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Thus Spoke an “Excommunicated” Vegan — A Thanksgiving Lament

Photo by Monty Gelstein

Photo by Monty Gelstein

In December 2002, Vegan Society chair George D. Rodger asked the organization’s founder, Donald Watson, “What do you find most difficult about being vegan?” to which Watson replied, “Well, I suppose it is the social aspect. Excommunicating myself from that part of life where people meet to eat.”

That exchange can be found in a December 2002 interview Rodger conducted with Watson. My wise friend Lee Hall published the interview online in June 2009 and republished the piece today at

On Thursday, millions of Americans will gather around the carcasses of slaughtered turkeys, having dutifully anted up to support a blood-soaked industry’s callous, annual money-grab.

And I’m ashamed to say that I’ll be in the presence of the remains of a turkey who was brought into this world and slaughtered for this very occasion. More bothersome is the fact that the bird’s butchered remains will be brought by family members to my house, the result of a respectful, extended disagreement my wife and I had about the appropriateness of forcing one’s worldview on others.

Vegans know a little something about being accommodating. Our historical willingness to “make do” has become an expectation that we’ll do just that. Otherwise, in others’ eyes (you’ll pardon the unintended rhyme), it becomes all about us, despite the fact that it’s not at all about us.

Talking about Thanksgiving, another wise friend recently described enduring her own “excommunication” before eventually becoming unwilling to tolerate adherence to tradition and sickening, consequential behavior.

When I graduated two years ago from vegetarianism to veganism, I (apparently) said that I wouldn’t become one of “those” vegans. But quietly shouldering the emotional burden of the ongoing holocaust while friends and family members carve body parts off butchered animals doesn’t do me or anyone else a bit of good.

To be continued …


  1. Megan Graney wrote:

    Thank you for this, David. I read it with tears running down my face. I just returned today from a three day family reunion, during which I ate one tofu wrap, half a dozen apples, four bananas,and some sweet potato fries. To say I can relate would be something of an understatement. I’m at a loss. How to connect with my beloved cousins and their beautiful children as they sit down exclaiming,together, over just those dismembered bodies that you describe.

    And so, when asked, I said it was simply a matter of acquiring new cooking techniques.
    But my heart was in my feet, and I felt very alone.
    In Solidarity,

    Monday, November 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Victoria wrote:

    Hi David.
    I can certainly sympathize with your situation. Over the years, I have acted in many different ways at Thanksgiving, trying to be as respectful and accomodating as possible to those whose company I was in. Year after year, with unquestioned faithfulness to tradition, my siblings would gather at mom’s for the holiday, where a murdered dismembered turkey was the prized centerpiece on the dinner table. In the early days, shortly after I adopted a vegan ethic, I joined them at the table, eating only vegetable and fruit dishes that mom prepared. Mom was thoughtful enough to make me cruelty-free versions of her stuffing, corn and sweet potatos (i.e. no butter), and yams, etc. Though I certainly appreciated and acknowledged mom’s attempts to keep things varied and thus diplomatic, the family gathering was quite difficult, as I made myself pretend that the animal body on the table did not upset me. Why did I do this? I didn’t want to make my family feel ashamed while they ate the food my mom lovingly and dutifully worked so hard to offer. As years went by, it bothered me more and more. To combat this, I started to bring my own enticingly delicious “vegan” foods; enough to share with all. Because I am an excellent cook, they enjoyed whatever I’d lay out. Still, no one expressed any interest in veganism whatsoevet. This was frustrating for me. I decided it would be best if I skipped the main meal entirely and just show up later for coffee and “vegan” pumpkin pie and “vegan” ice cream that I’d bring to share. This proved to be equally uncomfortable, as my mom would insist on having her non-vegan pie and ice cream and whipped cream topping as the more traditional “choice” for the house guests, alongside my “vegan” desserts. Ugh! Then the year came that I could no longer look at the murdered turkey lying mutilated and stuffed on a platter…, nor could I watch my family members eat two kinds of dessert — one cruelty-free and the other smothered in cruelty. So I opted out of the event entirely, with an explanation as to why. With strong conviction, I finally found the courage to speak, urgently and without apology, in defense for the turkey (and other animal brethren), protesting the crimes committed against these innocents. I could no longer stand in silence and without vehement protest, as I’d done in previous years to keep the peace, conveying a sick approval of the atrocities. My acquiescence came to a screeching halt. THANKFULLY.

    What I learned is that, when all is said (or NOT said) and done, no one will ever, EVER take me or the animal’s plight seriously if I don’t make it crystal clear that I am wholly repulsed by the crime of exploiting and harming animals, period. That I am a practioner of Reverence For Life and all that entails. And that this is not about me or “choices” or lifestyles or not forcing world views on others — but is about standing up against injustice, wherever it may be found. It is about having conviction and believing it is always the right time to do the right thing. I learned that, with genuine conviction, there is NEVER a sacrifice or need to compromise. In doing the right thing, it FEELS right, through and through. I never have to second guess myself or feel badly. And this helps everyone — and I do mean everyone — far more than all the (what I’d deemed) diplomatic and appeasing behaviors I’d exhibited in my early vegan days. With thay said, I find myself wondering today why it took me so long to realize this gem of a truth.

    May it be so with you also, when you are convinced enough.

    Thank you for letting me express myself here.

    Saturday, November 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

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