Holiday Food Culture Prompts Interesting Conversation in New Vegan’s First Turkeyless Turkey Day


My plate of fully vegan Thanksgiving fare. No rabbit food here.

Ashlyn Jacobs, Editor in Chief

Once upon a time, a girl learned about the factory farms that put meat, dairy and eggs on her table, and based on those findings, that girl decided to adopt a vegan diet. The girl eagerly planned her meals, tasted new delectable dishes, adapted to and started truly appreciating the way it required her to deliberate the sources of her food.

 Little did that girl know, however, that even though her confidence in veganism grew with each passing meal, her omnivorous relatives would start to wonder at her level of mental soundness when she declined a portion of this year’s Thanksgiving turkey. 

That girl, evidently, was me. Three months ago I watched the documentary What the Health on Netflix with my mom and made the spontaneous decision to become a vegan.

Admittedly, I have not followed the diet to a t, nor have I acquired much experience in my scant three months as a vegan. I am, as most true vegans would quickly point out, an amateur. Nonetheless, I make an effort to avoid meat, dairy and eggs whenever possible because I personally disavow the unethical treatment of animals in the factory-farming industry. I value my choice, and for the most part, others respect it too. 

So this year, as Thanksgiving approached, I prepared for a slightly unconventional menu. Fortunately, my lovely mother, also following the diet, prepared tasty entrees and scrumptious side dishes for us, all à la vegan. 

After we arrived at my grandmother’s house, greeted the extended family, and set the plant-based fare on the specified “vegan table,” I found myself in a casual conversation with some relatives about my latest dietary choices. 

“I actually don’t mind being vegan. I’m enjoying it,” I told them. They seemed skeptical, but did not challenge my statement.

In an endearing, glaringly Wisconsinite manner, my little sister added, “I could never be vegan. I love cheese too much!” This sentiment received much approval from around the table. Only one lactose-intolerant cousin stuck by my side. 

A little while later, my aunt comically explained how her youngest boy, age 4, refused to eat turkey this year because his preschool teacher read the class a book about a turkey who kept trying to avoid being eaten by the farmer’s family. I resisted the urge to high-five the little guy. 

All the while, I avoided spewing information about factory farmed turkeys I had recently read in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals . Coincidentally, I happened to have my library copy of the book along with me — though not because I had planned to preach on the topic. I simply needed some entertainment along in case everyone but me fell prey to the infamous turkey-induced Thanksgiving siesta. 

Though I felt a bit like a lecturer on a soapbox, at one point I opened the book to a passage about commonplace pig mutilation and passed it to the cousin closest in age to me. I waited patiently as she scanned the paragraph about the electrocution, amputation, and violence thousands of pigs endure each year. 

When she finished, she handed the book back to me and said, “bacon tastes good though.” Once again, heads bobbed in agreement around the table. I laughed it off. 

My dad eagerly shared one of his favorite meat-loving jokes in support: “Ashlyn’s food is meat free, dairy free, and egg free. It’s also taste free.”

In this way, my Thanksgiving 2020 provided a rather interesting conversation surrounding the food on everyone’s tables. While my aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, cousins and father all feasted on turkey that likely came from a factory farm, my mom and I ate veggie loaf. No ice cream sat next to our apple pie. Our mashed potatoes went gravyless. And, contrary to popular belief, our food was delicious. 

If anything, my nontraditional Thanksgiving meal added to my sense of gratitude. After all, the holiday invites thankfulness for food, yes, but more than that, for family. So while everyone else enthusiastically consumes cheese, turkey and bacon, I will thank God for my omnivorous family and my veggie loaf. 

Then, I will take a nap. Apparently, an overloaded plate — even a turkeyless one — brings about afternoon drowsiness too. So much for my master plan to toss the turkey while everyone else slept.