Before I became pregnant, I was a vegetarian and a vegan for a while. My husband adamantly was not. I wondered how we were going to raise our son, and what we would teach him about eating meat or not eating meat. If it’d been my choice alone, I would have raised him as a vegetarian, but I knew my husband needed equal say in the matter. I didn’t want it to be a “mommy says/daddy says” situation as he got older. I do have to say, even if it sounds harsh, I was not a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I think it’s terrible the way animals are raised and slaughtered, but I wasn’t so passionate as to take a stand by abstaining from eating them. Instead I chose not to eat meat for two reasons: I felt it was healthier, and I just really didn’t care for meat.
Luckily, I suppose, my husband and I never had to come to a disagreement over this one point of child-rearing. My son was allergic to so many foods that he and I both started eating meat in order to get enough calories, protein, and nutrients. Like I said, I didn’t chose to become vegetarian for ethical reasons, which made this an easier hurdle to jump. But what if I did, or what if my son didn’t have allergies? Would I have wanted him to be a vegetarian too? Would I have wanted to feed him vegetarian at home but let him make his own choices outside of the home? I don’t know. But I do know that holidays, like Thanksgiving, that are so surrounded by food, can be tough when you don’t eat what everyone else eats.
It’s sad that we associate so many holidays by the dishes they come with: turkey for Thanksgiving, cookies with Christmas, burgers for Labor Day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got the warm holiday fuzzies simply from spending time with our families and friends? While it would be wonderful, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. I can preach all I want, but I for sure know I’d miss the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning and my mom’s crème de menthe brownies for dessert. We can’t help but have emotional ties to our meals and the foods we eat. The ties you have may be different than the ties of other guests at your Thanksgiving dinner table, and that’s OK. It’s not our responsibility to take on someone else’s burden or to worry if our values mean different things than theirs. it’s OK to not justify wanting a leftover turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, even though every other day of the year you would turn your nose up at the thought. It’s OK to (discreetly) sneer at the tofu-turducken a well-meaning family member served in honor of your vegetarianism, even though that’s hardly something you’d care to put in your mouth. And it’s OK for non-family member vegetarians to stop worrying about what the poor, lonely vegetarian is going to eat at Thanksgiving dinner. I can think of at least 10 other dishes of indulgent food will be on the table next to the turkey centerpiece. The turkey just isn’t the center of a vegetarian’s world, and they’re not missing out on something they don’t want to eat. They’re lucky they don’t want the turkey, actually: it just leaves more room on their plate for all of the glorious side dishes.
Even when I was “vegetarian,” I had no problem eating a piece of turkey for Thanksgiving or a slice of honey-baked spiral ham at Christmas. (I used quotes around vegetarian so all you true vegetarians wouldn’t through stones at me.) The past two years I’ve come to the Thanksgiving table with a different set of restrictions. Instead of foregoing animal products, I was foregoing a majority of the side dishes. My son is allergic to dairy, wheat, and soy, which meant I also couldn’t partake in those things while I was breastfeeding. That means no green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup. It means no candied sweet potatoes made with butter and no pumpkin pie made with milk. It means no dinner rolls, no stuffing, and no mashed potatoes.
And you know what? IT’S OK.
Thanksgiving is still a day of giving thanks and counting my blessings for my family, my son, and the access to foods that do fit into our narrow diet. It doesn’t matter if my plate is different from the person across the table, it just matters that the person across the table is part of my holiday.