A very vegetarian non-Thanksgiving | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A very vegetarian non-Thanksgiving

How I learned to stop worrying and give up the turkey.

click to enlarge Wave goodbye to turkey this Thanksgiving
Wave goodbye to turkey this Thanksgiving

It all started with tacos. About four years ago, just days before Christmas, my husband and I enjoyed a casual dinner at the Lawrenceville Mexican restaurant Round Corner Cantina. Though we ate meat, we both ordered tofu to help offset the gastrointestinal misery accumulated from numerous holiday parties replete with rich foods and boozy beverages. As I took the first bite of my soy-based dish, I suddenly felt something that I hadn’t felt in weeks: not disgusting. 

I turned to my husband and said, “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian.”

My husband looked up from his taco. “I was just about to say the same thing to you!” 

He went to explain how making our two-person Thanksgiving dinner a month before led him to consider the change. As he prepared our modest turkey, he was suddenly overcome with repulsion, saying that the raw, dead bird before him, with its pathetic wings and legs all splayed out, reminded him of a tiny, naked, headless human being.    

So began a journey studded with compromises (“I take fish oil— maybe I should be a pescatarian”), cheats, and lazy dinners of cheese pizza or bean burritos. Eventually, we got the hang of it, mostly thanks to my husband’s past as a vegetarian high school punk. 

At first, I did it more for health reasons, as the carnivore life often left me feeling bloated, crampy, and enduring the dreaded meat sweats. Truth be told, growing up on a working dairy farm meant that dead animals never really bothered me. My family butchered more than their fair share of cows, filling up our basement freezer with a seemingly endless supply of hamburger patties, steaks, and roasts. My childhood resembled something out of Napoleon Dynamite, where my after-school snack consisted of a T-bone steak or cheeseburger.

As a result, meat doesn’t impress me. I see nothing novel or indulgent about eating a rare T-bone or juicy filet. I am blasé about bacon, indifferent to duck, lukewarm about lamb, bored with beef. 

But over time, I began to appreciate the economic, environmental, and moral reasons for going vegetarian. Tofu, beans, and other non-meat proteins are positively cheap compared with the alternative. Over the years, various studies have shown how much our lust for cooked animal flesh contributes to climate change. One study released by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization found that, in 2016, three meat companies, including the poultry titan, Tyson, emitted more greenhouse gases than all of France and nearly as much as oil companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell.

Then, of course, there’s the cruelty and mass slaughter associated with meat – as a farm kid, I’ve seen firsthand how pigs and chickens are kept in cramped, dirty pens in sunless, poorly ventilated buildings. Around this time of year, the turkey population takes an especially big hit. Last year, the National Turkey Federation estimated that around 45 million turkeys would be killed that holiday season. And anyone who saw the infamous video of Sarah Palin at the turkey farm knows the grisly fate that awaits these birds. 

But holidays always present the biggest frustration, as my husband and I struggle to come up with ways to make holiday meals both festive and meatless. We tried only eating sides, but that got old real quick. We tried incorporating Tofurky, which is fine if you enjoy the taste of a microwaved bike tire. Then there’s the guilt of not eating the thing that your relative spent hours cleaning, cooking, and basting.

So we came up with the most obvious solution – we stopped celebrating Thanksgiving. Just like that. Last year, my husband and I skipped the long commute back to our childhood homes for a relaxing, veggie-based dinner at an Indian restaurant and a night out dancing. No meat, no pressure, no being forced to interact with racist relatives. Just a pleasant night out with the one I love. And for that, I give thanks. 

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