Breaking "traditions" and dealing with carnists

Time is ticking away! Thanksgiving is now a mere few days away. I usually go all out on Thanksgiving with entrees, side dishes, desserts, and drinks, but this year I plan on taking it easy. I'm fortunate enough to be attending a vegan Thanksgiving feast at a local vegan restaurant. So much for cooking! I'll be heading to visit my parents after dinner for wine and maybe some vegan dessert :) It will be nice to take a break from having to do all the work to prepare for Thanksgiving this year, as I have a ton of other projects keeping my occupied.

This time of year can be tough for those of use who view animals as moral members of our society. Just the simple fact that people plan their entire day around a roasted carcass is disturbing to say the least. I did a little research and discovered that these "traditions" we follow on Thanksgiving really have little relevance to the original Thanksgiving.

Did you know Thanksgiving wasn't even declared a holiday until 1863? Did you know it was merely the brainchild of one woman named Sarah Josepha Hale? She also happened to write Mary Had a Little Lamb. So, when people say that you're breaking traditions, you might want to remind them that the holiday is about celebrating abundance and spending time with family and friends, not feasting on a cooked corpse.

I thought I'd bring Melanie Joy back to the blog today to give us all some advice on dealing with carnists during the holidays. This is an exchange between Melanie and I at her new Facebook discussion group, Vegetarians Discussing Carnism.


I know many of us will be dining with carnists during the upcoming holidays. Maybe before they come, we can think of some ways we can handle hostility and think about how will will react in a way that doesn't perpetuate the defensiveness. It's good to think about how you might react in these situations BEFORE they occur, because it's often difficult to make effective decisions in the heat of the moment.

I find that everyone in my family is generally aware of my opinions. They know I oppose the use of animals for ANY purpose. When I sense confrontation, even if it seems to be in a joking manner, I try to just bite my tongue and avoid making counter arguments or comments that will just encourage them to become more defensive.

Even if I'm not confronted directly, I try not to comment when people start having discussions about things in front of me that I obviously don't agree with. I know they know how I feel and that they are just trying to see my reaction to their opinions.

To recap, I have found that it's easier to avoid conflict than it is to engage in it. I'm not opposed to discussing my concerns when people are genuinely interested, but if I sense any sort of sarcasm or opposition, I've always found it best to just avoid talking about the topic at hand. If they're serious about learning from you, they will come back to you another time and have a more genuine debate.

I will sometimes say, "I don't feel that now is the time to discuss this issue, but if you want to talk about it further, why don't you shoot me an email?" Obviously you could suggest a phone call or whatever form of communication is best for you.

In my case, since I have had work published on the topic of veganism and animals rights, I will sometimes point them to those things to learn more about my beliefs. You could also send them to a favorite book (Why We Love Dogs...) or website that they could find more information.


I agree with your approach, Ed. The holidays are loaded to begin with, and ideological differences just compound things. (I appreciate your comment about my book, btw)

I think how much to engage in discussion about carnism depends on the situation. If you're with close family, and people are open and curious, that's a very different situation than if you're with in-laws or hostile carnists.

I also feel that healthy communication is vital -- and healthy communication is the same no matter what the topic is. (I write about this in my first book, Strategic Action for Animals). Healthy communicating means keeping the focus on your own experience. So, for example, if something offensive is stated during a dinner, I make sure I say what I'm feeling because of the comment (again, if the situation allows). If someone comments on my food (or lack thereof), I talk about my experience of being vegan -- to a point. I think we need to find a healthy balance between biting our tongues and not feeling disrespected.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how vegans so often experience "forced witnessing" -- we're forced to witness traumatizing experiences, like dead bodies and, worse, people putting those dead bodies in their mouths. Because carnism is SO pervasive, we don't have a lot of leeway in terms of how much we refuse to witness. But I think we need to be clear about what our own line is -- how much we are willing and able to witness before it takes too much of a psychological toll. Then we need to be clear with others about what our line is. For example, last year at my boyfriend's parents' I knew I'd have to see a dead animal on the table, but I requested that they keep the whole turkey in another room. So, people put the meat on their plates but I didn't have to see a whole carcass sitting in front of me or witness it being carved.

But I agree -- holidays are not the time to be educating about carnism. Tensions are already high, and Thanksgiving is literally organized around a carnistic ritual so defenses are probably higher than usual.

One of the reasons I wrote "Why We Love Dogs..." btw was so when people comment on my veganism I could say "Well, why don't you read my book?" and hope that they'd "get" veganism on a much deeper level than if I'd just explained my own experience to them.

I encourage you to visit and join in on this and other important discussions going on in the group!

And lastly, here's a photo I recently saw in the latest Poultry Press publication from United Poultry Concerns. I'll be back soon with another guest blogger and a delicious apple pie recipe I came up with the other night!

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