A critical Thanksgiving

Figure 1. Cover photo for event scheduled on Facebook. Institute for Critical Animal Studies via Facebook, fair use.

Figure 1. Cover photo for event scheduled on Facebook.

Update, November 22, 2014: I have updated this post here.

The point (fig. 1) is, of course, well taken. Historically, Thanksgiving is about genocide. As the Native American Encyclopedia gently—perhaps too gently—puts it,

To the Indians, Thanksgiving would mean a totally different thing. This was the beginning of their end – a time where they had given up their land in return for gifts that were full of disease – which would kill many of them later down the road.[1]

Figure 2. Bizarro Thanksgiving cartoon. Dan Piraro, November 20, 2006, via Vegan Outreach, fair use.

Figure 2. Bizarro Thanksgiving cartoon. Dan Piraro, November 20, 2006, via Vegan Outreach, fair use.

There is another troubling point. More, perhaps, than any other holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is about food. And in this culture, that means a lot of birds get killed (fig. 2) in the name of tradition, a tradition, by the way, that forms part of Michael Pollan’s rationalization for not going vegan. He wants to share food with family and friends, including at holidays.[2] The ongoing eating habits of this culture are a genocide in their own right.

Much as I disagree with Pollan’s rationalization, it is a reason to continue to celebrate Thanksgiving. We can share food—good food. I’m not much into commercial endorsements, but Tofurky is an example of vegan food that is every bit as tasty as its animal counterpart.

I get that humans are omnivores. I recognize that meat is a natural part of that. Our closest relatives in the animal world, chimpanzees, eat plants, fruits, insects — and kill and eat other mammals, sometimes even resorting to cannibalism. But we are creatures with a conscience; we are the ones who can empathize, even with a turkey.[3]

Diana Wagman’s experience, however, remains on my mind. It is brave of her to endure the argument every year, with relatives, even with her husband, even over raising their children.[4] It can be tough to be on the front lines advocating an ethical position, especially against family, especially against older relatives who may see a vegan argument as challenging their own moral authority and standing within the family. And the obvious answer to Pollan’s rationalization is to invite them to a Tofurky dinner. Which, equally obviously, is easier said than done.

I think it must have been in junior high school that I remember seeing a brief mention of the slaughter of the American Indians and the conquest of their territory. We read it and moved on. It was treated as the natural course of events, not especially noteworthy, glossed over by glorious Manifest Destiny. I remember being surprised that such an obviously immoral act went unchallenged in class, but I also remember being afraid to raise the challenge myself.

The slaughter of animals to feed humans goes similarly unchallenged. And whether we look at Thanksgiving as a historical tradition or as a modern holiday, it commemorates a slaughter of sentient beings.

That commemoration, however, need not be a celebration. It can be an occasion for consciousness-raising. But rather than fruitlessly taking on omnivore friends and family, I would suggest sharing it with vegetarian ecofeminists.

  1. [1]Native American Encyclopedia, “Thanksgiving,” August 30, 2011, http://nativeamericanencyclopedia.com/thanksgiving/
  2. [2]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2007).
  3. [3]Diana Wagman, “Let’s talk Tofurky,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/25/opinion/la-oe-wagman-20101125
  4. [4]Diana Wagman, “Let’s talk Tofurky,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/25/opinion/la-oe-wagman-20101125

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