Why I Skipped Thanksgiving
I decided not to visit my family for Thanksgiving (or Christmas) this year. Ever since I started my transition to a vegan diet, almost 4 years ago, I have been struggling with backlash from family, friends, associates, doctors, nurses, babysitters, register clerks, librarians, random people at the park…. When I decided to go vegan, I never thought that I would constantly feel the need to defend myself. If anything, I thought at least I would feel comfortable around my family and friends.
I remember the last Thanksgiving dinner I went to when I was still eating animal products. I was telling my whole family that this was the last time I would be eating this food for Thanksgiving. Some of them asked me questions like, “What can you eat? “How long am I doing it for?”
Some of them didn’t believe that I would stop eating animal meat, I mean, because it was me. They knew I loved steak and burgers. No way I would be vegan. So then, I stopped eating the steak and burgers, and I still showed up to the next Thanksgiving, confident and proud of myself. Some people wanted me to help prepare dishes I didn’t see as food anymore. I sure as heck wasn’t going to eat this food, so I didn’t help make it. Some people still thought I would quit eventually. Some people were a little offensive saying things like, “I grew up eating this way, so there’s nothing wrong with it.” And, “They eat meat in the bible, so it’s okay.”
Some people made fun of me. Some people said I was “missing out.” Some people said they could never stop eating meat and cheese. Some people were confused why I couldn’t eat the mashed potatoes that were made with real butter or the only vegetables served, green beans cooked with bacon and collard greens cooked with a turkey leg.
Then there were some people who asked me, “Why?” And this is where I would get excited! Someone finally asked me why I wanted to be vegan! So, I answered their questions, and vegan life smacked me in the face.
This is when I realized that food is a BIG deal to a lot of people, and it’s not a simple topic of conversation. After this, I really started to do more research on how we became so addicted to eating certain foods and why it is so hard for some people to talk about it. I found that food is a lot deeper than just what we eat. It is history, it is tradition, it is in remembrance, it is a comfort, it is what brings people together. And I also realized that I was the one who was “ruining” this for so many people that I cared about in my life.
The next Thanksgiving, I decided to show up late, after all the preparations were made, and I also brought my own food this time. I thought for sure this would help me feel more included and also help make other people feel more comfortable, because at least I would be eating and they wouldn’t have to feel bad. I was wrong. It was worse. I got there late and everyone was asking me where I had been. I warmed up my food and sat down to eat. I got so many questions. “Did you make that?” “What is it?” “Is it good?” “Does it have meat in it?” “Is that what vegans eat for Thanksgiving?” “Do you wish you could eat our food?” “Why are you doing this?”
It was a bowl of kale and quinoa soup. I warmed it up about three times while eating, because I kept stopping to talk to people about why I was eating my soup and not the baked macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes. It was very frustrating for me. At that point in my life, I became a little unmotivated and regretful. I started to hate being vegan and what I hated even more was that I couldn’t go back to eating animal products after everything I learned about the food industry, and the mistreatment of animals, and the way it’s damaging our environment. I was angry, and I still am.
So, this year, as the weather started getting cooler, I finally made the decision to stay home for the holidays and not visit my family. I got a little backlash from them, especially when I said I wasn’t coming for Christmas either. I do feel a little bad, and I really would have liked to be there, but I really needed this. My Thanksgiving was simple and peaceful. I took a four hour nap and ordered a pizza. They actually delivered on Thanksgiving day, AND it was a free pizza, because I had enough points from ordering too much pizza. I actually enjoyed it a lot, and I don’t regret my decision at all. At this point in my vegan/plant-based journey, I think this was necessary for me to become more confident in my lifestyle choice. One day I will be strong enough mentally to handle all the scrutiny that comes with being vegan in a non-vegan family and world. But for now, I won’t hesitate to do whatever I feel I need to do to protect myself and support the changes I’m making. Maybe I’ll be ready next year, and maybe not. Either way is okay with me.