by Sarah Withrow King
This Thanksgiving, in houses all across the United States, a lone vegetarian or vegan will enter with trepidation into the experience of Thanksgiving with meat-eaters. In some cases, she’ll be a nine-year-old who has decided eating animals is incompatible with her desire to be a veterinarian when she grows up. In another, a retiree will have given up meat, dairy, and eggs to reduce his risk of high blood pressure and bring his cholesterol back into a healthy range. This pastor’s son learned about the environmental damage of animal agriculture. This missionary kid wants to avoid contributing to global hunger and knows that plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce.
The smell of cooking animal fat will permeate the air while families bow their heads to give thanks. Plates of flesh will be passed. In some lucky cases, the plant-based eater will be able to feast. In others, she’ll cobble together a meal of dry rolls, salad, and whatever dish she’s brought along to share.
Some of us face this day with dread. Some of us are genuinely happy, no matter what’s on the table. Some of us decide to skip the whole thing altogether.
This survival guide is for those of us who are willing to enter the fray, who might have considered skipping out on together-time, but instead choose to gird our vegan loins and face what comes.
Offer to Help the Host. People who are hosting may be reluctant to ask for help, they may think that asking for assistance makes them a bad host. Assure them that you are eager to help. Send them this guide.
Start a New Tradition. Bring vegetarian enchiladas to your family gathering, or some other distinctive dish. A little odd, a lot memorable, and very delicious, this simple act could become part of your family’s tradition.
Plan a Vegan Feast. Maybe you can’t get out of going to Aunt Josephine’s on Thursday, but perhaps you can gather some friends for a plant-based day-after celebration. My husband and I used to invite small group and work friends over to our house for a party sometimes the day or two after a major holiday. It gave us a chance to share our favorite recipes, allowed us the opportunity to extend hospitality to others without family in the area, and gave us something to look forward to if we were also attending a less animal-friendly, more stressful event.
Prepare for “The Question.” If you’re the only vegan, someone will inevitably ask you why you don’t eat animals. They will probably be holding the leg of a turkey when they do this. Decide in advance whether you want to go into details at the dinner table. I like to say something like, “I went vegan when I learned about what happens to animals used for food. Can we talk more about it later? I’d love to tell you the story while we do the dishes/go for a walk.”
Take Deep Breathes and Center on Jesus and the Community, Not the Food. In any kind of stressful situation, centering prayer is a life-saver. I take a deep breathe in and say something like, “Come Lord Jesus.” Then I let the breathe out and say, “Be my guide.” I try to imagine my heart softening, let my shoulders relax, unclench my jaw. Our best chance at reducing suffering will come if we are able to communicate with compassion, grace, gratitude, and warmth. We may not be able to produce that on our own...so ask for help.
Visit a Sanctuary or Connect with Creation. You might live near a farmed animal sanctuary. If you can, go visit and connect with living animals. If you can’t, plan to take a long walk outside. Listen for birds. Watch squirrells. Feel the rain or breeze on your face. Give yourself permission to lament, to release your pain, even to rage at God. God can take it.
One final note. There’s a difference between putting up with good-natured ribbing and out-and-out abuse. There’s a difference between unintentioned callousness and mean-spirited attacks. If you need to pull away from dangerous people, that’s okay. Perhaps there’s a vegan or vegetarian meet-up in your area; maybe you can volunteer to take the holiday shift so someone else can spend time with their family; or this could be the year that you make a fabulous meal for one and watch your favorite movies in your pajamas while you snuggle with your dog.
However you choose to celebrate, know that you are beloved and that you are a part of great cosmic movement of creation, reconciling to the Creator.