An excerpt from this post was originally published as part of Vegan Street’s All-Star Guide to a Meaningful Thanksgiving.
Being a snazzle-frazzle vegan for more than a dozen years, I’ve had a spectrum of holiday experiences, from omnivorous family gatherings that feature not only turkey but also ham and mac and cheese, to veg-friendly feasts where, though turkey was served, I supplied a vegan entree and dessert and the other guests, though not vegan themselves, thoughtfully veganized the side dishes that they brought. Though I can happily hobnob with my omnivorous peeps (and try not to think too hard about the turkey on the table), my very favorite rendition of Thanksgiving happened for the first time last year. I hosted a queer vegan potluck with some of my very best friends – my chosen family. Though not all of them are vegan (or even queer), every one of them could eat anything on the menu. In that way, it truly felt like a celebration of gratitude, rich with an abundance of food and friendship. We created our own paradise where the virtues of love and compassion felt especially alive.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I haven’t always had the opportunity to create my own paradise with a queer vegan Thanksgiving potluck. I’ve most often had to venture outside my comfort zone for the holidays (and that’s saying a lot since the comfort zone for a pink-haired showgirl is abnormally large). Many years ago, maybe a year after I went vegan, a burly boyfriend took me to meet his family in the sticks. Once there, I learned that he was from a family of hunters who relished casseroles comprised of every animal product under the sun. Egad! It wasn’t my ideal way to spend the holidays, especially considering my newly minted vegan ethic, but I made the best of it. I did exactly what any smart vegan showgirl would do when she’s invited to an omnivore’s dinner party: I made sure to bring good vegan food to eat and to share. And I made sure that whatever I brought looked and tasted delicious. And I wore sequins. I was going to have a good time, dammit! And not just for my own sake but also for the sake of veganism, to show others that going vegan isn’t about a life of deprivation. Au contraire!
I know one vegan stud muffin who tells the story of a Thanksgiving long ago. He decided to spend the day fasting as a personal protest. He sat there with an empty plate while his family, surrounding him on all sides, stuffed their faces. Oh, what a pathetic scene! Many years later, he tells this story with regret, admitting that his protest was in vain; it only reinforced others’ preconceived notions that vegans are living a life devoid of pleasure. Let’s avoid this scenario at all costs. Now, how do you do that?
As I said before, bring a bounty of scrumptious vegan goodies to your holiday celebration. Chances are that people will want to eat what you’re eating. Chances also are that people will ask you why you won’t eat the turkey. Now, how does one respond to such a question in that moment? In my experience, the Thanksgiving dinner table is not the place to expound upon the evils of factory farming. Say something brief and innocuous but true for you, such as “I do it for the animals, my health, and the planet.” You can respond joyfully, respectfully, and with reserve. If they have follow-up questions right there at the dinner table, say that you’d be happy to chat with them about it at another time. Though they’ve expressed an interest, if they are eating animals at that meal, they are unlikely to be receptive to your vegan philosophy. They are more likely to be defensive, and who knows where the conversation will go from there. If fisticuffs have to break out at the holiday dinner table, let it be over whom gets to have the last serving of Mistress Ginger’s Apple-Blueberry Crisp and not about something so highly charged as our food choices.
If you want to be a voice for the animals during the holidays, consider how you can most effectively do that. The outspoken, confrontational approach is not always the best one to take, especially at holiday celebrations. Aim for harmony. Focus on the common ground, what you share. In my experience, just being present as the joyful, compassionate (and devastatingly gorgeous) creature that I am, I can create positive experiences for others around the image of veganism.
In summary, your Mistress recommends that you show up at your holiday gatherings with some glorious vegan food in tow, keep the conversation light and nonjudgmental, and, if at all possible, wear something sequined.
Mistress Ginger is a vegan showgirl based in the Twin Cities. She is the author of Mistress Ginger Cooks!: Everyday Vegan Food for Everyone. Join her for a book signing at Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Saturday, December 6 at 2:00pm. Check out her blog for more of her sassy words of wisdom, vegan recipes, videos, and upcoming events.