Thinking Outloud About My Thanksgiving Dinner

My sister and I have been planning our Thanksgiving dinner since we and our partners are the four vegetarian/vegan people in the family so we are having ourselves a lovely UnTurkey, and all sorts of delicious sides like stuffed butternut squash (stuffed with lentils cooked in red wine topped with brown sugar), mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and some other fancy stuff that my sister is making since she is a very fancy and talented cook. I thought of this because I was just in the kitchen doing a trial run of my stuffed butternut squash (which, by the way, members of FUUSM, will be featured at the Chalice Thursday dinner on November 16). As I was mixing my lentils with the squash, and getting so excited about the yummy food (food is one of my greatest pleasures in life) I was thinking, “Oh, those turkey eaters at Thanksgiving will be so jealous of all our good food that is just as good as theirs but much less harmful to the environment.” And then of course I stopped and thought, “Oh, no they won’t be jealous at all,” because food and where it comes from isn’t a huge concern for them. They like turkey, chicken, and such and like me, before I had my series of ah-ha moments that lead to where I am today, they don’t think much about eating animals or products that come from animals. I mean, except for my sister and I always eating differently at family gatherings, what would lead them to think about that? I notice so much how little connection there is between animals walking around and something on our plates to eat. And I’m not judgment of that, as if meat-eating is the moral litmus test for good people or something. But as someone who is aware of the difference that diet could make environmentally and in terms of the immense suffering an animal-based diet causes, I am at such a loss of how to share the issue with people – I mean, to most people, compassion for living beings is important. I really don’t know anyone that would say that they like to harm animals or cause them suffering. And even the most conservative of my family would like to continue to have an inhabitable planet for their grandkids. And I KNOW it seems like a huge leap to reduce animal products and meat, but it becomes such habit after a few months… and it would make such a difference. I just have this horrible sense that rather than lovingly sharing information and ideas, the animal rights movement has somehow not done a great job of making vegetarianism or veganism or, geesh, even compassion for animals, one thing among many we can do to save the world and make it a better place, but it has managed to pit “us” against “them” in a way that makes people feel awkward and defensive. Rather than a complex topic dealing with environment, habits, histories, compassion, etc. it has become ONE ISSUE – much like the abortion issues. You are either FOR or AGAINST. I don’t think this is solely the result of animal rights activists not doing a good job at framing the issue – I mean, food goes very deep and is very tied to traditions and it is sensitive because unless one is vegetarian because one doesn’t actually like meat and other animal products, it does sort of imply that one thinks it is the better way to live. But why don’t people get defensive when someone drives around a Prius? People don’t immediately start feeling attacked in thier non-hybrid car? But people do tend to immediately feel defensive about someone who is vegetarian. My thoughts are rambling here, but I guess what I am lamenting is that it is such a sensitive issue and that, for instance, W. an I cannot comfortably share the role that increased connectedness with animal beings has enriched our spiritual journey – sharing this is automatically interpreted as “AND YOU SHOULDN’T BE EATING STEAK” OR the other extreme it is completely not heard and has no impact at all. I haven’t written a lot about my vegetarianism on here for all the reasons I just talked about – fear of being perceived as pushy, concern as to how to go about it best, etc. But it is a very central part of my life and spiritual journey, and I see my love toward non-human animals as part of my ministry and as a natural extension of my compassion to humans. Our cats remind us every day that non-human animals have feelings, are amazingly kind supportive creatures that can give and receive love. And I guess the way I see my vegetarianism is that there is such a lack of love in this world – a lack of clean water, clean air, of general good energy – I just find the suffering experienced by so many on this earth almost paralyzing and overwhelming – suffering for whole lives, day in and day out, struggling just to survive – I see my vegetarianism as one little thing I can do to make sure that there is less suffering, a little more clean water, a little more clean air, a little less bad energy. And I don’t argue that everyone must do this, but rather I would just like to find better ways to invite people to consider this as one path toward doing the work of love and justice and care that we are always struggling to do more of. After you get used to it, it is such a nice thing to know that with each yummy meal of, for instance, stuffed butternut squash, you are doing something good – causing less harm.
Less harm. Less harm. Less harm…. so says the poem by Ellen Bass Pray for Peace. My little chant.
Now for the squash. E

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5 Responses to Thinking Outloud About My Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Chalicechick says:

    Driving the Prius isn’t really the issue and being a vegetarian isn’t either.

    It’s in the talking about it.

    I tend to think diets are like religions. Everyone likes to talk about what works for them but if you sound pious about it, it ticks people off. If some of your friends became, say, conservative Baptists, it could be OK and even interesting to hear them talk about how great their religion was a few times, but it would likely start to get old if you felt like they brought it up at the slightest opportunity.

    So many vegetarians have an evangelical streak to them that it gives the rest of y’all a bad name. There was a chap who for awhile would take seemingly every mention of meat on Peacebang’s blog or mine as an excuse to rail on us. He eventually stopped, but it reminded me where the stereotype of the annoying Vegetarian comes from.

    CC

  2. powderblue says:

    Most everyone opposes unnecessary suffering – instinctively in my opinion, it’s evidence of our goodness, our inherent worth and dignity. The use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and most research leads to an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering. This is why I see the advocacy for animals not as an imposition of one’s values on others, but rather as an appeal for them to live by *their* values.

    Most of the time people do live by their values, but in this case – in my view – tradition has blinded and failed us. My hope and faith is that Unitarian Universalists will increasingly question and challenge the habits that keep eyes and hearts closed to the misery of our companions in creation. It’s so near and so easily preventable.

    I agree that the environmental case for a plant-based diet is an effective way to appeal to a person’s self-interest, unquestionably a reliable incentive. In my opinion, the appeal for mercy can be an even greater motivator. A dog trapped in a car with its windows up in the heat of summer, or a baby bird fallen from its nest usually elicit enormous compassion and action from us, with no thought of self-interest. People are good.

    How do we help them see the agony of a mother milk cow grieving for her baby, taken away at birth to the lonely and confining squalor of a veal crate, and an unfathomable number of similar scenes of emotional and physical suffering and needless death inflicted every minute?

    CC, I hear you about how *not* to do it. I’m asking a different question, and not one I necessarily expect an immediate reply to here and now (although that would be fine). I realize that you are a bright and influential Unitarian Universalist, and I sincerely would appreciate your consideration and advice.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for both of your thoughts. I am in the midst of sermon writing and GRE studying, but just wanted to acknowledge that both of these comments were helpful to me. More later in the week………

  4. beekind says:

    A few thoughts on a tricky topic–

    Sharing by example is quiet but oh so powerful. Those around you will see the choices you are making, and though they may not remark on them, those choices will make an impression. People will see you enjoy the peace on your plate, see you thrive. They will see the steps you take in your life, from what you eat every day to the organizations you support and the books you read, and it will touch them. I think this is a good approach when you are around those who are defensive about their own habits, when a more direct approach would stir up enough controversy that it would overshadow the very issues you mean to embrace with your eating choices.

    I also have found in my own experience that people are more likely to come to me and ask questions about animals when I am simply going about my business. And they are more likely, in that circumstance, to ask me questions in a spirit of genuine interest and open-mindedness, rather than to pick a fight. When I answer questions, I talk about my own experience, how I came to my own choices. I also try to have informational materials on hand (in my house, my office, my car) that can provide them with further, factual information that they can read on their own. Some things I have given out include Vegan Outreach’s “Guide to Cruelty Free Living” (I put this in the display case at my UU) and the American Dietetic Association’s position statement on vegan diets.

    Sometimes, when we see the great suffering the animal exploitation industries cause, we want to shout it from rooftops, shake those around us and ask, “But can’t you see…? You are causing so much needless pain and suffering!” But that is not always the most gentle and effective course of action, I think.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see. I think this often about those around me who don’t view animal issues with the passion and heart I do. And then I remember that I am blind to some issues, as well, that there are some causes that do not touch me as deeply. This humility, too, I think is part of what makes us effective advocates.

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