A Kindergarten Thanksgiving

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(This is a guest post by my good friend Katherine. Her post shows that we still have a long way to go in changing how the world thinks about animals.)

Our oldest child, Emma Kate, is in kindergarten this year. Today we were invited to the “Kindergarten Pow-Wow.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew they had been practicing songs and parents had been asked to provide food for the children to eat. The children filed into the cafeteria, took their seats on the floor, and began to sing a variety of Thanksgiving-related songs. The first offering was a sweet melody about being thankful for stars and trees, but it wasn’t long before the subject matter turned to turkeys. Even though Emma Kate attended preschool for several years, these turkey songs had not made it onto my radar. I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over two and a half years, and as the songs progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. Here are the words to one of the songs they sang:

(to the tune of Frere Jacque)

Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey
Run away, run away
If you are not careful
You will be a mouthful
Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day

All of a sudden I was struck by how utterly one-sided the Thanksgiving curriculum must have been, and on a larger scale, how our children are indoctrinated to eat meat and dissociate from it by making fun of the animals. As if poor Mr. Turkey has a choice! In fact, the lyrics to this song go beyond teasing the turkey to blaming him for his own plight.

Proof of this indoctrination came when the singing portion of the program ended. As the children ate their pow-wow meal (which was interestingly vegan except for the Rice Krispie treats), a slide show played with slides containing “recipes” for a Thanksgiving dish provided verbatim by the children. This was a cute idea, but many of the children chose turkey for their recipe, and more than I would have expected mentioned killing the turkey as the first step. I was surprised to see that at 5 years old, quite a few of these kids had no qualms about taking a life for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Emma Kate considers herself a vegetarian, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she loves bacon (and I don’t mean tempeh bacon). Since I stopped eating meat, I have been honest with her about the origins of her food, but have told her that what she eats is up to her (her 18 month old brother, however, is being raised vegetarian – and dad is a carnivore – we’re a bit of a mixed up family). At the beginning of tonight’s dinner, after hearing Emma Kate belt out the Mr. Turkey song once more, I asked her what she thought about the song. She answered that it was about a turkey, and I probed a little further. Once she could see what I was thinking, she jumped pretty quickly into agreeing with whatever I said. She tends to do this whenever vegetarianism is discussed, so it’s hard to figure out her truest thoughts. However, at the end of our discussion, I was saying that I thought the turkey wanted to stay alive, and that it sometimes hurts to die, and she said, “Yeah, the turkey has to suffer.” Who knows what will come of this? Part of me is rooting for her to go to school tomorrow and inform the teacher or a classmate that she feels sorry for the turkeys. Part of me hopes she mulls it over, makes some connections and eventually decides to forgo bacon. I hope at the very least, she will be able to think a bit more critically of similar songs in the future.

Unfortuately, based on what I saw today, I doubt there were similar conversations around the dinner tables of Emma Kate’s schoolmates tonight. I now understand that if I want my children to be exposed to different points of view, I need to make these conversations a priority. I’m glad to have this awareness for my own family, and the greater awareness of how many opportunities for change remain for our culture, but at the same time, the task seems larger and more difficult than I previously believed. If you think of this scenario going on in thousands of elementary schools across the country this week, that’s a lot of reinforcement of meat-eating as the norm.

A Vegan Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving can be a rough time, particularly for new vegans that still celebrate with meat-eating family. It’s not easy sometimes to handle the chides that come with eating differently from everyone else at the table. And, especially the first time, it can be hard to resist the comfort food we remember from our childhood. There’s been a lot written about how to do a vegan Thanksgiving, but hey, there can always be a little more, right?

So, here are some ways to help get you through the holiday season stuffed and happy.

Get to cooking!

Whether you’re spending a quiet Thanksgiving at home or braving an evening of stupid questions and taunts from 20 family members, there are some great resources online to help you get cooking and make sure that you not only have something to eat, but something to wow the rest of the family as well.

I got a peek at Nava Atlas’ significantly updated version of A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving e-book and it’s mighty impressive. It features 65 recipes in all, including Nava’s own as well as contributions from all your favorite veg cookbook authors and bloggers (among them: Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Dreena Burton, Jill Nussinow, and Bryanna Clark Grogan). The e-book sells for $8.95 and all profits go to “humanitarian charities concerned with hunger, microfinancing for women in developing countries, and the alleviation of human trafficking.”

Then, over at Vegan.com, there’s a guest post from Robin Robertson (author of many cookbooks, including the new and massive 1,000 Vegan Recipes). A full Thanksgiving menu is presented. The Triple Cranberry Relish and Ginger-Dusted Pumpkin Cheezecake sound mighty good. (Last year’s guest post is also still available.)

Go to a real Thanksgiving…

And by that, I mean a celebration that doesn’t involve killing turkeys. Why not hang out with some turkeys instead? Sanctuaries around the country have vegan Thanksgiving get-togethers. The one at Poplar Spring is my favorite event of the year — imagine a vegan potluck with 300 people bringing dishes. Hot damn.

Below is a sampling of sanctuaries and their Thanksgiving events.

Vegetarian and Vegan organizations also tend to do Thanksgiving meals on or around Thanksgiving, so check in with your local groups to see if there’s any thing to get involved in.

Read Things

This is a good time of year to dig into More than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality by UPC’s Karen Davis (here’s a Google Books version). The level of detail is impressive — you’ll learn something. Trust me.

Feel free to share your favorite vegan Thanksgiving events, recipes, or books.

“Is this vegan?”

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A little over a month ago, Rasine (who’s three now) and Huyen were at a birthday party. Rasine was offered a snack or a piece of cake by her friend’s mother and, before accepting, asked the hostess, “Is this vegan?”

Huyen was surprised and I was equally taken aback by it when she told me about it afterwards. This was the first time that Rasine had it taken upon herself to ask about food, showing an understanding about her food that we, honestly, didn’t think she had quite yet. To top it off, when she found out it wasn’t vegan, she didn’t cry or complain. She just said, “OK!” and moved on.

And, amazingly, it’s continued like that.

I underestimated where Rasine was at with regards to understanding about why we eat the way we do. Turns out, she’s able to clearly and concisely state that we don’t eat animals because we like them and don’t want to hurt them. And if there’s a food she wants that isn’t vegan, she’s fine with it.

A funny moment came when we were helping to clean up after Poplar Spring‘s open house last month. One of the other volunteers was cutting a cake from Sticky Fingers and offered Rasine a piece. Rasine dutifully asked, “Is that vegan?” Robin, the volunteer, almost fell over from shock.

The topper came, though, when we visited my sister’s house a few weeks ago. They’d fixed bacon for breakfast and Rasine asked if she could have some. I took her aside and quietly told her, “We’re not going to eat that because it’s not vegan.” She said, “OK,” and we got our food ready.

A few minutes later when everyone sat down for breakfast, as everyone else took a bite of bacon, Rasine decided it was good time to announce, “We don’t eat that because it’s not vegan and it hurts animals.” My sister was a gracious host and didn’t throw us out, instead responding, “Yes, dear… we know…” We all had a good laugh at our vocal little activist speaking her mind.

We’ve been told by her teachers that she’s been doing some vegangelizing at school, too, telling everyone about veganism and how she likes animals.

I write about all this not to say, “Aww… look how cute my daughter is!” (well, OK, maybe it’s a little bit of that, too), but to show that it’s really easy to underestimate kids’ understanding of what they’re eating. We think they need to be shielded from the reality and told cute stories about how chickens happily give their eggs for us to eat. This just isn’t the case. Now, I’m not suggesting you break out Earthlings at your kid’s fourth birthday party, but there are ways we can be gently honest about the food that people eat and why we, as vegans, don’t choose to eat the same foods. We also need to stress that just because some family members eat meat, that doesn’t make them bad people. There may be a few of those awkward moments where your child blurts something out that might shock a family member or friend, but hey — everyone does it at some point.

It’s also easy to fall into that trap of thinking raising your kids vegan is somehow depriving them of the “experience” of eating meat or having a piece of birthday cake with eggs in it. But it’s not. Just like most of us probably don’t feel deprived for not being able to strangle a hobo, kids who grow up vegan aren’t going necessarily feel like they’re missing out. As parents, we have to make sure we focus on what we do eat and why and to always offer alternatives. That might mean coming prepared with cupcakes to a birthday party or offering a trade of her favorite vegan candy for non-vegan candy she collected during Halloween.

I fully expect that at some point, Rasine will rebel and want something that’s not vegan. I’m under no illusions that it’s always going to be this easy with her. But, for now, her inquisitive nature and her enthusiasm about veganism remind me that we’re not depriving her. We’re nurturing her natural compassion and she’s teaching us that kids shouldn’t be underestimated.

Pumpkin Pickiin' Ride