Monday, November 22, 2010

When Meat-Eaters And Vegetarians Share Thanksgiving

The Vegetarian at the Thanksgiving Table
The other day CNN had a lunchtime poll – “The Vegetarian at the Thanksgiving Table”. Their question was: “Should a meat-eating Thanksgiving host be expected to accommodate a vegetarian guest?” This provocative question certainly stirred up a lot of strong opinions and emotions.
* Forty three percent stated that if they invited a vegetarian to Thanksgiving dinner, they would put a lot of effort into their dishes. But some weren’t that gracious.
* A little less than a third of the respondents said if they were given fair warning, they would make one or two things they can eat. (How terribly generous of them!)
* About 8% (1,234 people) said they wouldn’t make anything special, but they’re free to bring their own food.
* Three percent (502 people) said, “You come to my house and you eat what I serve you. It’s rude not to. Just pick the meat out”.
* Nearly 2% (260 people) actually stated, “vegetarians aren’t welcome in my house”.
* The hostility came from both sides with approximately the same amount (252 votes) claiming, “meat-eaters aren’t welcome at my table”.
* But some kindness prevailed as 138 people said, “if they won’t eat meat, I won’t even allow it on the table. We’ll all be vegetarians today”. But that was from less than 1% of the participants.

Would People with Other Food Restrictions Face Such Scrutiny?
I wonder where all this hostility is coming from? It’s Thanksgiving! A day when we all should be loving and thankful? If someone couldn’t eat the oyster stuffing because they had a seafood allergy, I don’t think they would meet such opposition. But there are two sides to every story. Let’s try to understand each one.

The Vegan Guest's Point of View
From the vegetarian or vegan point of view, Thanksgiving can be the most uncomfortable day of the year. After all, it’s a holiday where one of the main events is cooking a poor bird that, from their view, has spent its entire miserable life waiting to be killed, stuffed and eaten on Thanksgiving. This is especially uncomfortable for the vegan who has chosen this lifestyle for reasons of compassion. For those who eschew meat for environmental reasons, not to contribute to the harmful effects that industrial farming is having on the planet, watching this ritual can be equally distasteful. The “vegan for health” may be the least offended as their avoidance of animal products may not be as deeply rooted in their beliefs.

The Meat Eater's Point of View
From the meat-eating hosts’ viewpoint, this is a significant occasion and the site and smell of the turkey roasting in the oven brings back wonderful memories of past holidays. It may have taken them years to perfect grandma’s sausage stuffing and there’s no way they are going to make something different. And making mashed potatoes, or any vegetable for that matter, without butter is just unthinkable. Don’t even mention that the sugar in the cranberry sauce may have been filtered through bone char and would also be off limits to their vegan guests – that might push them completely over the edge!

The Family Dynamics
What makes this situation an order of magnitude more sensitive is when family is involved. A mother thinking, “where did I go wrong? Why did my child adopt such freakish eating habits?” Or “why does she have to be such a pain in the ass on such an important holiday?” (At least that’s what my mother would have said!) The child feeling so disappointed that her parents not only won’t empathize with her cause but chastises her for taking it on. Perhaps she was wishing that the entire family would share a compassionate, meat free holiday together. What was she thinking?

Remember, It's a Joyous Occasion
At the end of the day, Thanksgiving should be a joyous holiday to be happily spent with friends and family, not a day to argue about religion, politics or whether or not to be a vegetarian. A meat-eating host should make an effort to have ample dishes for their vegetarian guests to eat and encourage them to bring a dish to share. A vegan host must also be open minded enough to allow someone to bring a turkey for those who want to eat it. You can mail them a copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s, “Eating Animals” or T. Colin Campbell’s, “The China Study” next week - after the holiday. Most importantly, everyone has to respect each other’s lifestyle.

So for you vegans out there who will share a table with meat eaters next Thursday, do the best you can. Try and catch a vegan potluck later in the day where you can actually get something to eat and share your Thanksgiving stories with your like minded friends.
For those of you who must have your turkey on Thanksgiving, at least take a moment and thank the little guy for making the ultimate sacrifice for you on this holiday.

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KootenayBorn said...

I enjoy your part on family dynamics. I often feel like my parents (mostly my mother) feel as though I am insulting their parenting methods because I: chose to breastfeed, pay more for local, organic ingredients,in general just eat way less processed foods, use environmentally friendly bath and cleaning products etc... etc... But to be honest I am not at all insulting them or judging what they did.
I feel times change and we learn more about health and the environment, what used to be the "norm" is now known to be hazardous, and I just want to know that I am doing the best I can with what we know NOW.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Your parents should feel very proud of what you are doing instead of being critical. In fact, they can even take credit for the fine job they did raising you to do all these wonderful things! said...

I just found your blog this morning searching for a raw cranberry relish. I'm sharing "turkey" day Friday with other Type 1 diabetics (me: 44 years on insulin and going strong). Not sure what came first the diabetes (age 10) or concern about food, healing, environment.

I will follow your blog daily. Love your writing! Thank you.

Happy Day of thanks to you!

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Thanks Debbie. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!