Obligation vs. Opportunity: Options for the Holidays

Let’s be honest: if you really care about animals, the holidays can be hard.

Of course, the holidays have the potential to be filled with warmth, friendship, and love. But for many of us who choose to live compassionately, this time of year is filled with demands to be a part of gatherings with individuals who don’t necessarily share these same values. Sometimes we’re forced into situations because we share a common gene pool. This awkwardness (at best) is so inherent that survival guides for Thanksgiving dinner are more common than recipes. In Letters from Earth, Mark Twain marvels at what humans force upon themselves; the holidays are often a prime example of this.

For those of us who truly care about animals, the holidays present a significant level of stress. We know that many of our friends and family will be consuming the flesh of animals we consider to be individuals – individuals we could easily have been friends with. Hardest to bear, though, is the disconnect between the “joy” and “love” the season supposedly reflects and the actual horror behind the meal.

This is not to say that we should never eat with meat eaters. For many of us, our dietary choices aren’t about us, but about the individual animals we respect and want to spare from suffering and slaughter. Being present and sharing our perspective in a respectful and sensitive way can introduce an alternative way of thinking and spread this message of compassion.  Living in isolation denies animals our voice. Being an example of compassionate living to those currently following the standard American diet is potentially far more impactful than the consequences of our personal dietary choices.

Realizing this, it is vital to take advantage of opportunities like these holiday get-togethers to set an attractive, approachable example of compassionate living. Key to this is providing incredible, delicious food.  The food we like,  and dishes that the others will find irresistible. Familiar, savory, and satisfying recipes that have been prepared using plant-based ingredients and that mimic traditional dishes can satisfy even the most ardent carnivore. Mind-blowing mouthfuls can shatter stereotypes of what eating with compassion can be.

Yet not every social situation is a potential opportunity. We each have relatives or acquaintances who will never consider either our views or our offerings. They will seemingly revel in eating animals in front of us. They will take offense at any suggestion that we might not be comfortable and would prefer not to be around while they consume animals.  Under certain circumstances, the best decision may be to decline the invitation. While the standard wisdom is that everyone is an opportunity, we actually know that isn’t entirely true. Knowing that leads to a radical solution: Don’t go.

image001 This is obviously easier said than done. The ties that bind are often such that it is easier to go along to get along. Only you can make that decision.  If your presence is mandatory, the best advice is to bring your plant-based roast, review the Socratic section of The Animal Activist’s Handbook, and make the best of it. (Be sure to have a designated driver as that might be the best way to get through the meal!)

Distant relatives and acquaintances aside,  as we go forward, we can each pursue the creation of new traditions for ourselves and those closest to us. Traditions that ring true for the meaning of the season and the way we choose to live our lives. Travel to a special place for a hike, go out to a movie (or watch your own favorite), share pictures of what you’re eating on Facebook (#CompassionateMeals). Or turn the tables and instead invite family over to your place for a full feast of Tofurky, seitan, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the fixings (not tempeh and arugula).

It is easy to say we should always go to everything and bring a smile and a tasty dish. Or that we should just cut off all contact with those who won’t change and believe eating animals is more important than recognizing and accommodating our compassion for one meal. Neither of these is universally applicable. But we can try, whenever possible, to find a balance between being an example of compassionate living and shirking obligation in favor of building truly joyful holiday traditions of our own.

-Matt Ballbonding