Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless . . . from the turkey’s point of view. ―Shel Silverstein
Primitive and pagan? Us? We of the laser, [the microchip,] Union Theological Seminary and Time magazine? Of course. At least twice a year, do not millions [of us participate in] a highly stylized ceremony that takes place around a large dead bird? . . . The turkey, slain, slowly cooked over our gas or electric fires, is the central figure at our holy feast. It is the totem animal that brings our tribe together. . . . Then the Wise Old Woman, in the guise of Grandma, calls us to the table, where we, pretending to be no longer primitive, systematically rip the bird asunder.
Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ―W.T. Purkiser
Now let’s talk turkey.
I’m not Native American, or atheist as such. And while Buy Nothing Day is encouraging, I seldom shop anyway. But I do belong to another Thanksgiving minority: vegetarians.
Thanksgiving is tough for ethically-motivated vegetarians because it’s torture for turkeys, whose stuffed and roasted corpses are the traditional holiday centerpiece. Every year vegetarians politely decline offers of cooked flesh while envisioning the poor bird who wore it. We stay composed while family, friends, and strangers mock or dismiss our compassion. Some of us wonder how people would feel if enormous animals raised and slaughtered humans for their feasts. Maybe we’d all be eating tofurkey.
Yes, vegetarians tend to be ambivalent about Thanksgiving. Amidst warm reunions and good food, we can’t escape the stark contrast between celebration and exploitation: tradition calls for murder as well as merriment. At Thanksgiving humans count their blessings in the wake of others’ immense suffering.
In an oddly self-congratulatory custom, the President of the United States “pardons” a turkey each Thanksgiving, annually sparing one bird the fate of millions more. If we’re enlightened enough to recognize animals’ suffering and ritually stay one bird’s execution, why not stop them all? Post-industrial societies wrinkle their noses at ritual sacrifice but savagery is still just a meal away.
Despite Thanksgiving’s many flaws―or maybe because of them―I choose to take the occasion literally and focus on gratitude. I’m not sure what this year’s harvest yielded, but I’m grateful I have nutritious vegan food to eat and friends and family to share it with. I don’t need to appease any gods, but I’m grateful for a universe of wonders. I’m also grateful for the safety, education, conscience, access, and healthy dose of audacity that enable me to speak for those who can’t―like turkeys.
Regardless of your hardships, you enjoy many blessings. For example, if you’re reading this it’s likely you are literate in a global language, have access to a computer and the internet, and enough leisure time to use it. With these things in place, you probably also have basic food, clothing, shelter, and sanitation. (Even if you’re reading a hard copy translated into an obscure language, you are literate and have access to some reading material.)
So what might you be taking for granted? How might you use your blessings to help someone else? After thanks-giving, it’s time to share the good fortune you’re thankful for.
You could always start with tofurkey.