For many of us who choose not to eat animals, the holidays can turn into a special kind of hades, one beyond the normal ‘time spent with your crazy family’ insanity.
We often feel forced to choose between two less than stellar options: eat with our families, where odds are good we will be made fun of or put down for our beliefs—all while being forced to dine with a dead carcass smack dab in the middle of the table—or go it alone at the ‘happiest time of the year.’
Not great options.
When I first became a vegetarian fourteen years ago, I attended a seminar at one of the animal conferences about this very subject, and I remember clearly the speaker encouraging us not to hold ourselves separate from our families at the holidays. He reasoned that we could be an example for them and educate just by being ourselves, showing them we weren’t ‘crazy animal people’ and hopefully then they too will make more humane choices.
The advice made sense to me, even though it didn’t sound like fun. I really struggled with having to sit at the table with a turkey carcass and pretend like it didn’t affect me.
But I did it, and I pushed my personal feelings aside year after year. I’m here to report that I have not ‘won over’ a single family member, and remain the sole vegetarian/vegan in my family. (I eat about 85% vegan and 15% vegetarian meals.) I am married to a man who eats meat, and both of my children eat meat. Every member of my extended family on all sides eats meat.
I am truly alone in my choice.
And me putting my pain to the side and eating with them for years has not changed a single mind.
This year was particularly brutal for me, though, and may have forced me to reconsider following this gentleman’s advice, for my own emotional well-being.
If you too had a tough holiday season, I feel for you, and share your suffering.
If I end up unhappy and crying and/or seething with anger at a holiday ‘celebration’, is that really to anyone’s benefit? Is it to your benefit to end up the same way by forcing yourself to interact with people who don’t understand or support you?
I checked in with a few other vegans I know for their thoughts.
Author Heather Leughmyer told me her vegan family unit chose to eat only in the company of other vegans on Thanksgiving, and therefore there was no pain, no turmoil.
One of my Facebook friends drew her own line in the sand the other day with the following one-sentence post: “If you ate ham for Christmas, please unfriend me now.”
Her stand engendered the usual outpouring of “you’ll never win people over with this attitude” kind of responses; and maybe from a logical standpoint I can agree with them.
But our feelings are not always logical.
And maybe there comes a time when you have to take care of YOU, and YOU can no longer stomach the pain of hanging around those who believe animals are here for humans to use and abuse.
Subjecting yourself to bullying at the hands of loved-ones at the holidays—in some perhaps misguided effort to seem ‘normal’—isn’t healthy, and often leads to depression and feelings of isolation.
No one deserves to suffer for the simple act of making a humane choice with their eating habits.
At a time when bullying is at an all-time high in America, family members who tend to be bombastic by nature are feeling more empowered, and are apt to make easy targets of vegetarian and vegan family members.
I experienced this targeting while dining with extended family this year. The two women in the family went out of their way to make me special vegan food, which I didn’t expect but greatly appreciated. I was deeply touched by their kindness.
But the husband, who had coincidentally voted for Trump, went out of his way to put me down. First he told my son a ‘joke’ about vegetarians, supposedly behind my back, but making sure that I heard him. I felt belittled and shamed, and managed not to cry only by pushing my feelings down. And having another drink.
Then he told me if I didn’t want to be the only vegetarian at the table I should start eating meat again.
By this time I’d had enough. We had words, and then the whole family finished their dinners in awkward silence.
I won’t go back.
If forcing yourself to be with family only results in you feeling more pain, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to make yourself more important next year. Take Heather’s advice, find a new family of vegans to spend the holidays with, or go it alone.
Sometimes being alone isn’t lonely. It’s peaceful, healing, and calm.
I think that’s what I’ll be doing next year.
—Tamira Ci Thayne
Tamira is the founder of Who Chains You Books, and the author of Foster Doggie Insanity and Capitol in Chains. She is an animal activist and ordained minister, best-known as the pioneer of the anti-tethering movement in America. Tamira founded and ran Dogs Deserve Better, a nonprofit advocating for chained dogs, from 2002-2015.