A Vegan on Thanksgiving?

green beans

What Thanksgiving really needs.

It seems that a good number of Americans pretty well hate vegans on Thanksgiving. It’s like our very existence somehow threatens their ability to enjoy Thanksgiving like the Pilgrims did, with a ginormous Butterball turkey. (Have you ever seen a real wild turkey? They’re scrawny little things. They probably weren’t served at that Thanksgiving in the Plimouth Colony, either).

Earlier this week on Slate.com (preface: Slate thinks vegan stories make for good click-bait), Dear Prudence printed a letter from a grandmother. Her 17-year-old granddaughter, who lives on the other side of the country, is a vegan. She and her mom and family are coming to grandma’s for Thanksgiving. Grandma’s other daughter lives locally, and usually brings her family over.

Well, vegan granddaughter expressed to grandma that she wasn’t comfortable being around when meat is being consumed. She also said that she would leave while the turkey was being prepared. We have no context for how the conversation came about. What we do know, is that to make granddaughter feel comfortable, the grandmother decided to host a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Now the local-living daughter and family refuse to come.

Grandma’s question was about how to handle the local-living daughter, not the vegan granddaughter.

Yet Prudie and about 95% (percentage made up) of her commentors came down on the granddaughter for dictating what would be served at Thanksgiving. Prudence did at least admonish local-living daughter too, but the sentiment of nearly everyone is that the granddaughter is a brat and needs to get over herself.

If you’re a vegan, are you perfectly comfortable being around when meat is being consumed?

I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I do it all the time. I tune it out for the most part, and it makes for some good-natured joking among friends and close family. But no, I’m not “comfortable” around it.

A lot of people in the comments section seem to think that since vegan granddaughter won’t be around when the meat is being prepared, she won’t be around at dinner if meat is being consumed, because that’s “logical.” I don’t think that’s a logical assumption at all- it feels way worse to me to watch the meat go in the oven, see all the grease and nastiness that goes along with a dead body, etc. I’m a nurse, I can handle it- but I see her point. I personally won’t help clean up after the turkey when I’m at my mom’s, because the grease alone completely skeeves me out. I do eat dinner with everyone else- I just only eat vegan things. More on that later.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a letter on Dear Abby or Annie’s Mailbox (sorry, can’t find a link for that one), where someone wrote in because their brother’s wife is a vegetarian, and the brother and wife are hosting Thanksgiving. It will be an all-vegetarian Thanksgiving. The writer wanted to bring a turkey, and was told no- there would be no meat served, end of story (I should say that the wife’s response included some unkind words citing religion, but that’s not what the question was about). The writer was extremely upset at the idea of a Thanksgiving without turkey, and was threatening not to go.

Don’t go.

People have a right to celebrate Thanksgiving in their own homes however they see fit, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone. If grandma wants to try out her granddaughter’s way of eating, that’s her right. If sister-in-law keeps a vegetarian household, that’s her right. It don’t make vegans and vegetarians wrong.

What I was the most floored with about the grandma question was how it was assumed the granddaughter was a brat, simply because she’s A) vegan, B) a teenager, and C) it came up that she was uncomfortable about the meat. Maybe she and grandma have a really close relationship, and it came up in a totally non-threatening, non-bratty way, like this imaginary phone call:

GM: Hey honey, I’m looking forward to having you here for Thanksgiving, and I love our time together making dinner. I’m going to make sure I buy some soy milk so you can have mashed potatoes, too. Are you going to make me an apple pie this year?

VGD: I am totally going to make you an apple pie this year! But about the time in the kitchen… I know I’ve been vegan for a few years now, but it’s really starting to hit me now how much it bothers me to see meat being prepared and to see people eat it. So I’d like to make my pie on Wednesday night, and go to the football game with my cousins while you’re making the turkey. I’ll be back in plenty of time for dinner. I’ll set the table before I go, too!

{Big Pause}

GM: I didn’t really think something like that would bother you. The truth is, I hate turkey. I hate making it, too. Would you work with me in the kitchen if we left out the turkey, and made everything vegetarian or vegan? I only get to see you once a year, and I love our time together.

You might think that sounds a little over dramatic, but that sort of thing does happen. Vegan activist Jasmin Singer’s grandmother even went vegetarian after learning about the cruel conditions in the animal agriculture industry. Some people would rather have their loved ones be comfortable than eat meat.


Mmm… pie.

I don’t request that my mom stop serving turkey (or other meat). When we spend holidays together, we make all or almost all of the sides vegan (Earth Balance, soy milk and vegetable broth are your friends here). I usually bring a dessert, as my mom does use pie crusts with lard. My mom usually even buys me a Tofurky. So, I can eat almost everything on the table, and my mom doesn’t ask me to help her make the turkey. And let’s be honest, I’m usually still asleep when the turkey goes in the oven anyway. Or if it’s meat with a shorter cook time, that might be when I go take a shower. There are ways to get out of the kitchen that don’t say “I don’t want to help with anything” or “I don’t want to spend time with you.”

I haven’t hosted many Thanksgivings myself, and those where I have my guests have been vegans and vegetarians, so that’s not been an issue- but should I ever start hosting for friends or family members who might expect meat… well, I keep a veg household. Like the sister-in-law above, I would say no to anyone who wants to bring a turkey.

If that makes me a brat, I’ve stopped caring.


Thanksgiving needs cranberries.

So here are my rules for the holidays.

  • The host decides what the cuisine is, and has total veto power over anything being brought in.
  • If there are true air-borne food allergies, only a complete jerk would insist that the offending allergen be made part of a meal.
  • When it comes to special accommodations, please understand there is a difference between ethical/religious beliefs and preferences. For example, it is my ethical belief that eating meat is wrong, so I will not do it for myself. It is my preference that others follow suit, but I don’t get to “dictate” that unless I’m the host. Also, low-fat, low-carb, paleo, low-GI- these are preferences. Unless…
  • If there is someone with diet-related illness (such as diabetes), it would be a very nice gesture on any host’s part if they offered a few dishes said guest can have.
  • The host probably can’t accommodate everyone if everyone has a different preference/allergy/ethical belief, but there are somethings that can work for everyone, or almost everyone.
  • Guests needing special dietary accommodations should offer to bring something (actually, all guests should offer to bring something), but should let it drop if the host says no, especially if it’s contrary to the host’s ethical/religious beliefs or is an allergen that could trigger a fatal reaction.
  • Karma. Remember it.
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2 Responses to A Vegan on Thanksgiving?

  1. Torrusty says:

    Very good post. I know Thanksgiving is long past, but this is a challenge year round for vegans. When friends want to go eat out at restaurants and they know you are a vegan, there always is an uncomfortable silence that comes up when deciding where to go out and eat.

    My solution to this problem will not work for everyone, I realize this. However, I have found this fix to be incredibly effective in retaining my sanity as a vegan in a world that appears incredibly cruel and ignorant.

    Here it is: eat at home. It’s that simple. Make your own food, do not be dependent on others. I do not even care if there are vegan restaurants in the area, make almost all your own food. Vegan shops close all the time, they sell out to get a wider customer basis, and they may put things in the food that conflict with your special dietary preferences (raw vegan, starchivore, gluten sensitive).

    I am by no means addressing this specifically this to you, Jodie. I just get frustrated from time to time seeing vegans complain about lack of extra food choices. Believe me, there is a 100% chance that the best food you ever eat will be something you make with your own hands. Relying on fond memories of good food others made is ineffective. You must be able to recreate success or you will fail.

    Thanksgiving time for me is an absolute blessing. I spend the holiday at my parent’s home. They are both vegetarians, so they do not care about me being a vegan. Two other people that live with my parents choose to eat meat.

    I end up getting frustrated because my dad will cook a turkey for them, when the three of us will eat primarily vegetables. My parents eat unhealthy vegetarian food like macaroni and cheese and buttery mashed potatoes, but they know their restraints much better than the meat eaters.

    In my mind, humoring the meat eaters will just make them feel generally accepted for what they are doing. This is not meant to sound sociopathic, but I know the meat eaters can feel my scorn. My parents seem to just say ‘Live and let live’, but they cook and prepare meat for others.

    Anyways, it was wrong for so many people on Slate to react so negatively to that teenage girl. She is young and she will be wanting to share the world changing knowledge of veganism. I do not consider it impolite what she did, I find it self serving. Now, if I had my own vegan Thanksgiving and a meat eater showed up and complained about the lack of turkey, I would be on the verge of yelling at the person.

    I hope this okay, but I would like to do a shout out for my blog, Vegan Kitchen Appliances: http://www.vegankitchenappliances.com/

    • jodie says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to you!

      I love that there are vegan restaurants and stores, but as you point out, nothing is forever. I agree that people in general, and vegans especially, should really be capable of feeding themselves at home nutritious and delicious food. As much as I love some of the vegan convenience products out there, they’re not always so good for you, and you’re almost always better off making your own at home.

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