Vegan Thanksgiving

A meatless holiday could serve as an annual teachable moment, where we celebrate the preciousness of planetary resources

November 27, 2019

5:10 pm

“Turducken.” Is there another word in the English language as symbolic of American excess?

Let’s ignore that the first syllable of the word is, at the very least, not the image one wants to think about while dining. But the very idea of a “turducken” — a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck that is further crammed into a mostly deboned turkey — epitomizes the most crass elements of American culture. Created (or at least credited) to New Orleans celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, the dish doesn’t so much whet the appetite as it pushes the edges of (at worst) cruelty or (at best) gluttony.

Like “Supersizing it,” or tossing cheese or bacon (or both!) into a dish that is already highly caloric, the turducken is a symbol of a society that is neither healthy nor sustainable.

But the turducken has become a symbol of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, as well. Popularized by American football commentator John Madden, who used to commentate on football games on the holiday and award a “turducken” turkey leg to the player of the game, the turducken is at odds with the very essence of what the holiday itself is supposed to be about.

The original Thanksgiving was a celebration of bounty by a people (the newcomers to the “New World,” who at least at that time gladly hosted the people who were already here), who were thankful to have anything at all, a cornucopia of comestibles by refugees grateful for a new home. Over the centuries, it has become time for a national pause, when Americans could spend quality time with family and other loved ones, and enjoy an autumnal time of reflection.

In that spirit, wouldn’t it make sense to celebrate in a new, sustainable way?

A vegan Thanksgiving — Thanksvegan? — could help. Sure, a lot of you are rolling your eyes, but over-preparing in the kitchen is not a sustainable model — and it actually negatively impacts the climate crisis.

Animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to the mess we’re currently in:

  • Rainforests are the lungs of the planet, soaking up carbon, but they’re being reduced at astonishing rates to clear land for animals that consumers ultimately eat
  • It is responsible for 13–18% of global human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions
  • Fossil-fuel combustion for energy and transportation is responsible for approximately 64% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally

But what if we were to reduce our dependence on animal agriculture?

The journal Nature noted that “By 2050, dietary changes could free up several million square kilometers of land, and reduce global CO2 emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year, relative to business as usual.”

Especially in a symbolic gesture. Remember, no one is suggesting that everyone go vegan instantly, overnight. But the holiday of Thanksgiving itself is symbolic — one in which so much food is also wasted. So why not symbolize it with something meaningful? A Thanksvegan could serve as an annual teachable moment, especially for young people, who could learn the value of reducing meat intake. And in the end, we could all celebrate the preciousness of planetary resources.

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