought.
One of the first justifications for choosing a dead bird over including me was, “We aren’t excluding you, you are excluding yourself”. Another version on this theme was that I should not dictate what everyone else eats because of my personal choices. I was genuinely shocked at this rationale because it is so downright un-American. America is the greatest democracy on the planet primarily because of the deference that we as a nation give to minorities and minority interests. Our nation would not have progressed as far or as fast as it has without the influence of countless “others” and their viewpoints.
To not include minorities on one of the most American holidays seemed satirical to me, and relentlessly callous to my vegan perspective. Accommodating the lowest common denominator is always the best practice in a democracy, so, if we can all agree on eating vegetables then why not do that as a family?
Speaking about foisting one’s personal choices on others, I don’t gripe every time they sit down and eat a meal. Their personal choice of eating animals is destroying the environment that I live in. The meat and dairy industry is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, the number one cause of ocean dead zones, the number one use of our stressed clean water sources, and yet they choose to partake in this environmental devastation each day – dictating our planetary health.
I also found it downright incomprehensible that leaving animal products off the table for a single meal was so difficult. In the grand scheme of things, they could have eaten all the dead animals they wanted before or after our family gathering. Insisting on eating dead animals in front of someone who cares so deeply for animals is cold-blooded brute force of the majority over the minority.
It’s Always Been Done This Way
The next most convenient argument was the refuge of “tradition”, which, again is wholly ironic in this case considering that the Pilgrims and the First Nations People who inhabited North America certainly did not make turkeys the centerpiece of the historical meal that we are allegedly celebrating.
Beyond that, war is one of the greatest human traditions as is raping women. Slavery was traditional, homophobia was heavily entrenched tradition until very recently in our progressive coastal states, women as second class citizens is still a tradition in much of the world. Just because something is traditional does not make it right or worthwhile. Shouldn’t we give ourselves more credit as thoughtful beings than to simply follow the crowd of thoughtless traditions? If a family member asks you to abandon a thoughtless and cruel tradition because they have given it some thought, why not defer to their understanding of the matter?
Then they started attacking me and trying to find hypocrisy in my ethical position: querying as to why I don’t care about the world’s underprivileged humans instead of animals, the starving children in Africa, the child laborers in China, etc.
And that is when I realized that I would never get through the thick fog of our patriarchal, power obsessed culture that focuses more on dominating a defenseless bird than actually listening to reason. Bringing up the poor and hungry while defending meat-eating is the pinnacle of irony and ignorance.
The world human population drinks 5.2 billion gallons of potable water, and eats 21 billion pounds of food each year. However, in raising farmed animals we use 45 billion gallons of potable water and 135 billion pounds of food. Those energy sources are made into meat, and then fed to about half of the world’s population that can afford it (let’s call them the wealthy) – leaving the poor without food and clean water and the necessity to send their children to work in factories.
Writing this piece has been difficult because I am sure it will upset many people I love, but then again if they are righteous in their position then they should not take issue with me stating the facts.
This experience that I have gone through is a common one for vegans everywhere and must be talked about in the open. I can only hope my courage to talk about these issues openly will pave the way for other compassionate people in the future to be brave with their families.
I have discovered that flesh is thicker than blood, and in that revelation I have found freedom. Freedom to break barbarous traditions, freedom to be daring and follow my values down a path where I can be comfortable as a minority. To choose to spend my time with only those who love me enough to respect my minority interest.
I am giving thanks this holiday season for all that liberty, and hoping for liberation in the years to come.