Sometimes I think it’s just plain old weird that people eat animals. I’m not saying that to be judgemental—since I understand on some level humans’ intense attachment to old habits, especially in regards to this colossal form of cognitive dissonance—but aside from the social justice implications of eating meat, milk, and eggs, I just think it’s odd. I quit eating meat 20 years ago because, as a 19-year-old who was just beginning to find my autonomy and align my ethics with my food choices, I just thought meat was “icky.” Five years after that, after learning about the anti-feminist dairy and egg industries which literally couldn’t exist without the exploitation of female reproductive systems, I went vegan. It’s therefore been a minute since my Thanksgiving meals have centered around carcasses, and as I have stepped away from that “icky” societal norm—replacing it instead with an array of of truly extraordinary plant-based roasts (I challenge any skeptical meat-eater to try my menu), I have developed some tried-and-true methods of dealing with the meat-eating world. There is no time more valuable for me than Thanksgiving to flex that muscle, ensuring that I head into this season—where the 47 million baby turkeys killed this time of year realize their fate—with compassion, patience, self-preservation, and a sense of humor. Here’s how I do it.
I enjoy significantly better food than any non-vegan gathering has.
There’s basically no better way to change the world for animals than by making and sharing extraordinary vegan food, so I go big. To be honest, I’m not actually that much of a cook, but I’m a stellar curator, community organizer, and dishwasher. So this year, as my partner finds inspiration from the literally thousands of meat-free Thanksgiving recipes on VegNews.com (not to mention our countless vegan cookbooks), I will do my part by Instagramming the hell out of my eats and making all of my animal-munching friends jealous (social media indeed influences social change). I have twenty meat-free years of Thanksgiving success, and it’s thanks to iconic foods reimagined—such as seitan roasts, stuffed butternut squash, lentil loaves, mushroom-pecan Wellingtons, pumpkin pies with cashew whip, baked pumpkin ravioli with sage cream, quinoa-stuffed acorn squash, pumpkin bread with quinoa stuffing, smashed sweet potato fritters, apple cider Brussels sprouts, sliders, curries, cakes, robust salads, you name it—that I am living proof that to be vegan means your palate expands, not the other way around.
When it’s not on the table to cook, I go out.
There was this one Thanksgiving when my beloved grandmother died, and my family and I were too bereaved to cook, so we went to NYC’s vegan mainstay, Blossom, where we literally ordered everything on their Thanksgiving menu. And even though I’m really good at washing dishes, something about going out to eat to a vegan restaurant on this loaded holiday made me realize that there are some really terrific benefits to having a fancypants cook do everything for me, from putting together the menu to serving it to me to cleaning up. Plenty of vegan restaurants offer Thanksgiving menus, such as Los Angeles’ Crossroads, NYC’s Candle 79, and California and Kansas’ Cafe Gratitude (where, amazingly, it is offered for free). For a lot of people, going out to eat makes everything a no-brainer.
When I’m forced to be around non-vegan food, I bookend the off-putting visit with amazingness.
Of course, plenty of people (feel they) have to spend Thanksgiving with family—and with non-vegan food. This can be extremely hard for a lot of people. Admittedly, this hasn’t been the case for me very much, but since I live in the real world, there have been times when my vegan bubble was popped as I stared up the butthole at a poor sweet dead bird. During those times, I made sure to have a decadent treat waiting for me when I got home that night. Though I believe in sharing vegan food as a means of changing the world, I am sometimes selfish and sometimes introverted, so ensuring my post-family gathering will include an evening with my favorite dessert and the latest episode of This Is Us allows me a mental escape—something to look forward to—when faced with loved ones dining on animals. I’d recommend bookmarking your meal with something before and something after that brings you joy and makes you feel safe and seen. This might include something as simple as a phone call to a fellow vegan, or it could be an intense workout, a waiting-for-you piece of cake (to offset the aforementioned workout), or a plan to sit down and decide which charities you will be donating to this year, then getting out your checkbook.
I do everything I can to be compassionate to my pre-vegan friends.
My friends are good people or I wouldn’t be friends with them, and though I sometimes want to judge them (and, OK, I sometimes do judge them), I know that there are plenty of ways in which they are more evolved than me. I definitely won’t be a good advocate if I bang them over the head with my vegan drumsticks, so I meet people where they are, use “attraction rather than promotion” in my efforts, and I do all I can to remember that there were days when I ate animals, too. I then remember to be humble, keeping an eye out for tell-tale signs of areas where I could stand to grow (and there are plenty). I give myself permission to not hang onto every single thing they say that would normally annoy the heck out of me. Letting go, though difficult for activists like me, is sometimes the best thing we can do. I know myself and I know that this won’t be a slippery slope into complacency.
I get creative.
Literally. Nothing makes me feel closer to myself than being creative, whether that means using my fancy phone camera to capture nine-billion photos of my cat, sitting down to write out some personal narrative or the occasional angsty poem, or spray-painting and hot glue-ing things to other things, then calling it “art.” Maybe it’s because my mom was an elementary school art teacher, but even at 39, I love making childlike (note: not childish) arts and crafts. And since Thanksgiving can be triggering for a hundred thousand reasons beginning, but not ending, with the animal exploitation, I override any inclinations towards self-abandonment by stepping up my self-expression. Maybe for you that means going out for a run, reading a good book, or playing with your rescued puppy. Whatever it is, ask yourself what it takes to bring you back to you during a season that is often ripe with obligation and annoyances.
I focus on the things that matter.
This is what modern-day Thanksgiving is supposed to be about after all, isn’t it? Though I loathe the roots of Thanksgiving as much as I loathe the dead turkey fad, why should I give away an opportunity to practice gratitude? So this time of year I try to really hone in on the things that matter to me, and the people who I actually want to surround myself with. This year, I’m grateful to be living in an adorable new place with my girlfriend and our cat and dog, and—as you can imagine—I’m ridiculously thankful that said-girlfriend (who has been vegan for 25 years) is an incredible cook. I’m grateful for my chosen family (we queers do chosen family very well, I gotta say), that I get to do what I love as my career, and that I’m healthy. But mostly, I’m grateful that two decades ago, I made the intrepid decision to stop eating animals. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has brought me more joy, purpose, and authenticity than that.
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