On The Turkey

Okay, I'd like a little clarification here.  First let me say that this is NOT an attack on anyone; I am looking to understand other peoples' thought processes around the issue of the turkey...

Jane and I have read a number of things recently in which people proclaim that they will not sit down at a table on which a turkey will take center stage.  As vegans, the pride of place at our table will be shared by a Tofurky and a Celebration Roast.  However, if we were heading to a non-vegan household, we wouldn't have a problem with a turkey at the table, we'd just make sure to bring something we could eat, and enough to share with anyone curious enough to try an alternative.  (If you haven't tried it already, you might be surprized at how effective this tactic can be.)

Now before you start criticizing me, let me explain my thinking...  If 5% of the U.S. population (and I'm being generous here) is vegetarian, then 95% of the population eats meat. Even if they are "wrong" in eating turkey, it is pretty much the norm.  To expect people to stop practicing "normal" behaviors because you want them to (or even because these practices are wrong) is a bit unrealistic.  I'm not saying advocacy doesn't have it's place.  I'm simply stating that people who are engaging in behavior that is deemed normal are not necessarily going to be aware that their behavior could/should be modified.

But here is where Jane and I become confused.  What's so special about the turkey?  Would you make the same distinction for a pot roast?  Or a rack of lamb?  Or a pork chop?  Or a hamburger?  Or a whole fish?  Okay, you don't "see" the dead animal in a hamburger, but you do in a rack of lamb... or a roasted chicken...or the whole fish (they often come entirely intact... face included).

Yes, 45 million turkeys are killed and sold for Thanksgiving here in the US (according to the USDA).  That accounts for 1/6 of all the turkeys sold in the US.  However, those turkeys represent multiple meals, for multiple people, so it's not as bad as it sounds.  But how many heads of cattle are slaughtered for consumption annually?  How many pigs?  How many chickens?  Is a turkey more important than any other animal?

I guess I don't understand why the Thanksgiving turkey is where the line is often drawn.  Yes, turkeys are intelligent and have personalities.  But pigs exhibit the intelligence equivalent to a 3 year old human.  (Wow!)  And pigs raised for foodstock don't live pleasant lives either; and they certainly don't have humane deaths!

So my questions are these:

  • If you can't sit at a table with a Thanksgiving turkey, can you eat at any non-vegan restaurant?  Because animal product is being prepared there, and consumed in proximity to your seat as well?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass at your table, what about that rack of lamb?  Or any other animal-based meal presented with pride?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass at your table, how do you handle the grocery store with lots of animal parts lined up, some of them readily identifiable as animals?
  • If you can't stand the sight of the turkey carcass, what do you do at the sight of a lobster tank?

(Remember, I'm not attacking anyone...  I'm pointing out what I see as inconsistencies and looking for clarification.)

So if I don't understand this reasoning, and I'm a vegan too... is it not reasonable to expect that your non-vegan loved ones will also miss the point?  And, if that's the case, perhaps a bit of tolerance will go further in helping to promote the cause than a flat out refusal to be even the slightest bit tolerant, which is my point in writing this post...  Tolerance will probably get you more opportunities for dialogue.  And with dialogue can come change.

Regardless of how you are planning on spending your day... We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!  Or simply, a happy Thursday.  (We'll be back with a post-meal post on Friday.)


  1. I prefer not to eat in any resturant – simply because I find the close proximity of dead animal parts to be unappetizing. I’ve tried, but it’s so gross to me that I wind up not enjoying my meal… Turkey dinners are no exception.
    Or racks of lamb parts, etc…

    I do my best to avoid traditional grocery stores – When I go, I avoid the dead animal isle as much as possible… regrettably, there is the awful stink of the meatcases which is harder to ignore…

    And the lobster tank… well – they (if only for the moment) are still alive and not pieces of carcass -It’s the dead part about animals that I’m turned off by… No offense…

    And about the tolerance – I can’t turn on my t.v. without “meat” ads… can’t drive my car two blocks without encountering a milk tank…. can’t travel the highway without billboards highlighting whatever meat “food” is up ahead… can’t get my junk mail filtered without 2 page ads of animal carcass offerings at the supermarket… I think I’m plenty tolerant as it is without sitting at a table with said offenses…
    Especially when the “centerpiece” is suppose to represent a “happy” celebration – based on joy & thanks… Dead animals… joyful… r-i-g-h-t…

  2. I would say in regards to these inconsistencies you see that most vegans don’t have them because many of us tend not to eat with meat eaters and do get upset whenever that does happen. Thanksgiving especially gets our panties up in a bunch because not only are people using animals like they do every day but they think there is some sort of celebratory element and joy to be found in the death of this animal! Normally many of us tend to think that a lot of meat eaters are just not cognizant of the animal in front of them in every day life, but here they are clearly acknowledging the death and are happy about it! Also holidays are supposed to be happy times about celebrating, and how can one be happy and celebrating with a dead animal on the table?

    I haven’t done US Thanksgiving with meat at the table in over a decade. And thank goodness! In my every day life I also almost never eat with people who are having some sort of recognizable animal… and mostly people eat veg around me without me asking anyway.

    I am one of those vegans who can’t stand the sight of dead animals… It’s not just turkey, but any sort of meat bothers me. I don’t look at meat in a grocery store (thankfully it is off to the side so it’s not hard to pass by it) or on other people’s plates. Why would I want to look at death in front of me when I am doing my part to not be a part of it? I don’t go to places where they have a lobster tank, and if they did, I’d have pretend it’s not there so I don’t get upset. There is some willful blindness to everyday cruelties so that I can exist in this world without being traumatized.

  3. I’ve been vegetarian for almost 20 years, in the last year I’ve been almost vegan only eating the odd milk/cheese that is in prepackaged veggie foods. Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that personally just seeing meat being eaten upsets me. The stench of it, the sight of it, and I find that I prefer to eat in pure veggie restaurants than a mixed restaurant (mostly cos those that serve meat tend to be stupid and consider fish ok for vegetarians).

    That said if I were going to someones house for dinner and they were having meat I’d either take my own dinner, or arrive after the dinner for drinks etc.

    We’re having a little gathering tomorrow at our place, vegan/veggie thanksgiving buffet for evening meal. I’ll have vege turkey and tofurkey, we have 3 meat eaters coming to a no-meat household. Should be interesting. Yes they know that this is a no-meat household. Hopefully they will have had their fill at their parents at dinner.

  4. Turkey is no different than any other animal being slaughtered for food. I think the only difference is that you have several friends or family members gathered where the entire food centerpiece is turkey and other meat. I think it’s easier to feel left out if you’re not eating it.

    But normally, I eat out with omnivores fairly regularly, and eat at non-vegan restaurants and find vegan food, and you just live with it. I’d be so isolated if I only surrounded myself with vegans or even vegetarians. Not that I wouldn’t want that in the ideal world but we live in this world.

    Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll be cooking up my nut roast today!

  5. Thank you for this post. I totally agree with you. I have been vegan for nearly 10 years, and I view holiday dinners with my extended omnivore family as a good opportunity to share vegan food with them. If I boycotted Thanksgiving and any other celebration involving meat, instead of twenty people thinking “wow, that vegan pie was good!” there would be twenty people thinking “wow, what a jerk, being vegan must suck, who is she to judge us anyway?” Maybe if the subject ever comes up for them in conversation, they will say, “You know, my niece is vegan, and she’s a really cool person, and she made this casserole that was really delicious” versus “Yeah, my niece is vegan, and she’s such a freak. She won’t even eat with us because there’s meat there. What a weirdo. She’d rather sit at home and eat sprouts or whatever they eat.”

    I just don’t see how that would be useful or do anything to make people realize that meat is not the be all and end all of cuisine. Of course I’m not happy that meat plays such a huge role in our food culture, but that’s how it is. Ignoring it or refusing to be around it won’t make it go away. I believe in living in the world as it exists as a positive example of veganism, more than maintaining some sort of isolationist “purity.” Meat is gross, but whatever. It’s just there, and I ignore it. If I got upset every time I saw meat or a picture of meat, I’d be a psychological mess. If I cut off everyone who ate meat or made it into a big problem, I’d have no family and few friends. I make my choices and they make theirs, and I’ll take any opportunity to show them that it is possible to live a happy life as a vegan.

  6. I just happen to read many of the Vegan Outreach articles last night and they made a lot of sense to me. It’s more important to convince others to consume less animal products, than to strictly adhere to every minute detail of veganism. The final goal is to reduce animal suffering and it’s important not to lose sight of that. Therefore, I think that Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to introduce vegan food to non-vegans. However, I probably would skip an outing to the Brazilian BBQ restaurant.

    Just adding to that, in order to convince others that vegetarians aren’t weird, isolated, and completely anti-social with the rest of the world, i think it’s important not to just cut off non-vegans. It’s important to show them that a vegan lifestyle is normal and doable, and that we’re open to talking to them about it when they are ready.

  7. I share the table with meat eaters all the time and I do still eat at “regular” restaurants that serve meat. While I’m not planning to be obnoxious at the Thanksgiving table this year, I am cooking up 3 different vegan dishes to bring with me and share. I guess the difference for me with Thanksgiving turkeys and any other holiday or even normal day where meat is on the table, is that Thanksgiving seems to be entirely about the dead bird at the center of the table. Animals served as food upsets me at any time, but it’s much more so upsetting at Thanksgiving for many of us as a matter of principle.

    The holiday itself… well, many already agree it’s somewhat shameful as it is. The “meaning” of Thanksgiving (above and beyond the white man conquering the Indians) is mostly lost and the celebration itself seems to be all about the food, and mostly about the turkey. Thanksgiving = Turkeys slaughtered in mass quantities. Sure it’s true that all other animals used for food are similarly slaughtered on a daily basis, but there’s no other holiday that celebrates and glorifies it on the same scale as Thanksgiving. There is no nationally celebrated Lobster Day, or Cow Day where whole frozen cows are sold by the millions and served whole as a center piece for one day a year.

    In this past year I’ve become much more serious about my veganism and have come to a deeper understanding of what it means and why I live this way. A large part of that is due to the time I’ve spent at Animal Acres farm sanctuary with the animals. I’ve held turkeys in my arms who cuddled up to me and made sounds as sweet and cute as a kitty would. They are intelligent, wonderful animals, and for me, just the thought of what happens to them each year by the billions each November is just horrifying. Yes, it’s just as horrifying to think of it happening to cows and chickens each day too, but that does not lessen the impact of how the lowly turkeys are assaulted en masse each year at holiday time as a point of pride (and, mass consumption).

    So while I’m not going to cause a fuss at my families table, I will attempt to lead by example by bringing delicious vegan foods to share. I will also however be bringing with me a framed picture of my adopted turkey (from http://www.adoptaturkey.org) for anyone who wants to see her should the topic come up… which it will as soon as people start asking me why I’m not eating turkey… and I’m not going to shy away from answering questions graphically about why I don’t eat animals, especially turkeys… who I consider my friends. If people want to bring it up at the dinner table while I’m trying to eat my food, as they always do, I’m not going to sugar coat my responses just to be polite or avoid controversy.

    Sure, eating turkeys at Thanksgiving is a custom that for most people in this country isn’t going to change any time soon. At the same time though, those of use who have opened our eyes and woken up to the reality of what’s happening shouldn’t have to pretend or hold our tongues about something that we find appalling. While I won’t be freaking out at the dinner table or trying to ruin anyones evening because of the bird on the table, I applaud those who will be taking more of a stand and I understand completely if they just don’t want to participate in this holiday anymore if dead animals are involved. I don’t think those people are obnoxious or fussy, I think they are living by the principles that matter to them, be it extreme or not, and they are brave to do so. It’s really hard to stand up to your family for what you think is right. I don’t know, perhaps by next year I won’t be able to bring myself to eat at my families table if there’s a giant dead turkey on it either. It would be a bummer to upset my family, but sometimes you just have to accept the bummer and move on in order to do what you know is right, and I have a lot of respect for people who choose to do so. Ultimately I don’t think it’s extreme to be disgusted by the sight of a dead bird on the dinner table, I think it’s a lot more extreme to engage in the practice of cooking and eating it. Just because things are backwards and we’re used to it being the other way around doesn’t make it right.

    I keep thinking of the movie Soylent Green, where at the end the main character is freaking out and screaming about how the food is really made out of people and we see him being lead away by the authorities before anyone can hear him. Sure he looks like the crazy, screaming, “militant” nutjob, but that’s only because he’s the only one who’s seen the truth while everyone else is mindlessly shoveling this “food” into their faces without thinking about what it’s made of. If they really knew they’d be disgusted, but most of them don’t really want to know. Who’s really the crazy one in such a situation… the one who can no longer keep quite about it and refused to participate, or the ones who keep ignoring what’s really going on?

  8. Ah yes… Soylent Green – let’s not tell anyone that their “food” is not really “food” at all… cause none want to know. I think Foodeater that you have a wonderful take on the whole thing… not wanting to ruin anyone’s meal yet knowing deep in your heart that the whole holiday (for Indians too) is more sad than happy.

    You better watch though… keep spending time with those beautiful animals and turkeys at Animal Acres you may not be so very understanding next year… I do believe the more interaction with animals, the more you grow to love them the more militant veganism becomes… The live/let live philosophy begins to have more meaning concerning animal interests than it does for those who say “grace” before devouring it’s body.

  9. You say that you “don’t have a problem” with others eating meat, but I imagine that most vegans, including myself, feel different. I, in fact, do have a problem with it. I have a problem with it, and I have to tolerate it most of the time. But I have an especially hard time doing so at Thanksgiving. Why?

    Consider that in most parts of this country, Thanksgiving has degenerated into a perverse display of out of control consumption. I think Romans would blush at what is taking place in some households. The spectacle, to me, is sickening to watch and it’s made worse by the huge carcass that is being butchered by “Dad” right there on the dinner table.

    Perhaps because of this, I find that vegans have to deal with a lot more asshole carnivore behavior during Thanksgiving dinners than any other time of the year. I am certain that other vegans have experienced this as well. It is said that meat eaters’ awkwardness towards vegans is in part due to their guilt, then it is to be expected that things will be worse during TG and it indeed is.

    Because of the above, I have grown very, very tired of attending meat-eating Thanksgivings. Especially because I actually like what Thanksgiving is about, and as an atheist, I try to put an emphasis on (largely) secular holidays anyways. I simply got sick of attending these awkward and aesthetically and morally very unpleasant events. It was something I was not looking forward to, and which was wasting a perfectly good day off.

    So, I started to lay down the law, and we now have our own little vegan Thanksgiving and celebrate the day our own way. Yesterday we had a great time cooking and relaxing and NOT overeating and NOT having to smell and see cooked dead animals. A vegan Thanksgiving, to me, is clearly the way to go.

  10. Yesterday my husband and I attended a vegan fest! The bounty of (real) food was more than I ever imagined it would be. It was wonderful being able to sample, taste and enjoy all of it amongst 200+ others of similar (compassionate) minds.

    There is mourning enough in the months and weeks prior to this occassion – knowing of all the turkeys being slaughtered in preparation for this gluttonous day – I agree… spending the day watching others consume said tortured beings would just be too much.

    In fact, if it all came down to a “choice” I’d rather spend “T”day alone with a peanutbutter sandwich than sit around with others dining on cruelty.

    Go Torfurky! Go Vegan!

  11. I think you are being very pragmatic here, and pragmatism is often the best strategy, especially when you are not dealing with like-minded individuals. Thanksgiving for most is a time to be with family and friends, and not strictly about the food itself. Grandstanding or preaching at a dinner will likely insult others more so than it will “convert” them, so if the thought of seeing a turkey on the table disgusts you, you should probably boycott the dinner altogether.

    Of course I’m vegan mostly for health and environmental reasons, and I don’t judge the choices others make when it comes to feeding themselves (or much else for that matter). If one simply cannot stand the thought of animals killed for food, then like I said above, the best bet is probably to boycott altogether.

    I wrote a post about this myself the other day… if anyone is interested:


    I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, whatever the situation was!

    – Leo
    (Vegan Libre)

  12. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks for the dialogue. I think it’s always beneficial to get people talking in order to gain an understanding of all the different points of view out there.

    However, there is one aspect of this I’m not really getting. A number of you have suggested that it is the “celebratory” nature of this meal that is most disturbing for you. In my experience, most of the gatherings I have attended centered around eating and had a celebratory atmosphere. And for me, Thanksgiving is truly a time to celebrate and rejoice in family and our good fortune. Luckily that is the way both of our families have always treated this holiday. Yes, there is an excess of food, but I believe if you look back through history the “feast” is all about gluttony and excess. Our excess simply translates into Jane’s not having to cook for a few days because we do leftovers! I don’t know about most other households, but what I’ve seen usually involves the guests going home with portions of leftovers as well. So the net food being prepared looks to me to be similar or slightly more than you’d be preparing for all these people for the next few days anyway.

    Perhaps we are more fortunate that some of you have been. Our famiiles are mostly supportive, or at least not outwardly mocking or antagonistic towards us and our choices. They’re not necessarily accomodating, but we can take care of ourselves.

    As for the dead animal in the middle of the table, any omnivore dinner involves a dead animal in the middle of the table. Perhaps they’re not as readily identifiable, but those hamburgers are still dead cows, etc. And the barbeque king is lauded for his abilities to flame broil his burgers and brats. He’s elevated to almost god-llike stature during the barbeque season. If you start boycotting all these events you basically remove yourself from society. I think we can be more successful getting our message across if we do so in a tolerant, less antagonistic manner. I prefer to preach by example. Over time people see that you are not malnourished and then they want to try what you’re eating… and then suddenly they may even incorporate some of your foods into their menu.

    Regardless of your approach, Jane and I hope you all had an enjoyable day.

  13. You are lucky to have a supportive family. Many vegans are not as lucky.

    However, you miss an important point about the excess. It’s not just the amount of food presented on the table, that is a turnoff. Sure, you *could* theoretically eat the same food for several days straight, though in practice a lot of that food does get wasted because people can’t see it after eating it for 2 days. But truth be told, most people I’ve seen at “regular” Thanksgivings, should not eat *at all* for a few days as they must consume several thousands of calories at one sitting.

    “I think we can be more successful getting our message across if we do so in a tolerant, less antagonistic manner.”

    This sentence (and the whole paragraph, really) is problematic, to say the least – frankly, I find it a little offensive. First, it suggests that having an issue with, and opting to not attend a meat-eating TG is intolerant and antagonistic. Second, it suggests that we at all times ought to “get a message across”. Really? Since when is creating our own vegan food culture always a bad thing? Since when is constant preaching (in however subtle ways) always a good thing?

    Look, I don’t want to get a message across at TG. I really don’t. I just want to enjoy a vegan feast, and not watch others practically inhale half a carcass on the other side of the table. No offense, no message. Just a vegan TG, for me and those close to me, the way I wish to have it. If other people have an issue with that, well, then that’s not my problem. I had a great day on Thursday.

    Sharing vegan food with meat eaters is important. But I also think that there is immense value in gatherings where vegan food is the centerpiece instead of a bunch of side dishes or a curiosity.

  14. Hi bm,
    I think you are misinterpreting what I am saying. I am not saying flatly that refusing to attend a non-vegan thanksgiving is intolerant. Nor am I saying that vegan Thanksgiving gatherings are something to eschew.
    My point was that society does not understand veganism. The first question I hear (99% of the time) when I mention I’m vegan is, “what do you eat?” By removing ourselves from family gatherings, the general perception is that we are living some weird, difficult, secluded lifestyle.
    I do agree that there is immense value in gatherings where vegan food is the centerpiece, especially if you live in an area where getting a vegan meal outside of the home can be a challenge. I just don’t think Thanksgiving is the best time for that. I believe Thanksgiving is about family, and refusing to attend a family function can be rather hurtful to the family, especially if the family doesn’t understand the abstainee’s point of view. Obviously if your family environment is toxic to you, you need to do what is best for you.

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