Oh sure, the holidays have the potential to be filled with warmth, friendship, and love. But often, overwhelming obligation can make the holidays horrible. For many of us, this time of year is filled with demands to be a part of gatherings with individuals we would never choose to spend time with, if not for the fact that we share genes (and often, some painful history we’d rather forget). This awkwardness (at best) is so inherent that survival guides for Thanksgiving dinner are more common than recipes. In Letters from Earth, Mark Twain marvels at what humans force upon themselves; the holidays are often a prime example of this.
Yet obviously, the holidays are wrought with a significant additional level of horror for anyone who truly cares about animals. Rationally, we know that regardless of our presence, many of our friends and family will be consuming the flesh of individuals – individuals we could easily have been friends with in other circumstances. Two things make being at holiday gatherings worse, though. The first is actually seeing the body being consumed; it doesn’t necessarily make it more real, but it makes it more acute. The second is the disconnect between the “joy” and “love” the season supposedly reflects and the actual horror behind the meal.
This is not to say that we should never eat with meat eaters. For many of us, our dietary choices aren’t about us, but about the individual animals we respect and want to spare from suffering and slaughter, Living in isolation denies future animals our voice. Being an example of compassionate living to those currently following the standard American diet is potentially far more impactful than the consequences of our personal dietary choices.
Realizing this, it is vital to take advantage of opportunities to set an attractive, approachable example of compassionate living. Key to this is providing incredible, delicious food. Not food we like, but dishes that the others will find irresistible. Familiar, savory, and satisfying recipes that would seem at home on a TV commercial, rather than on the pages of Gourmet magazine. Mind-blowing mouthfuls can shatter stereotypes of what eating with compassion can be.
Yet not every social situation is a potential opportunity. We each have relatives who will never consider either our views or our offerings. They will seemingly revel in eating animals in front of us. They will take offense at any suggestion that we might not be comfortable and would prefer not to be around while they consume animals.
In other words: While the standard line is that everyone is an opportunity, we actually know that isn’t entirely true. Knowing that leads to a radical solution: Don’t go.
This is obviously easier said than done. The ties that bind and gag are often so restrictive that it is easier to go along to get along. Bring your best chik’n nuggets, review the Socratic section of The Animal Activist’s Handbook, and make the best of it. (Be sure to have a designated driver!)
But as we go forward, we can each pursue the creation of new traditions for ourselves and those closest to us. We can insist on going to the local Thanksliving celebration. Blame our partner for their insistence on staying home as part of our new personal tradition (what is love for?). Travel to a special place for a hike, go out to a movie (or watch your own favorite), share pictures of what you’re eating on Facebook. Or turn the tables and instead invite family over to your place for a full feast of Tofurky, seitan, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the fixings (not tempeh and arugula).
It is easy to say we should always go to everything and bring a smile and a tasty dish. Or that we should just cut off all contact with those who won’t change and believe eating animals is more important than recognizing and accommodating our compassion for one meal. Neither of these are universally applicable. But we can try, whenever possible, to find a balance between being an example of compassionate living and refusing to be ruled by obligation in favor of building truly joyful holiday traditions of our own.