The holiday season is fast approaching, with Thanksgiving kicking it off tomorrow. Last year, my main concern was how I was going to get through a Thanksgiving meal as a new vegan. What was I going to eat? Would I be able to resist the foods everyone else was eating? Back then, my struggle mainly stemmed from having to bid farewell to pumpkin pie, cassava (my mom’s specialty dessert), and anything else I used to be able to eat that had dairy and eggs.
This year, the sadness and struggle are different. They stem from something much deeper … and more depressing. In the past year, I’ve seen so many forms of animal abuse that were once unimaginable to me (well, many still are). And yet, as horrifying as they are, I continued to seek the truths about things like factory farms, animals in entertainment, in live transport, at zoos, in the fur industry, in bear bile farms, and the ruthless destruction of wildlife habitats. But the stories also found me—through my Facebook newsfeed, through all the emails on animal-related petitions and from various animal organizations with calls to action or requests for donations.
My level of awareness was heightened, and so was my sensitivity and empathy for the billions of innocent animals who are mercilessly abused, mistreated, exploited and violently killed every second of every day.
And so, in the past year since I first celebrated Thanksgiving as a new vegan, I’ve changed.
Now the struggle is hearing coworkers talk about how they’re going to cook a turkey, or what they’re going to be eating on the day of gluttony. (Drastically different from when Thanksgiving was once celebrated through fasting and quiet reflection, which I learned recently from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, The Joyful Vegan.) Even the way people nonchalantly say “gobble, gobble” during Thanksgiving stings—as though a turkey that was about to be violently killed would happily greet you with “gobble, gobble”. And what about those marketing ploys that use cartoon graphics of turkeys smiling next to their carcass in the supermarket—as if they’re saying they’re thrilled that you’ve chosen to eat them? Such a gross misrepresentation of reality.
This year, the sadness stems from knowing too much about the plight of animals—not from passing on my once-favorite holiday foods. When I look at a cookie or a cream pie, I don’t salivate over it—I feel my heart being wrenched. In my mind I see the gruesome images of dairy cows being roughly handled and forcefully impregnated, their sweet babies alone in dark tiny sheds without their mothers, male calves with a bolt to their heads, or the heaping pile of spent dairy cows who are unfit to be processed and instead discarded like yesterday’s trash (after being used and abused all their miserable lives).
And after bearing witness—several times now—to truckloads of 6-month-old baby pigs as they enter Farmer John slaughterhouse’s gates of hell, I dread seeing all the grotesque and morbid ways we ‘dress up’ the dismembered bodies of innocent pigs for the holidays. I dread the emotions I’ll feel when they start advertising honey-baked hams or air holiday commercials featuring dishes made with body parts of the thirsty, hungry, tortured pigs I got to pet, give water to, and stare into the eyes of before they were poked with electric prods, kicked, beaten, boiled and violently killed.
The holidays have become bittersweet now. I don’t think you can ever really get used to it once you’ve awakened to the disturbing reality and the violence we’ve normalized, particularly during the “happiest season of all”.
Being vegan during the holidays is kind of like knowing that Santa Claus isn’t real while everyone else is oblivious to the fact. The only difference is that believing in Santa Claus doesn’t hurt anyone—other than the egos of those who finally realize they were duped into buying the myth. If only the same could be said for the animals who are violently and mercilessly tortured and killed year-round, especially during the holidays. If only it were all a myth.
And finally, the hardest part is being around family and friends who take part in the abuse inflicted on animals—as they casually and carelessly eat products of cruelty even after you told them about the horrors behind them. It’s like a punch in the gut, as if they’re saying, “I know how you feel; I know how much animals suffer, but I just don’t care enough.”
As other vegans have pointed out, it’s like sitting at the table with a cat or dog roasted and splayed out on a fancy dish in front of you. Everyone else thinks nothing of it, but you stare back in horror and see it for the life it once had--snuffed out for a brief, momentary satisfaction. You cringe as you see them slice into it, chewing gleefully while the hurt and sadness festers inside of you.
So, if you’re like me in this stage of veganism, how do you cope with the emotions of being around non-vegan loved ones during the holidays?
There’s a lot of information out there on how to survive Thanksgiving and the holiday season—from bringing your own food or hosting your own dinner, to sticking to your convictions and avoiding debates. But what if your family for the most part respects your food choices and lifestyle, but still eats non-vegan food around you? How do you deal with the emotional aspect of it? I had to do a little more digging for that, but here are some tips I found:
- If you’re at a point where you’re just too disturbed by seeing people eat meat around you, and your level of discomfort outweighs the joy of spending time with family, you can always politely decline the invitation. Consider celebrating with vegan friends, or even finding a vegan group on meetup.com.
- Practice gratitude – Be grateful that you even have a family to spend the holidays with, and that you have the fortune to choose what you want to eat as opposed to not knowing where your next meal will come from or how you’ll pay for it.
- Skip dinner - You can always arrive to the celebration later after everyone has finished eating. That way you avoid the emotions of seeing people eat non-vegan food around you.
- Start new traditions - Just like Thanksgiving wasn't always about eating turkey, as a vegan, Thanksgiving doesn't have to be about eating. Feed your soul, not your tummy, by volunteering at a non-profit organization or visiting a farm animal sanctuary.
- It's about quality time - Remind yourself that the holiday season is about spending quality time with family and friends who you may have not seen in a while or all together. Focus on making fun memories to distract yourself from the emotional aspect of sharing a table with non-vegans.
If you have any other tips, I would love to know. Post them in the comments below!