Turkeys and Thanksgiving and Such

November 21, 2012

This is a time when everyone (including my lovely family) is writing and talking about what they will cook and make for the Thanksgiving meal. As vegetarians and folks who are aware that many Native Americans refer to Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, it is not quite as exciting for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I really love everyone taking time to be thankful and give attention to our families. I also am very aware that most folks, like us, don’t really tend to associate our holiday traditions with the supposed first Thanksgiving meal. Aside from the ridiculousness taught to most elementary school kids, pilgrims and Native Americans are not really part of Thanksgiving for many of us.

So I get that my feelings about Thanksgiving could be read as crazy liberal stuff, crazy vegetarian stuff. I am certainly not going to raise this with my family or neighbors because I don’t want to be seen as the strange one ruining the fun talking about Native Americans and trying to stand up for turkeys or something. We eat a vegan fall meal in our home on Thanksgiving and welcome anyone who wants to join us.

But, in a way, this is sort of my concern. Because violence get normalized when those who point out the violence (historical or present day) are the “weird” ones.

So, on the one hand, I want to avoid disrupting a nice day by good people who are just trying to have a good meal together. On the other hand, I want not to normalize the history and the killing that is quite literally at the center of this holiday, with the turkey in the middle of the table.

So here is the story we tell in our family around Thanksgiving:

Our son was born at home, at the end of a dead end road in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our house was up against ten acres of woods and it was quiet and I can’t think of a better place for him to have been born. It was a chilly spring day that he was born. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for over 24 hours. Finally, when I got up for the first time my partner said, “Look out the window!!” I looked out into our back yard, which was right up against the forest and there were 14 wild turkeys, a deer, two bunnies, and a squirrel sitting out in our yard. It was misty out, early in the morning, the day after our son had been born.

We tell him that the animals in the forest knew that a new creature had been born in the woods and they came to welcome him. In a way, I’m sure that is not quite true. But, in another way, I have to wonder if it is. We had never seen any turkeys or deer until this moment – just the occasional bunny and our squirrels.

We tell our son that the turkeys were excited to see him especially because they are simple, peaceful animals and it is a message to us that we do best when we also live simple and peacefully.

We tell him the story of how, many years ago, people lived in the land we now call Plymouth, his birth place, and people came from Europe and wanted to live there too. We haven’t gotten to the details (i.e. the massacres) but in general we point out that it is hard when different people want to live in same place and we need to be thoughtful about how we live with others – the harm we cause and the ways we can lessen that. We tell him that his birth location and his welcome by the turkeys and other animals of the woods is a gift to him to remember the ways that we can live more peacefully, with a spirit of welcome. Eating animals in general seems strange to him since he has never eaten animals and rarely sees others do so. But, we hope that, over time, his birth story helps him remember his connection to animals and to history such that it calls him to make a different sort of world than the one we have.

I get that it might seem hippie or cooky to some. But, for us, it is a small way to say that there is enough killing in the world. There is enough pain and enough violence and we’re just going to do our best to lessen how much of that we take part in, recognizing that we can never fully extract ourselves from this broken world with broken systems of violence that we are a part of. But, at the very least, we’ll try not to celebrate it and try to opt out when we can.


On Hunting

November 14, 2012

I know some vegetarians think hunting is absolutely abhorrent and are quite judgmental about people who hunt, often moreso than just plain old meat eaters. However, I am not one of those vegetarians. I get while people hunt. I get why people eat meat. People around me hunted when I was growing up and they were good, decent, lovely people. My friends post pictures of the deer they kill on facebook or announce proudly that their children shot their first turkey. We live in a world where we all take part in violence. Sometimes it is with what we eat. Or hunting. Or doing things that are destructive to our world, like driving or flying. Or eating vegetables that are harvested by underpaid workers exposed to pesticides shipped thousands of miles across continents. We smoosh spiders in our house. We put cow’s milk in our coffee that was from a cow kept in a confined, industrial space her whole life until she stops producing enough and then gets sent off to slaughter. We throw things in the landfill that take up precious space, seeping chemicals into our water. And so on. For me, I see eating and killing animals as part of a collection of the ways that we do harm in the world and I claim a place in that complex of ways that we harm.

This said, I think there is a difference between acknowledging systems of harm and violence in which we all take and celebrating it. I have to admit as I see people I admire and care about post pictures of small children with freshly shot animals, or excited posts about children killing their first turkey or deer, my heart aches. Because, I think when we kill animals and say “This is neat and for children,” we normalize harming others needlessly. We do not need meat to be healthy, or if you don’t buy that (even though I do), at the very least, we need much less of it. So even if you think we need it, it is one thing to say, “We think that this is essential to health and yet we still regret that we must kill beings who suffer in order to live as we think we need to,” and it is another thing to say, “This is a way to connect to nature! There is a rush. This is something to be proud of. This is normal. This is fine. This is nothing to weep at.”

Because when we learn that we should not weep at the suffering of animals by our own hands, it cannot stop there. We learn not to weep at the suffering of others in our own hands. Child abuse and bullying appears to be epidemic in the United States. We run around, baffled, developing programs to stop bullying and calling, most often in vain, for people to stop abusing children. We say that we need more social workers. Stricter laws. More oversight. But, what I say, is that when violence in normalized – when harming other beings who suffer and feel is considered not only to be essential for survival but also a sport, also fun, also a rite of passage, also fun, also something to be proud of, then is it any wonder that it becomes more possible to harm each other without feeling as though it is all that bad? Or, even if we know something is bad, this often does not free us from doing these things, as we are part of systems of violence and deeply influenced by formative moral experiences. Hurting others gets normalized. When we shoot animals. When we eat meat. When we eat our vegetables grown by underpaid workers who die early from cancer because of such hard work and pesticides and no health care. The question for me is how we can, with the very love and care that we long for in the world, denormalize the suffering that is part of the fabric of how most U.S. Americans live.

I am so very far from perfect. I know that so many of the ways that I live causes harm to other beings who suffer. Thus, I think vegetarians who take some sort of dramatic moral high ground do not serve their causes well. At the same time, I do think it would be good to examine more closely how our normalized practices of violence might impact the world in which we live and the world that we create. Annie Dillard says that the way we spend our days, is the way that we spend our lives. I’m not sure that we are able to separate what we do for sport and fun and what we eat for dinner from the larger swath of how we are in the world. I suppose this leads me to want to think of my life not in some sort of moral absolutist terms, but in terms of formation and harm reduction. Perhaps the more we reduce harm and become aware of and face the harm we do, the more we might build on that. Maybe this means walking more. Planting a garden. Buying from a local farmer. Eating less meat. Not giving our children guns. Not yelling at our children. Not spanking them. Pretty much, trying to live in a way that treats others who can suffer the way we would like to be treated if we were them. I know it sounds a little cliched, but it does seem to make sense that in both direct (shooting a deer) and indirect (buying produce from a source that causes workers harm) we should try to treat others how we would want to be treated. For me, humans are an important part of this, but I would say that suffering is a central factor which also includes non-human animals. Surely we should treat our pets with care and reduce suffering and we can relate to why we might wish to do that. It seems like we might wish to extend that to other animals who can suffer too.

And as both a call and a prayer I say to myself – less harm, I’m sorry, less harm, and I’m sorry, calling myself to do less harm while also knowing that I cannot stop it.

It may be that churches and people faith might take a similar position, acknowledging the ways we are products of a broken world, but also acknowledging and celebrating the ways that we can take small steps toward something different.

May it be so.


Ever considering giving up/reducing meat? Great article to think it through.

February 23, 2010

I thought this is one of the best article on vegetarian questions/issues in a good while. I love how chill he is, how not arrogant.
Interview with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals at The Atlantic

Hat tip to CT for sharing the link (on the blog of Rev. Scott Wells where he blogs Lent, Google, Animals, and Meat).


Links to good holiday recipes

December 18, 2008

I am doing this mostly because my mom is visiting and is a good cook and will cook whatever I ask her too. Isn’t that great? And I want to compile a list of good things she can make, or, if I am up to it, that I can assist her in making. She and my sister are super-cooks, and I am a pathetic delinquent that can make some things well enough, but I am not really that good and certainly not fancy stuff (although better than, ahem, my lovely and wonderful partner who has cooked almost NONE in his whole life, but always has lots of “advice” to give about how he can “help” me cook better – so good at the theory of things!).

So these are some recipes I have gathered for us to maybe try. Maybe you will find something fun too! Happy Holidays!

Cheesy Rice from VeganYumYum. I am interested to see if the cheese is at least somewhat cheesy-ish. Vegan cheese in one area where there is more work to be done in the vegan test kitchen. Maybe this is the answer! I ate this when I was little and it was a big hit.

Crispy hash browns via VeganYumYum. Thank you. I hate mushy ones. I know this doesn’t seem like a holiday food, but think how impressed your family will be with these puppies when you make them for breakfast one morning as a surprise!

Tahini Lemon Rice and Beans via VeganYumYum. There is kale in this which is a very good vegetable to eat. Extra good for you.

Crispy Sweet and Sour Seitan or Crispy Sweet and Sour Tofu which is supposedly a close remake of The Grasshopper‘s No Name (via VeganYumYum). If this tastes anything like sweet and sour chicken that ate in my pre-vegetarian days, then I am psyched to try this. I always try ordering things like this at Chinese restaurants but then I can only eat the crust of the tofu or seitan because the inside is too mushy. Maybe this will recipe will fix that. (Looking at the Tofu recipe, I would suggest smaller chunks of tofu if you want them to be less mushy on the inside, as I prefer.)

Baked Sundried Tomato Risotto with Balsamic reduction via VeganYumYum.

Gnocchi with Thyme Vinaigrette and Lemon Cashew Cream via VeganYumYum. Wow, this looks really involved. If you know a gnocchi you like, I would buy that and then make the sauce. But for you cookish people that like to make everything from scratch, this is the whole recipe.

Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta via VeganYumYum

Well. I wanted to find more from around the internet, but got caught up looking at every VeganYumYum recipie. Maybe more when I decide I need to procrastinate on final papers some more! I also wanted to include some of my favorite recipes but I always just estimate on the ingredients based on looking up four or five different version of the recipe online. And I wonder why I am not that successful as a cook??

One more addition!

Recipes from the Bradford Community Church

I have printed out the recipe book from Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist which is available as a pdf here. It was created for Thanksgiving dishes, but works great for all of the fall and winter if you ask me. Here are all the recipes that are in that book. Mmmm. Makes me hungry just reading over them.

Main Dishes
Butternut Squash with Whole Wheat, Wild Rice and Onion Stuffing
Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash
Hot Tamale Pie
Pueblo Corn Pie
Thanksgiving Loaf
Thanksgiving Tort
Three Sisters Stew
Chili Roast Potatoes and Seitan
Walnut Loaf with Burgundy Sauce
Oven Roasted Tom Tofu Cutlets
Layered Seitan Vegetable Dinner
Shitake Pot Pie with Polenta Crust

Side Dishes
Mushroom Medley
Baked Sweet Potatoes and Onions
Baked Glazed Onions
Green Bean Paté
Pumpkin Apple Nog
Lemon Kale Sauté
Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Scalloped Corn
Cranberry Apple Relish
Maple and Tarragon Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary
Glazed Baked Onions
Cranberry Chutney
Wine-Glazed Brussel Sprouts
French Beans with Walnut Garlic Oil
Roasted Fennel and Walnuts
Aztec Platter
Baked Stuffed Onions

Stuffings, Unstuffed
Walnut Apple Stuffing
Old Fashioned Potato-Bread Stuffing
Sourdough Stuffing with Pine Nuts and Raisins

Desserts
Pie Crust
Apple Pie
Easy Vegan Squash or Pumpkin Pie
Vegan Cheesecake
Cranberry-Apple Crisp
Pear and Apple Crumble
Lemon Bundt Cake


Vegetarianism In the Unitarian Universalist Blogosphere

October 7, 2008

I have taken it upon myself to keep an eye on vegetarianism in the UU blogosphere. Two awesome new posts: one by Peacebang (aka Veggie Vicki) who writes about her first month as a vegetarian and one by Everyday Unitarian who blogs about October as vegetarian awareness month and has a little story about fishing as a child which I can relate to.

Happy Vegetarian Month!


When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

September 25, 2008

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.


Are you vegan at heart? (but maybe not so much in practice?)

September 16, 2008

Kind Green Planet has the coolest thing for you then! It is called Vegan at Heart. You get an email “mission” every day for thirty days that takes only 1 to 10 minutes. I was lucky enough to be able to be in the test group for this project and it helped sooooo much and was fun (and if you skip a day, you can save it for later or, don’t tell anyone and no one will ever know….). The “missions” are little tips, projects, websites or suggestions about gently incorporating more veganism into your life.  I loved it so much because it is non-judgmental, supportive, and fun. I love the title Vegan at Heart because I relate to it so much as someone who really really wants to be vegan but really really is a picky eater and not a good cook in the first place. I am big on “baby steps” (anyone remember that from What About Bob? I loved that movie.) This is a great little thing to sign up for even if you are just VC (veg-curious) or you just want some fresh ideas for ways to incorporate more sustainable practices into your life.

p.s. The woman who designed Vegan at Heart is a Unitarian Universalist who is very nice and friendly and would probably answer your individual questions too if you have them along the way. :)