Welcome to The Human Animal. I thought a good way to launch would be to talk about Thanksgiving, that venerated tradition of feasting and giving thanks to God… and then slaughtering all the people who actually helped you survive the winter. In the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, the story is told that pilgrims walked into the fields and saw baskets of corn and just assumed God had left it for them to eat. It’s pretty hard to believe that even the most devout would believe that ‘miracle’ in favor of thinking that maybe someone lived there.
Fast forward many centuries, and we still celebrated today the same basic idea, that there should be time to enjoy and be thankful for the bounty that we occasionally receive. In this three-part introductory blog, I’ll talk about a Vegan Humanist Thanksgiving, at least my perspective, and how that might differ from the common modern American Thanksgiving.
To start with, there’s always a challenge on how to handle that vegan that isn’t going to eat the Turkey and makes everyone feel self-conscious about their food choices.
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Part I: How to make your vegan feel welcome this Thanksgiving:
First, avoid the debate. Vegans get a lot of grief for always bringing up how vegan they are and how wrong everyone else is for torturing the poor defenseless animals. The truth is, from a vegan perspective, if I’m sitting in front of a plate with no meat on it, people ask me if I’m vegetarian and I say yes, and then that’s the topic of conversation at the table. This normally happens during appetizers so then everyone proceeds to scour the menu and order my dinner for me. That’s no fun for anyone.
It also might seem like the right thing to make funny jokes about how tasty bacon is or how you love a good steak. Maybe you’re just making a joke, and that should be fine, but if you’re trying to marginalize animal suffering, then don’t be surprised if you get a lecture about how immoral you are. Again, that’s no fun for anyone, so it’s best not to bring it up, at least not right at dinner. These sorts of friendly debates (religion, politics, animal ethics) are great for mingling and whatnot, but not at the dinner table when innocent bystandards can become really uncomfortable.
If you find yourself in a debate, joking out of it might backfire (see above). But simply ‘let’s change the subject’ should be a good enough cue that people might like to talk about something else.
But what about the food? Whether cooking in the kitchen or in the grill, the family cook for the holiday will want to make everyone happy. I often receive lots of requests for what to make for me. That’s very kind and only reasonable for a host expecting people with dietary restrictions. It’s also uncomfortable to get special attention because, well, see above – it leads to that uncomfortable conversation in Part I. Don’t let this happen to you:
family: Is this vegan?
vegan: Does it have milk in it?
So it’s good to ask. But if you get that shy vegan that just doesn’t want to say. Here are a few more tips:
Tip 1: Check the ingredients. It might say “vegan” but that’s not normally the case, so check the ingredient list. Dairy and eggs are allergens so the non-vegan stuff will be in bold letters below the ingredient list. Honey is not vegan and not an allergen, so you’ll have to read the list for that. It will also say “used in a facility that processes…” If your vegan requires vegan manufacturing as well, just in case, be sure to ask about that. Be careful, some seemingly vegan things like BBQ chips will have milk in them. Morning Star burgers seem to scream vegan but they’re not. Eggs… It’s a meat-eater’s world, and it can be frustrating.
Tip 2: Consider an entree. You cooked a whole meal for the family. It’s easy to leave the vegans to pick at the vegetables. You can do what you like in your home, but having something robust is good. It’s also tempting to just buy a tofurkey, but the fake meat tastes like wet bread unless they get the care and seasoning that your meat entree gets. Better yet, go with some hearty vegetables as your second entree for everyone. This is no food blog, but a favorite of mine is potato/kale colcannon. It’s not traditional American but it’s hearty enough for a Thanksgiving feast.
That’s really it: Don’t let vegan choices dominate the conversation and don’t make the vegan feel excluded by having to pick at scraps. Making someone feel like a guest shouldn’t be too hard.