Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Veganism and Thanksgiving October 14, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. A. Breeze Harper @ 6:04 pm

I have a question for folk: How do y’all feel about Thanksgiving in the USA? A friend pointed out to me that he practices veganism as a way of compassion, anti-cruelty and harmlessness. Hence, celebrating Thanksgiving to him is “cruel”, simply because of it’s link to Native American genocide in the USA. What is your take on the celebration of Thanksgiving and do you think about these questions he raises at all? Personally, I didn’t grow up in a household that celebrated Thanksgiving (or any traditional USAmerican holidays), so I don’ really have that much to say about it but am wondering about this from people who perhaps were raised in households that celebrated Thanksgiving and how it relates to their vegan philosophy now.

Best,
Breezie

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40 Responses to “Veganism and Thanksgiving”

  1. We celebrate the intent… giving thanks for our blessings (not the plight we brought on the native americans). We’re getting together with other veg friends this year for a meat-free thanksgiving dinner.

    One thing I definitely celebrate is… BUY NOTHING DAY the next day.

    ~Dan

    http://jazzsick.wordpress.com/

  2. Nicholas Says:

    I agree that Thanksgiving celebrates that atrocities committed against the Native Americans. Although the notion of giving thanks for all of our blessings, it is founded on the oppression and genocide of many people. To me it is just like having Columbus Day as a national holiday!

    • Anonymous Says:

      I’m with YOU Nicholas!!! Some of the people in my life still don’t get it and try to use passive-aggressive tactics to make me feel like an outsider – guess I should lose them, huh?

  3. solarlivity Says:

    Giving thanks is something we make a point to do at every meal… we opt out of celebrating the taking of nations on the fourth thursday of november as well as on columbus day. I used to fast in remembrance… but as I get older (and hopefully wiser) we don’t and instead we have a day with out little people.

  4. supernovadiva Says:

    honestly i find it ironic that we celebrate thankgiving (my ancestors were oppressed), christmas (women healers were slaughtered in the name of god)or independence day (being that my people weren’t free and all) BUT now with a child i find myself dusting off the christmas tree, making hand turkies and in the future going to a fireworks display. why? i can’t stay pissed all the time, being with family is important and i can’t lay all that baggage on my child. i still have family who can remember the depression, my parents were raised under jim crow, i was a generation after intergration and my child will have (hopefully) no idea what the hell oppresion that feels like. PLUS every holiday when we get together my daughter will hear as i heard an oral history of our people/ my family that no book can give her.
    *plus i’m celebrating that this year my house will totally be meat free. my husband became a vegetarian. woot!*

  5. noemi Says:

    I don’t see it as laying all the baggage on my children, but letting them know where they come from, why certain things the govt or other people celebrate are wrong and a means of education outside the school (or correcting the mis-education they get). at holidays such as supernovadiva mentions there is no telling of oral history because my family is fragmented-many are in Mexico & Puerto Rico, my grandparents have died and my kids do not know this experience. I’m not pissed all the time (even though it seems so) but I let them know why say, its screwed up to celebrate mass genocide on columbus day.
    I don’t celebrate independence day but sometimes I am not the only one who has a say (baby daddy’s w/ different views)

    going back to thanksgiving, we never celebrated thanksgiving because we grew up poor and my Mexican side of the family even in the US didn’t do anything special. Xmas eve, is another thing, its a big time event in our culture.

    For years now, my family & I have celebrated “thanks taking”, been involved in protests and spiritual fastings about the same time when others are gorging on turkey meat.
    I guess thanks-taking is on everyone’s mind-I wrote a poem about the upcoming eat till you pass out day here: http://www.hermanaresist.com/wp/?p=303

  6. Noemi M Says:

    One thing I definitely celebrate is… BUY NOTHING DAY the next day.

    same here. Even thought is cuz sometimes we don’t have $$, I make it a point to let others know they should be buying homemade gifts instead…

  7. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. The biggest celebration in my family has always been Thanksgiving, not Christmas or anything else. And a huge part of that is the food. Thanksgiving food is some of my favorite kind of food. When I ate animals, I loved the taste of Thanksgiving turkey. What’s sad is that most of my family doesn’t really like the taste of turkey all that much but they still cook one out of tradition.

    I honestly haven’t given much thought about the historical realities behind Thanksgiving. I give thought to a lot of things and it can be really overwhelming and suck the joy out of life to see oppression and cruelty everywhere. I mean, in some ways it is but what can I do? I’d go nuts. So I just choose to enjoy this day with my loud family, I veganize recipes very easily, I get excited about cooking for my loved ones and being able to bring them and myself joy through food. Being with my family and eating is what the holiday is about. And we truly give thanks on that day. We honor the spirit of what the holiday could be and what it is for many people in the US.

  8. Noemi M Says:

    am I the only one outraged at thanksgiving being celebrated then? covering up the holiday with a tablecloth still doesn’t take away from the deceptions and lies behind the day.

    • Flense Says:

      I not only don’t celebrate it, I actively oppose it. It’s a racist holiday and denying that is an erasure of its history. It disappoints me that vegans celebrate Thanksgiving. To do show shows a lack of intersectional understanding – even if no animals are being killed, it is the food equivalent of the consumerism on the following day, and a culture of people that has suffered genocide so that people can have thanksgivings (and continue to consume their lives, the land and all the beasts and plants on it, and everything else) is being disrespected. That shows a deep lack of compassion.

      And while I realize many people feel this holiday can be reclaimed, I say: no. Even if it is not universally offensive, it hits far to hard on the people it matters most to. And the mindset that it helps encourage by existing furthers that terrible things. So don’t have an alternate celebration on that day or around that time. Treat it as any other day. If you are thanking things thank that which gave it to you, at the time closest possible to that gift. More importantly than giving thanks though, is giving back.

      (Noemi, thank you for inspiring me to write this… it’s something that has frustrated me for a long time and I’m still trying to express it to people)

      • Your comments are exactly how I have felt Flense. But it is truly impossible for me to articulate this to most people who celebrate it, vegan or not.

        I find thanksgiving words and images triggering ; same with Black Friday and July 4.

        My brother is visiting Amsterdam for the first time right now. He is black male. They celebrate black Pete and it is a national holiday celebrating black face and colonialism and he said if you protest it by calling out its racism you get arrested by the police . The African descended people there are hurt deeply and all the white Dutch people don’t GET why these black folk are “so angry” . My brother sent a video of a black man protesting as Dutch people parade in blackface and the cops beat him for minutes.

        It is his first time visiting Europe and he said he thought he had escaped he racism if America but had been lied to that Europe was “better” for black people by so many whites who love visiting Amsterdam . He is collecting videos and photos on his trip to blog about it.

        It is all connected.

  9. I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving & am surprised that so many progressive people do. Instead, I have a vegan Fall Feast with my friends/family, scheduled for whenever it works for everyone, usually a week or so after the “real” day. That way, we can eat delicious, gravy-covered food without celebrating the oppression/genocide of Indigenous Peoples. There’s nothing to be thankful for there.

  10. supernovadiva Says:

    i mispoke really on using the words ‘baggage’ and ‘pissed.’ but my family do get together and you do hear the truth about the holidays. thanksgiving and others- to be honest- are official days off that allows us times to get together. we eat and talk politics and world events all day long. the last get together the topic was every older person asking the rest of us if we were registered to vote and why voting was important. we also joke and catch up. those days off are important to me.

  11. supernovadiva Says:

    i’ll stop talking but i forgot to mention the alternative holiday i grew up with. i forget the date because i haven’t been in church in a long long time. but in the black churches growing up there was Harvest Day. It happened in the fall and everyone would dress up like our ancestors did post slavery or African garb. there was a potluck dinner afterward. it’s a day we celebrate our people’s endurance. we’d share herbal remedies, sayings, memories and say where our families came from (usually small towns). it’s fallen out of fashion since more generations are far removed from tilling the land and have more roots in urban areas. it gave us a sense of pride knowing how our families survived the hardtimes and gave respect for the land that sustained us. i can ask my mom what date it fell on, but that would be a great alternative to thanksgiving.

  12. Kanika Says:

    Truth be told, I’ve always preferred Christmas over Thanksgiving…I never liked the holiday much (or roast turkey for that matter). Since it’s basically the only time of the year I get to see family members, I partake in it…And eat the few veggie options available…LOL

    Like Joselle, I never really thought of the holiday’s origins as I’ve always associated it with being w/loved ones and eating way too much food…I think many progressive people do thanksgiving because they get a chance to spend time laughing & chattering endlessly with relatives, playing with their little baby cousins & nieces and just enjoying time off from the daily grind…

    Now one holiday I will never do is the 4th of July…It strikes me as hypocritical to celebrate the freedom of our nation when in 1776, my ancestors were still in bondage… :-\

  13. We celebrate being with loved ones, having a day off work, and tasty food.

    Noemi asked,
    “am I the only one outraged at thanksgiving being celebrated then? covering up the holiday with a tablecloth still doesn’t take away from the deceptions and lies behind the day.”

    I think traditions are OURS. They don’t belong to history. We shape and evolve them as we wish. We choose how and what to celebrate.

    In my eyes, holidays are not about actual events. They’re simply days off work. It’s about having something to look forward to, something to plan for.

  14. haldana Says:

    I live abroad now, and my partner offered to celebrate Thanksgiving if it would make me feel less homesick…or something. Then we laughed and I said he should take the day off work if possible, just to hang out and maybe make some nice food together. I hated Thanksgiving when I was in the US. When I was younger, my mother would always invite annoying people to come over and read terrible poems that she’d written in rhyming couplets like “I am so thankful for all of you, we are friends, tried and true.” When I got older, I felt like I was supposed to have plans and never did, and if I was lucky, someone was making food or having a potluck and invited me over. But I feel relieved now to have one less holiday where it’s considered antisocial to stay home. To say nothing of avoiding a holiday that celebrates oppression on many levels…

  15. Aubade Says:

    This is a tough question. I still celebrate thanksgiving with my non-vegan family, because I get the days off from work and the rest of my family gets together. Of course I make all my own vegan food, which over the years has grown on them a little, and at least my mom eats less meat. I like to think of the holiday as a reminder of gratitude for family and the Earth.

    It is terrible though, that this holiday is linked with the Native American genocide, which I always can’t help but think about on that day. So last year I decided to start a new tradition of giving something back to the Native Americans. I made a donation to the American Indian College Fund and sent around an email asking others to do the same. http://www.collegefund.org/ I know it is just money, and just a small gesture that doesn’t solve the overall problem or make up for anything, but it is the best thing I could think of to do. I’m definitely going to do it again thisThanksgiving and also continue trying to combat racism in whatever ways I can throughout the year.

  16. Tracy Says:

    “We celebrate being with loved ones, having a day off work, and tasty food.”

    I agree with Elaine. My family doesn’t really think about the meaning of any holidays. On Memorial Day we don’t talk about those who died in wars. On Christmas we don’t talk about Jesus (even though we’re Christians). Really these days are just excuses to get together with family. I’m not saying it’s right, just how it is.

  17. Noemi Says:

    I really wish folks would think about what it means when someone can say they don’t think about the meanings or reasons for holidays.
    or this:

    I think traditions are OURS. They don’t belong to history. We shape and evolve them as we wish.

    what shapes history and what shapes traditions? Which history are we talking about here? And who is this we?

    • Flense Says:

      Reading further down and seeing such comments, I was astounded at the privilege they demonstrated. While I’m aware that that is the general consensus in the general populace, it’s painful to see such comments in a space like this. But helpful in that they demonstrate the privilege that allows people to have their own personal unreality on this issue.

  18. […] Harper over at Vegans of Color asks how do people in the USA feel about Thanksgiving? A friend pointed out to me that he practices veganism as a way of compassion, anti-cruelty and […]

  19. rosmar Says:

    Thanksgiving wasn’t originally a celebration of taking land from native people. It actually predates the arrival of the Pilgrims, and was a harvest festival, as is common around the world. Just because the stupid Pilgrim/Indian story got tacked onto it after the fact doesn’t mean we have to reject Thanksgiving itself.

  20. Melanie Says:

    My husband and I have adopted Thanksgiving as “our” holiday. It is definitely not because of the roots of the holiday, which signify oppression and racism to us. But we set aside that day in particular because we have a few days off to spend together, stuff ourselves silly with no remorse (save an aching belly), and usually take our 3 dogs to the beach to frolic. Before we eat, no matter where we are or who we are with, we state what we have been thankful about for the whole year.

    Thanksgiving, like most holidays, has become a ritual that we appreciate and have made our own.

  21. Serenity Love Divine Earth Says:

    I really like Thanksgiving and the paid holidays. And I do what most people do, ignore the patriotic/religious reasonings behind them and just enjoy the fellowship with family and friends.

  22. Louche Says:

    What an interesting question! As I’ve only been vegan for two weeks and a vegetarian for two months, I can’t speak from experience… I’m not sure what I’ll do this Thanksgiving. Every day, of course, should be Thanksgiving, just as every day should be a day to show compassion for animals by not eating them. I fully expect to spend my Thanksgiving here on ghost campus while all my fellow students have deserted me to eat turkey. And I know that each year there’s a Thanksgiving dinner on campus with the President. Maybe I will fast and just pass out fliers when dinner starts. People would hate me for that. :-) But I’m hoping to win some Tofurky if I enter a contest… just to try it.

    Since I *will* probably be alone for Thanksgiving, I might as well fast. I think, if I had kids right now, I would want Thanksgiving to be a day of awareness in contrast to its normal status as a day of ignorance. I wouldn’t want them to grow up thinking, “Oh, I am so thankful for this food. *Gobble-gobble.* *warm feeling in tummy* What do I get for Christmas?” No. I realized something this year when I started giving food to the homeless… The one who really has to be thankful is the one who gives. When you give, then you receive an opportunity for spiritual growth. Someone has offered you that opportunity. And when you receive what has been freely given, this is another opportunity to grow through allowing another to grow. I want to experience true gratitude – satisfaction is not enough.

    Whatever we do, whether we eat a Thanksgiving dinner or not, we must do it with self-awareness, no?

    That’s all I have to say for now… I’m going to write the rest up on my blog!

  23. Alex Says:

    To claim that Thanksgiving is still generally a celebration of the events surrounding the arrival of Europeans to this continent is antiquated. Thanksgiving represents a moment for family or communities to gather, much like Christmas. We ought to avoid clinging to these outdated beliefs – Thanksgiving as we celebrate it is separated from its historicity. Therefore, there is not a conflict between veganism and the celebration. As was argued above, “traditions are ours.”

    This doesn’t imply relegating the past to the darkness, of course. However, it is a confusion to link a practice in its current form to its roots in most cases. (“Columbus Day” is a good example of the contrary view: a day that cannot be separated from its impetus.)

  24. breezeharper Says:

    Alex, I’m wondering if you were to say the above to the indigenous people who participated in the “National Day of Mourning” on Alcatraz (in San Francisco), today, if they would agree. Is there perception of Thanksgiving “antiquated”? When saying “traditions are ours”, who is “ours”? What happens if that logic doesn’t work because the mere mention of the word “Thanksgiving” is a “trigger” of intense collective cultural traumatic memory that continues today?

    My friend who first brought up this concern with me (why I posted this discussion), is of Native American descent and is vegan and he does see a conflict. I’m trying to understand what is makes it possible that you and he, both vegans, have different histories and emotional responses to the meaning of Thanksgiving. He interprets his acts of “harmlessness” as NOT celebrating Thanksgiving, and I can’t necessarily say it’s because he is ‘antiquated’. I am assuming it’s something deeper.

    When leaving school this week, why is is that not one of my indigenous american friends wished me “Happy Thanksgiving”, yet my friends who do not identify as indigenous American, did wish me “Happy Thanksgiving” and ‘assumed’ that I celebrate it? Strange, no?

    What does this mean, I wonder?

    • Flense Says:

      Thanksgiving gives the gifts of many microaggressions, especially in the form of erasures via privilege. So a celebration of it is clearly not harmless, regardless of intent.

    • Flense Says:

      I want to expand on it further in relation to the concept of antiquity in regards to Thanksgiving. Okay, while one can conflate other fall/harvest festivals with Thanksgiving, that doesn’t negate the colonizing aspect of it. Also, to claim it is older than the Pilgrims is correct: it started with the Spaniards who started off the conquest of these lands with genocide in earnest. And it is important to note that this genocide was accomplished not simply through the physical genocide, but social. Of which religion has continued to play a key role to this day.

      And that is why, while rooted in antiquity, the offense of Thanksgiving is constantly also in the present. Because Indians or Native Americans if you prefer, though that term is easily as demeaning if deconstructed critically, still exist. I swear it – just because the only people you seem to see wearing headdresses these days are culturally-appropriating hipsters, doesn’t mean that a people viewed in the lens of stereotype and antiquity haven’t fought to survive to this very day, even if they look like and may well be your neighbor.

      Marginalization continues, through this cultural genocide that has largely shifted from physical to social. Even in the struggle to get the liquor stores ringing their reservations taken away, violence can still be deeply rooted in physical problems. And more literally physical violence continues in ways that echo the initial acts of violence by Columbus and his ilk. However, it has been long established that the only way to truly kill Indians it to kill their culture in the minds of the people that are living. Again, religion and forced re-education were common.

  25. breezeharper Says:

    P.S. And I ask this simply because I’m trying to understand interpretations of vegan philosophy and personal concepts of when (or when not) “harmlessness” comes into play into people’s lives.

  26. breezeharper Says:

    Thanks for link, ThoughtCriminal. You may want to post more about why you put it up, though.

    Best,
    Breeze

  27. ThoughtCriminal Says:

    Hi Breeze,

    I posted the link because I found it insightful and relevant to your original post.
    I thought that the article might help some of the people who posted responses here to understand the history of “thanksgiving” from the perspective of POC, especially Native Americans, and make an informed decision as to whether or not they feel it’s acceptable, as vegans actively working against oppression, to celebrate, or participate in, a “holiday” based on oppression (of humans and other animals).

    Also, I did not post the original link because I enjoyed, and wanted to share, the playlist on the Vegan Hip Hop page blog.

    Thanks for all the work you do, Breeze.

    Paz

    PS – What we now know as “Christmas” (once Saturnalia or the feast of Sol Invictus) is also very much based on oppression, but that is another topic and I hope to have the opportunity to post about it in detail as we approach that “hol(y)day”.

  28. […] Any suggestions from the veg*n gallery? What are y’all doing for the holiday? Are you even celebrating the holiday? […]

  29. […] religious symbols, as many eco-friendly decorations as possible and donations to do-gooder groups; possibly a nixing of Thanksgiving, or perhaps a Thanksliving Day celebration which focuses the rights of human- and […]

  30. veronica(: Says:

    i believe it depends on how you want to celebrate it. nobody can make you celebrate any holiday, or anything else you don’t want to…but, it is true about the genocide, and the Native Americans & everything else terrible that happened.but like i said, and everyone knows, it’s totaly your opinion. c:

  31. […] Celebrates Thanksliving – w/out acknowledging the holiday’s colonialist & racist roots. […]

  32. […] to European “settlers” was repaid with centuries of genocide. There is much valuable discussion over how vegans and progressives should celebrate Thanksgiving (or whether we should celebrate it […]


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