Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Surviving Thanksgiving Amongst Carnivores

Published on November 24, 2009 by   ·   25 Comments Pin It

Marisa Milller Wolfson (of Kind Green Planet) helps new and old veggies survive the holidays with carnivorous relatives with her thoughtful tips.   It’s best to read this blog before starting to the throw pie and threaten familial divorce;

I can hardly think of a topic more emotional than food. You can debate health care reform or Obama’s economic recovery plan until the rescued cows come home, but once the topic of food lands on the table, get ready for a full-on food fight, at least verbally if not physically.

Well, that’s how it can feel, anyway, especially to people who are new to veg-conscious living.   But here’s the good news:   the first holiday or two as a vegetarian or vegan is always the hardest, but it gets easier from there…as your brother’s tofurky jokes get stale, and your mom discovers that she can no longer sneak some turkey fat into the supposedly vegetarian gravy without you noticing.


So, how do you survive that first holiday or two? Here are a few pointers:

  • Feel solid in your decision to be vegetarian or vegan. If you feel secure and happy about your decision, chances are, you’re going to radiate happiness and security, and people will notice and will likely choose weaker (ahem) prey for their snarky comments. They’ll also notice your “veg glow” and vow to themselves (if not you) to eat more plant foods. If you want a little more inspiration to eschew turkey flesh, feel free to read this page about turkey factory farming, this undercover investigation of a turkey breeding facility, or this page with surprising info about free range labels.
  • Have compassion for the people who are eating the turkey. As Jasmin Singer says on Farm Sanctuary’s Making Hay blog about surviving the holidays, “Don’t feel as though you have to defend your veganism. If your Uncle Joe is poking fun at you, it could be because he’s grappling with his own conscience.  Extend compassion to him, and rise above the petulance.” She goes on to say, “Unless you were born vegan, there was a time when you also consumed animal products. Keep that in mind, and also lead by example.”
  • Don’t go into the horrors of factory farming and slaughter at the table…especially if there is a dead bird on it. I tend to agree with feminist vegetarian author Carol Adams, author of Living Among Meat Eaters that the presence of meat at the table automatically raises defenses, and people will be less able to take in what you’re saying. It creates a strange power dynamic that detracts from your message. If someone asks me why I’m vegan in such a situation, I’ll reply with something light and vague such as, “Ethical and environmental reasons,” or “Being vegan allows me to have a different kind of relationship with animals and the earth.” Then I’ll usually say that it’s one of my favorite topics of conversation and I’d love to chat about it when we’re not at the dinner table. And then I do! Offering to chat later gives you points for social decorum. Plus, it’s more effective to bring it up at a time when people can have the kind of conversation that the topic actually merits.
  • If a non-veg person is hosting the dinner, bring a delicious dish or two and/or offer to help in the kitchen. More points for decorum, and the host will be so grateful.
  • If you’re hosting a dinner for non-veg people, don’t emphasize that all the food you’re making is veg. I like how VegNews puts it in their article with Thanksgiving tips & tricks:   “Try to remember that people eat vegan food every day-they just don’t label it that way. The mind has a funny way of altering our experiences based on perception alone, so let the food speak for itself.
  • If your family insists on eating a turkey, and it really upsets you, be honest with them, and get creative. Some families leave the bird in the kitchen so their veg family members don’t have to stare at a carcass the entire time. Other families cook and eat the turkey the day before or the day after the veg person comes. It’s healthier to talk about it openly and come up with a solution together than to internalize it, be passive-aggressive or broody.
  • Know that you have a right to feel upset by violence towards animals. The American Psychiatric Association says that witnessing the death or injury of one animal qualifies as a traumatic event. Being marginalized for feeling upset about it further compounds the trauma. Please respect your own animal rights and do what you need to in order to take care of yourself emotionally on this holiday for which so many animals suffered and died. If that means forgoing celebrating with your family, host a potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner with veg friends instead. (They tend to be more fun anyway–ssshhh! Don’t tell my family!)
  • Phone a friend. Contact a veg friend now who might be going through something similar and offer a moral support phone call in case of emergency.   Sometimes all it takes to feel better is a good vent.

You are participating in one of the most important social justice movements of our time, and you are helping to create a new holiday tradition that affirms life, health and compassion. Be bold. Be strong. Be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Marisa Miller Wolfson is the Outreach Director for Kind Green Planet, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching people about healthy, humane, eco-friendly living. She’s currently in post-production for her documentary about veganism and is co-drafting a city council resolution to lower NYC’s global warming “foodprint.” She also loves coaching people on plant-based living through Vegan at Heart, a free email mentoring program for treehuggers, animal lovers, and health nuts who consider themselves vegans at heart but not necessarily in practice.

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Readers Comments (25)

  1. Gena says:

    Such a great post! Echoes much of what I recently said in a post of my own. It’s so important to remain positive and firm in one’s identity during what can be a really trying time of year for vegans. Thanks for the input.

  2. elaine says:

    This is a wonderful post. I’m sure, the day after Thanksgiving, I’ll blog about my first vegan holiday. My family is basically being supportive, though I am alone in this journey — no real-life friends or family doing this with me. Thank God for the internet world!

  3. chloejo says:

    Elaine, why not look up a veggie support group in your area? Where do you live?

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by GirlieGirlArmy: Vegans Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving Amongst Carnivores

  5. […] how do you survive that first holiday or two? Go read the FULL ARTICLE at GGA and find out! Vegan Thanksgiving Yummies from […]

  6. beforewisdom says:

    I am thankful that I have an extremely nice vegan Thanksgiving potluck to go to with fellow non-pro activists.

    Nice house, good crew and great food.

    In addition to not having to deal with travel hassles as well as familial hassles, I will not have to endure trying to eat with a dead animal on the table and people who think they are witty telling me thinly veiled snarky jokes I have heard numerous times for over 30 years.

  7. Ariela says:

    I’m enjoying my first vegan Thanksgiving this year. Thanks for the tips, they are extremely helpful and enlightening!

  8. ami says:

    I thought I’d share with you my big brother’s adorable vegan Thanksgiving song:


  9. […] Surviving Thanksgiving Amongst Carnivores – “here’s the good news: the first holiday or two as a vegetarian or vegan is always the hardest, but it gets easier from there as your brother’s tofurky jokes get stale, and your mom discovers that she can no longer sneak some turkey fat into the supposedly vegetarian gravy without you noticing.” […]

  10. […] Thanksgiving Amongst Carnivores. I totally agree with all of her suggestions, and you can read them here. Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. […]

  11. Betsy Correa says:

    I agree with most of what is said. But, I have a hard time with promoting octo-lavo vegetarianism as a form of compassionate living. Octo-lavo vegetarians promote the veal and dairy industry. That is just as cruel as the meat industry. So, I do not understand where that may fall under compassion and surviving thanksgiving. Not to mention that thanksgiving is a farce…remember Native Americans? Just throwing some thoughts out there…

  12. Chloe Jo says:

    Betsey, I agree entirely. That’s the exact reason ALL recipes above are entirely VEGAN. :)

  13. […] GirlieGirl Army: Surviving Thanksgiving Amongst Carnivores […]

  14. Marisa says:

    There are no references to promoting ovo-lacto vegetarianism, so not sure where you got that. I’m a vegan activist!
    -The blog author

  15. Meghan says:

    Great tips. The link to the “free-range” turkey photos doesn’t work… ??? It’s just a parked page…


  16. […] of vegetarians – I know, we’re weird.), you’ll probably need these tips for surviving Thanksgiving amongst carnivores. Check out Kate Middleton’s dress from her engagement announcement – do you think […]

  17. […] And, if you’re vegetarian like me (and aren’t lucky enough to be from a family of vegetarians – I know, we’re weird.), you’ll probably need these tips for surviving Thanksgiving amongst carnivores. […]

  18. […] meaty holiday temptations is endless. I found this post on GirlieGirl Army by Marisa Wolfson about surviving the holidays without giving up your morals, and think its got some great tips to make the season even better. While i was originally intended […]

  19. Cheyla says:

    Great pointers! I just avoid the Thanksgiving dinners completely as I can’t handle dead animal smells anymore – it’s nauseating and disgusting.

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