As the only real vegetarian in my family (I have an aunt who eats poultry & fish), I’ve had this dinner-table discussion a number of times. My rhetorical strategy usually involves asking my carnivorous relatives why they think it’s ok to eat meat when there are other options available. They usually reply that animals lack something or other (variously phrased as intelligence, self-awareness, a soul, etc) which makes them ‘fair game’ for eating. I then point out that there are many humans whose level of quality x is lower than that of animals (e.g., infants, the mentally disable, the comatose), but we don’t think it’s alright to eat them. They usually reply that they love animals b/c they taste great, a sign that my superior reasoning has left them buffaloed to the point that they can only respond with stale jokes. I have yet to win any converts with this method.
Try bringing a vegetarian option in addition to turkey to start. If the dish is delicious enough, maybe it’ll be more popular than the turkey? Most people in my family don’t even like turkey that much to begin with. Since I’ve gone vegetarian, my family usually gets mostly vegetarian/vegan dishes and maybe a tiny bit of turkey (like a one-portion amount). The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, after all!
You could have Thanksgiving at your place (or offer to cook the meal at someone else’s house, if your place is not an option), and simply not put meat on the menu. You could also, draft up a menu of delicious things and show it to the person who is hosting Thanksgiving. If they see a series of mouth-watering foods, they may be willing to give it a try. I would absolutely not suggest replacing turkey with tofurkey. It just doesn’t sound appealing. Also, point out that even without a turkey, you can still have gravy, and stuffing/dressing (although perhaps not the recipe they’re used to). A lot of people aren’t nearly as attached to the bird as they are to the stuff that goes with the bird.
Seconding the suggestion to host it at your home. If people don’t want to attend because there isn’t a dead bird on the table, then that’s their loss. And serving the dinner at your house isn’t always the perfect solution, either, because you can always count on someone to eat your food, and insted of just enjoying the moment, they have to mention the fact that they have a turkey at home, in the oven, waiting for them to take it out because they HAVE to have their turkey one way or the other! 🙂
Still, it can be really helpful for them to see you don’t suffer on Thanksgiving just because there is a lack of turkey. It will be a lot of work and expense for you, though, so you’ll need to be prepared for that.
If hosting at your house isn’t possible, then bring as many dishes as you can to the next gathering and make the discussion of meat/no meat off limits. We are the ones who nearly always lose discussions of meat/no meat, so it’s sometimes better just to bring lots of dishes that look too good to resist, let everyone eat them because they always do–I’ve yet to attend a gathering of omnivores who won’t eat all the vegetarian’s food, sometimes leaving the vegetarian with nothing–and eventually they will see they can be satisfied on something other than turkey. It may not change their diet, but they will see why you eat the way you do.
It’s only through years and decades of conditioning that they don’t think they can let go of their traditional feast ingredients, and it’s really hard to undo that conditioning enough to open someone’s mind. All we can do is keep offering the best food in the house and showing them it’s easy to live and eat welll.
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