Thanksgiving and Christmas have been traditionally and literally “murder” on turkeys. The growing popularity of plant-based roasts and the virus-related ban on large family gatherings may provide some relief this year. Join us in tracing the fascinating history of our movement’s compassionate holidays tradition.
Gentle Thanksgiving Is Born
In early September of 1975, I received a call from Nellie “Saiom” Shriver, whom I had just met at the World Vegetarian Congress in Orono Maine. The Congress was my very first exposure to vegan activism, and Nellie had offered to become my mentor.
She alerted me that the owner of a vegetarian restaurant near the White House, was desperately looking for someone to help arrange a public vegan Thanksgiving dinner. This would be my very first opportunity to fulfill my new commitment to vegan advocacy. I was ready. I organized, and I publicized. I even staged a comedy routine with my 9-year-old daughter and recruited a vegan runner from Philadelphia to win the local Turkey Trot foot race.
When I asked the restaurant owner what ever gave him the extraordinary idea of a public vegan Thanksgiving dinner, he let on that it was a phone call from a young woman who told him that someone was desperately looking for a restaurant… My mentoring had just begun.
That first public vegan Thanksgiving dinner back in 1975 gave birth to a new tradition and hundreds more similar events through the years. Up to 300 people pay $80 to attend The Vegetarian Society of DC Thanksgiving Gala.
The tradition was designed to bring some relief from those dreadful Thanksgiving family dinners, where we were the butt of caustic jokes and relegated to picking through the few veggie sides that didn’t contain butter, cream, or meat drippings. Where we would watch our loved ones celebrate health and happiness by consuming the carcass of a tortured animal.
Introducing Featherless Roasts
But our ultimate vindication would have to wait till 1995 and the introduction of the Tofurky Holiday Roast, still available in our local supermarket. The savory roast is made of seasoned seitan and tofu, filled with wild rice and breadcrumb stuffing. Our guilt-free roast could now share the center of the family dinner table, changing the tenor of the conversation and conferring new status to our vegan persona.
FARM is proud to have Tofurky’s founder Seth Tibbott on our board of directors. His recently published In Search of the Wild Tofurky traces his pioneering struggle to launch a successful manufacturer of plant-based meat products.
Other vegan roasts soon followed. Field Roast offers three options. Their most popular Celebration Roast features a wheat gluten exterior and stuffing of butternut squash, apples, and mushrooms, seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and sage. The Gardein Holiday Roast features a stuffing of ancient grains, wild rice, and cranberries, but is apparently hard to find and absent from the company’s website. Trader Joe’s Turkey-less Stuffed Roast is a more recent addition to the lineup.
Engaging Compassionate Activism
We at FARM have always viewed the Thanksgiving tradition’s obsession with dead turkeys as a unique opportunity to promote plant-based eating. Our Compassionate Holidays website lists all the reasons for shunning turkey carcasses on Thanksgiving, offers a good variety of appropriate plant-based recipes, provides guidance for celebrating with a turkey-addicted family, and encourages viewers to arrange their own public Thanksgiving dinners. The latest version has expanded its reach to observances of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
Each year, we write letters to the editors of hundreds of America’s newspapers noting the absurdity and hypocrisy of tormenting and killing an innocent animal to celebrate our own health, happiness, and good fortune. The 244 million turkeys killed in the U.S. each year are raised in crowded sheds filled with toxic fumes. Their beaks and toes are clipped to prevent stress-induced aggression. At 16 weeks of age, slaughterhouse workers cut their throats and dump them into boiling water to remove their feathers. Consumers pay a heavy price too. Turkey flesh is laced with cholesterol and saturated fats that elevate risk of chronic killer diseases. Intense cooking is required to destroy deadly pathogens lurking inside.
In some years, we’ve put up public billboards showing a little boy embracing a turkey and urging people to “Save Lives This Holiday Season.”
When the National Turkey Federation began staging their annual presidential turkey “pardoning” in the late 1980s, we seized on the occasion to picket the White House ceremony. This became much more relevant in November of 2017, in the face of widespread rumors that President Trump was going to pardon recently indicted campaign chairs Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. We arranged a two-day White House vigil with giant posters picturing a wild turkey and the admonition “Pardon Only the Innocents, Mr. President.” Our mobile billboards with the same message circled downtown Washington.
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the Farm Animal Rights Movement