Conflicted thoughts on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays, primarily because of the food. I’m not talking about turkeys; I haven’t eaten the flesh of any animal in over 25 years. But there are so many delicious seasonal foods that can easily be made without animal products: Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and that jellied cranberry sauce that I love ejecting from the can with a satisfying *splorp*.

Bart and Marge Simpson demonstrate cranberry sauce de-canning procedure.

My partner Ziggy and I have cooked a vegan Thanksgiving feast together almost every year since we met in 2001. We’ve often invited a friend or two over, but sometimes have made it just for the two of us, as we’re doing this year. It’s a rare day off for him during a busy work season, and we enjoy cooking together.

A few years ago however, as I became more aware of all of the injustice in the world, I learned that the true origins of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday are even more terrible than I had imagined. While I already knew that the whitewashed story of peaceful relations between pilgrims and Native Americans was colonialist propaganda, I learned that what these colonists were really giving thanks for was genocide. If you have some time today, please watch this video by Kat Blaque or read the transcript. I will not apologize if this information ruins anyone’s meal.

Kat Blaque video: The True Story of Thanksgiving.

In light of this history and the continued oppression of indigenous people, some vegans have stated that celebrating Thanksgiving even without any animal products on the table is unethical. I think this is a fair point. I was very conflicted over whether to continue having our traditional holiday meal. Last year Ziggy’s relatives were visiting, and I decided we could have the usual food, but I called it a “harvest feast” and explained to them why we were not celebrating Thanksgiving specifically. I also asked Ziggy to send them the above video in advance, though I’m not sure that they watched it.

Ultimately, I felt that spreading awareness about oppression was more impactful than simply eating pasta instead of pumpkin pie on this day. So this year I’m doing the same. If any Native Americans feel I should be addressing their oppression differently, please share your thoughts, because your voices are the ones that should matter the most in this conversation.

A protester at a Stand with Standing Rock rally in San Francisco holds a sign reading “Protect the Sacred”. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

As an ethical vegan, one might imagine that I’m also troubled by all of the birds that have been killed for today’s holiday. Of course I am, but in truth Thanksgiving is not much different from any other day in the U.S. in terms of animal consumption. Not only “meat” animals, but also dairy cows and egg-laying chickens are killed by the billions annually, not out of necessity, but for reasons of pleasure, tradition, and convenience.

The scope of this culture of killing — which extends worldwide, across political systems and ideologies—is so vast that I find it difficult to cope with, on top of all of the stress that I experience being a black trans person. I have lots of support from allies against racism and trans-antagonism, but most of them do not extend the concepts of justice and consent to include non-human animals. I understand this, as I did not see animals as people myself until relatively recently, even though I’ve been vegan since 2011.

To be very clear, I am not being oppressed for being a vegan; while I experience discomfort seeing animals treated as products, this is not the same as being discriminated against for my race or gender identity. Likewise, I do not expect most people at this time to view speciesism in the same way as racism or sexism, though I have made efforts to make connections between these systems. I support vegan activists of color like A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project and lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project who speak out for marginalized humans as well as our fellow animals. Both of them have been great allies to trans folks.

Regardless, I hope that vegans who are sharing meals today with non-vegan friends and family members do not succumb to pressure to eat animal products to be “polite”. For someone who is ethically opposed to eating another’s flesh or body secretions, refusing food is not equivalent to rejecting a high-calorie dish in order to maintain a trim waistline. Being vegan isn’t about being superior to others either; we all have flaws. For me, it’s simply a matter of trying to reduce avoidable harm to living beings.

Finally, my thoughts turn to those who are facing an awkward or outright painful holiday with family members who do not respect their gender identities or sexual orientations. Some might be willfully misgendered or deadnamed by relatives who refuse to accept them as their authentic selves, and feel that they have to go along with it for the sake of family harmony. Many will be facing relatives who voted for men who have been steadily eroding the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people, but feel that they must keep political talk off the dinner table, again for the sake of a peaceful holiday.

I have been estranged from my birth family for years, by choice. This is not (directly) due to my gender transition as one might expect, but many trans people are rejected by their families for this reason, and will be spending today and other holidays with chosen family or alone. I am fortunate to have the unwavering support of my spouse, who I married long before I realized I was trans. This is one reason why I am reluctant to give up our traditional Thanksgiving meal, despite the problematic nature of the holiday.

Whatever conversations happen or don’t happen today, the fight against oppression will continue. I can only hope that one day humans will evolve into a truly peaceful species.