My First Thanksgiving As a Vegan

Last year was my first Thanksgiving as vegan. A friend invited a small group to her home. We all brought a dish and she took care of the main course: Turkey. I made a vegan quiche which was a hit with many reaching for seconds. Our hostess was gracious, making a special vegan side dish and vegan, gluten-free stuffing. I appreciated the gesture. Still, it was hard to sit at a table with a dead bird in the middle.

That Thing Called Turkey Was Once a Turkey

I think back to the many Thanksgivings past when my biggest concern over the turkey was whether to choose white or dark meat. At that point it was just a thing, devoid of any need for recognition or consideration. Social norms had conditioned me to accept this and look no further. Then, I started to change.

For two year before going vegan, I had felt a shift occurring within me. Eating meat started to feel wrong, I would cry when I bought a whole chicken and took to the task of cutting it up for cooking. I hated how it felt to carve through dead flesh and hear the bone break and shatter. I had become aware that I was holding the body of a being in my hands.  I stopped buying and eating chicken. Red meat was next, although I was never a big red meat eater other than hamburgers and chili.

I didn’t set out to be vegan.

An inner awakening

guided me away from flesh.

But, I still wonder… what took me so long?

In college I had attended a few on-campus PETA meetings and made animal rights the topic of a school project. Through my research I learned of the horrors of animal testing and the suffering inflicted on animals in circuses and for other entertainment. Still, there was a disassociation. I was like a scientist looking into a petri dish. They were there. I was here. Nothing changed within me. I didn’t alter my behavior. Never did the thought of giving up meat or products tested on animals cross my mind.

I’ve loved animals my whole life. Yet, for years, I heard myself say “I would go vegan but I love Mexican chorizo too much.” And, that was that. It was about me.  End of discussion.

Then, I became a mother… to a dog.

I became a mom to an adult rescue dog whom my late mother had named Clark. They say becoming a parent changes you. I learned that applies wholeheartedly to becoming the parent of a non-human species. Suddenly, I saw everything differently. I was looking at the world through the “mom” filter.

I began to despise picnickers who failed to clean up after themselves, leaving discarded food in the grass that dogs were all too happy to nab, only to get sick later. I started worrying about fireworks going off, sending dogs and surrounding animal life, like squirrels and birds, into a terrified frenzy.

During one park visit an aggressive German Shepherd broke away from his human companion and came charging at us.  I picked up my baby just in time as the dog jumped on me, biting my elbow trying to get to him. I was grateful, like only a mother could be, that he bit me and not my 14-pound child who surely would not have survived. I went to the ER with a bleeding wound and a nasty bruise. But, my pup was intact and that was all that mattered to me. I never put the blame on the dog who attacked.  I wondered if it had been abused at some point. Animals are not inherently mean. People make them that way.

My DNA had irreversibly changed.

So did my relationship with non-human species.

I hadn’t planned on becoming an animal rights advocate. I would have been happy to stop at vegan and get on with my life. But, once you walk down this road and see what we vegans see, it’s hard to shrug off the cruelty and disrespect routinely shown to most animals on this planet. A passion developed inside me to play a role in protecting those with no voice.

The compartmentalization I relied on in college has vanished. The animals are no longer over there. They are here, in the beating heart and the trusting eyes of my pup, in his barks of joy and cries of pain, in his shivering body when I take him to the vet and he’s whisked from my arms by the assistant and carried away into a room, as he turns his head to see my teary face getting smaller and smaller.

Coming Out as Vegan

My vegan meter is at full capacity now and has taken over my professional life as well. I was reluctant to “out” myself earlier this year, worried it may drive away certain project or clients. After all, as an independent contractor in public relations, my only guarantee for work is my ability to sell my services and myself.

This summer, I began consulting with a vegan start-up. I no longer feel obligated to “hide” my values. Also, I realized that I could not take on a client or project that went against my belief that it is morally wrong to exploit animals or destroy their habitat. Of course, this new found freedom of expression has its drawbacks.

I’ve often read posts on social media from employees and freelancers who faced the dilemma of doing work that went against their moral grain or risk being fired. The pandemic has caused many to lose jobs so I get the difficulty of being in that position.  Do I pay my rent or do I take a stand? Some turn down work. Others find ways to atone for not walking away. One vegan agreed to market a client’s dairy product but donated part of the money to a vegan organization. Some would say it’s blood money. Others might argue he atoned through his donation.

I feel so lucky that I now have the capacity to feel empathy. 

When I see people being dismissive about animal rights and animals suffering, I get angry. But, at the same time, I understand. I was there once.