Friday, November 12, 2010

Dear Abby

I was reading the newspaper this morning and the headline for the Dear Abby column caught my attention.

You don't need to alter Thanksgiving meal to appease 2 vegans

Dear Abby: Last year for Thanksgiving, I made a special effort to get the entire family together for the traditional meal. All 13 of us met at my mother's home, and everyone was to bring a dish or two to share.
One of my brothers has two college-age daughters. Both are vegan, and he insisted that all the dishes we brought be vegan. I did it, but I resented it because I felt that two out of 13 people should not decide the menu. If they wanted vegan dishes, they should bring something for themselves, while the rest of us brought what we wanted.
My brother and nieces are now asking what we're doing this year for Thanksgiving. Frankly, I don't want to go through that again. Am I wrong in thinking everyone should not bend over backward for the vegan meal? I don't mind some of the menu accommodating them, but I don't think the whole dinner should be altered.
Turkey Eater in Texas

Dear Turkey Eater: Neither do I. And the response you should give your brother (and his daughters) is that you'll be serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year, so they can either bring something they will enjoy or make other plans.

I understand that being encouraged to bring our own vegan dishes is already much better than many of us vegans enjoy during Thanksgiving with family. Nonetheless, I absolutely disagree with Dear Abby and Turkey Eater in their conclusions.

The vegan daughters have a serious ethical reason for making their demands. It isn't about simply having the foods they prefer to them, but about being able to comfortably enjoy a meal with family without having to be plagued by the cruelty and suffering in every bite around them. They may be trying to throw their weight around a bit in order to save a couple extra turkey lives, and I absolutely support them in this.

Turkey Eater on the other hand is merely whining that he didn't get to enjoy the foods he preferred. He is correct that everyone should get their fair votes toward what foods they want, but food preferences are not something worth breaking up a family get together over. Serious ethical dilemmas are justified reason for the daughters to raise a concern, and I think Turkey Eater has gone much too far by choosing to cut off a part of his family because he is not willing to enjoy a perfectly fine meal with them if it cannot include his choice of flesh.

I encourage you to write Dear Abby and let her know how you felt about today's column. I am not going to write something for you to tell her, but you are welcome to take any ideas or quotes from the above in what you choose to send in.


  1. Its people like Turkey Eater that are part of the reason I dont celebrate thanksgiving with my family or my girlfriends family. Plus they can sometimes be callous and make jokes and point out that its "tasty tasty murder".
    Except for the turkey all the traditional thanksgiving foods can be veganized easily without anyone really noticing, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, mashed potato and gravy, glazed carrots, biscuits, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, can all be made vegan and just have a tofurkey and turkey (or not!)

  2. How is Turkey Eater cutting off their family? They are merely not going to design a whole meal around appeasing two people. Thanksgiving is about the whole family and Turkey Eater can easily please everyone by serving a diverse meal. And it's not just Turkey Eater it's the whole rest of the family who wants turkey at Thanksgiving.

    If the two nieces were teetotalers and were ethically opposed to drinking would Turkey Eater be expected to serve a dry meal when everyone else would want to enjoy a glass of wine? They have a serious ethical reason for not eating meat/dairy and it’s great that they believe so passionately on an issue. I'm sure the rest of the family has a lot of serious ethical beliefs as well on many diverse issues, as do many people. The dinner table/family gatherings are probably not the best place to bring them up.

    Dear Abby has posted pro-vegan (or pro-common sense if you think about it) in the past when she stated a person should be able to have a vegan menu at their wedding and the hell with what their dad's their wedding!

  3. I'm going to have to disagree with you. I'm vegan, and eating animal products is also a very serious ethical concern for me. However, I've had to accept the fact that I live in the real world where not everyone has the same beliefs as I do. I would love it if I never again had to be around food made with animal products again, but unless I want to live under a rock and sacrifice a lot of relationships, it's not gonna happen.

    First of all, Turkey Eater planned this event and invited the 2 girls. Since everyone was bringing dishes, the girls could have brought vegan dishes to ensure they had something to eat. I think it was very rude of them to insist that all food there be vegan. I get invited to events where there will be food all the time, most of which are usually not exclusively vegan. Sure, I hate seeing big slabs of flesh, but the food is the host's choice. When I host parties, all of the food is vegan. I understand that not everyone is vegan, but it's my party and I'm going to serve the food I want to. I will try to accommodate guests that absolutely need another option, but I'm not going to change my whole menu for them.

    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it celebrates family. As strict of a vegan I am, I go home every year to celebrate with my family, just like the family of Turkey Eater. I love Thanksgiving food, and I'm able to tweak most of the non-vegan recipes. The rest of my family still makes quite a few non-vegan dishes. The food served is part of tradition and has a sentimental value to most. There's nothing better than eating delicious food with good company. Why should the menu have to be changed so that every dish accommodates the 2 vegans? I completely understand the ethical dilemma, but their choice to be vegans doesn't trump over the other 11 peoples' choice to want to eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Asking if a vegan option can be provided? That's fine. Offering to bring it yourself? Even better. But insisting the entire menu must accommodate you? That's poor taste. I don't think it really has much to do with this family not being able to enjoy a meal without meat. They want to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, just like I want to eat large quantities of (vegan) cake on my birthday. If I invite you to my birthday and you are gluten-intolerant and ethically opposed to eating products containing yeast, I'll make you a fruit salad to eat while I'm eating my cake. If you don't like it, then don't come, but I invited YOU to MY party where I like to eat cake to celebrate.

    If the girls want to host their own vegan Thanksgiving dinner, then they can serve whatever they want. But if they are invited to another person's home, they accept the fact that the entire event doesn't revolve around them, or they decline the invitation.

  4. I think part of the problem here is that most people do not believe in an objective ethics -- to the extent they think about it at all, they're relativists/subjectivists, and really do think that expressing an ethical decision is literally expressing a personal opinion or preference. So, your argument that it should be given extra weight because it's an ethical reason rather than a food preference fails for those people as a meaningless distinction.

    This Sam Harris talk does a particularly good job at refuting moral relativism, I think:

    (You should understand that it's still considered an unsolved area of ethics, though, with the Humean claim ("an 'ought' can't be derived from an 'is'") adopted by most philosophers.)

  5. I absolutely disagree with you. All you're doing is encouraging alienation between the family and the girls, with their father stuck in the middle.

    Holiday traditions are _not_ the time to get into animal rights debates with relatives. Both sides should understand this unless they seriously don't care about respecting their relatives or maintaining real ongoing relationships with them.

    Telling the whole family that they need to get together and eat what their minds AND their bodies consider an incomplete, unsatisfying and undesirable meal is as ridiculous as when a vegetarian has to endure two hours of every moron in their family telling them to "just try a bite of this" or "just take some of the juices" and all that crap we have to sit through.

    You will turn far more people into vegetarians by peacefully and _normally_ sharing a table with them while silently demonstrating that you are choosing to eat something different from their standard notion of a diet. It will make them ask themselves why, which is infinitely more productive than them asking you why or you shouting your reasons at them without being queried.

    I've never told anyone to go vegetarian, frankly I can't stand the conversation and don't bother mentioning that I'm veg until it becomes obvious when I eat a meal. Since going vegetarian, 1/3 to 1/2 of the people close enough to me to eat meals with me - and I don't have a small social group or a singularly-knit family - have at some point at least attempted to reduce animal products in their diet.

    If I'd screamed at them to do it, very few would have - do you like being told what to do? I sure as hell don't, and my brain immediately sets itself up powerfully against anything that sounds like an order or a command, even if it's something I would've chosen to do on my own.

    The Taoist approach of demonstrative influence without overt dictation is infinitely more powerful than the PETA "approach" of being dicks to everyone and inspiring Maddox-like responses from a majority of the independently-minded adults that get hit with propaganda.

    This family is now forever going to carry this notion of vegetarians being pushy and anti-social, and that prevailing notion is the reason I avoid getting into conversations about vegetarianism with the general public - because people like me have to deal with the backlash of don't-realize-they're-being-self-centred crusaders like this.

  6. looks like Hitler and Stalin are going to win I prefer Gandhi peaceful co existence
    As an AA member I tell my self what I should do but I don’t force no drinking on others .Dad just wimp out don’t teach them about the real world where you don’t get everything that you like . I can just see it at the Co yearly picnic telling the boss that no hamburger or hot dogs may be server or calling the bride and telling them what the menus has to be or they will not come . Plan 2 bring your own meal and just shut up .PLAN 3 tell every one that you will come but have to leave before dinner as you have to go to your boy friends family and tell them what they must have for dinner ( do they have a boy friend ). Sounds like the war we are fighting now. They tell everyone do it my way or we will blow you up ( sorry wont come to the family dinner ). Congratulations you have made a new meaning for dysfunctional family