Why I Hate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving remains an exciting holiday for me because it is the one and only time of year that I get four consecutive days off work without having to dip into my vacation time.  Other than that, I find Thanksgiving decidedly meh.

Okay, I hate Thanksgiving.  There, I said it.  I find Thanksgiving positively nauseating.  I know, I’ve turned into an old curmudgeon.  Bah, humbug!

Holiday time critics frequently decry Christmas as having long ago been sacrificed on the altar of consumerism.  Thanksgiving, of course, is no different.  We eat too much, watch football and then waste our money on Black Friday.  I see the list of deadly sins taking shape here:  Gluttony, sloth, avarice, envy.

But what about giving thanks?  At my age, I am thankful and grateful for every day that I am still alive.  I thank the Lord for His many blessings every day of the week.  I don’t need a special day just for that.

As a vegetarian, I am disgusted by the mass slaughter of birds.  A coworker recently mentioned the annual presidential pardon of a turkey.  Exactly what crime was that turkey guilty of that it needed a pardon, I asked.  Let’s just say this is not how to win friends and influence people.

As I’ve discussed in this space before, my aversion to Thanksgiving has much to do with family drama in years gone by.  To put it mildly, my memories of the holiday aren’t too sunny.  I used to say that I considered it a good Thanksgiving if no one threw a punch and no one called the cops.  I exaggerate, but not by much.  I considered it a good holiday if no one started yelling expletives and no one lobbed a projectile at anyone else.  By that standard, I don’t recall too many good Thanksgivings.

Today, I have aging parents with health problems.  My usual Hobson’s choice is to either drive four hours each way to spend Thanksgiving with them or to feel guilty about leaving them alone on the holiday.  Thankfully, I’m off the hook this year.  My sister and her son are driving to Mom and Dad’s and will cook Thanksgiving dinner for them.  Thanks, Sis!  I owe you.

As for me, I plan to have an excellent Thanksgiving this year.  I look forward to chowing down at the Sizzler salad bar, just my wife and myself.  On Black Friday, I look forward to catching up on my sleep.

And yes, I’ll have my laptop with me and will probably do some work over the holiday weekend.

So sue me.

 

Your Cat is Eating Your Turkey

HAYWARD

In early November, my sister sent me a text message inviting me to Thanksgiving dinner.  She recently purchased a house in the Bay Area and wanted to show it off.  I consulted my wife and then texted her back to say yes, we would come.  Her new home is less than two hours away and we didn’t have any firm plans for the holiday, so I figured why not.

Two days later, Sis texted me again to say that Thanksgiving was off.  My parents had visited her and apparently indicated that they would never return.  It seems that they were frightened off by the winding roads that lead to the mountaintop street where my sister now resides.

An hour later, my sister texted me again.  “Thanksgiving is back on.”  My parents had agreed to drive as far as a supermarket parking lot on the flats, where my nephew would pick them up and haul them up the mountain.

My parents stayed home anyway.  Dad recently contracted a severe case of conjunctivitis and, despite the use of eye drops prescribed by a doctor, he has been unable to open his eyes very far, making driving out of the question.  We offered to drive all the way there, pick them up, take them to Sis’s house in the Bay Area, and drive them home again.  They declined on the grounds that Dad is probably still contagious and no one will want to be near him.

As if it weren’t bad enough that my parents would be spending Thanksgiving alone, the fact that Dad is unable to drive has created much greater problems.  My mother, also age 83, hasn’t driven in seven years and expressed to me that she never plans to drive again.  She says she doesn’t feel comfortable driving, and that it makes her feel a bit dizzy sometimes, and that she’s just too old.  Nevertheless, she plans to renew her driver’s license when it expires in 2020.  She just doesn’t plan to use it.

My parents live in a rural area at the edge of the rangeland where the cattle graze.  I call it “the wild prair-ie.”  The nearest supermarket is about 20 miles away, although there is a small grocery store about four miles from their house.  I’ve been on the phone with my parents on an almost daily basis and they’re starting to complain about running out of their favorite foods.  It’s not that they don’t have food and are going hungry, it’s just that they’ve used up the items they need to prepare the meals they like best.  Not only that, but they need to prepare more meals than usual, as they aren’t going out to dinner several times per week as is their usual practice.

My parents celebrated Franksgiving, eating hot dogs and beans for dinner.  Mom was annoyed that they had no buns on which to serve the franks, although not as annoyed as Dad is that he is out of bananas to cut up in his morning Honey Bunches of Oats.  Yesterday, Mom reported that they are completely out of bread.  “Not even the frozen kind?” I asked.  My parents are famous for freezing many loaves of bread and defrosting a little bit at a time.  Nope, even the frozen stuff is gone, she told me.

I asked whether we should drive down there (seven hours round trip) to get them some groceries.  No, said Mom, they’re not out of food yet.  I offered that, if she provides us with her grocery list, we can probably have what she needs delivered to her door.  Then we checked online and learned that we probably can’t.  My parents’ location is just too rural.  I couldn’t find any online services that deliver to their zip code.  Most likely, the best we would be able to do is to have canned goods shipped to them in the mail.

Sis says she may drive down there on her day off and take my mother grocery shopping.  If not, my wife and sister-in-law will take care of it.  That is, unless Dad is driving again.  Now that Mom is putting the drops in his eyes instead of having him do it himself (and missing), things are looking a lot better.

We thought seriously about skipping out on my sister at the last minute and driving to the Central Valley to spend Thanksgiving with my parents instead.  However, Mom begged us not to.  She told me that Sis was already distraught that they weren’t coming and she’d be truly upset if we were to bag out on her, too.

I had no idea how right Mom was.

My sister urged me to invite all of my wife’s family to join her for Thanksgiving.  Most of them had other plans already, however, and the driving that would have been required is excessive.  Now, Sis has two adult children.  Her son resides in the same town and agreed to come early to help prepare the meal.  But her daughter failed to respond to her invitation.  Sis even called her ex-husband in an effort to browbeat him into coming and bringing his daughter along.  Of course, neither of them showed up.  My niece has some type of ongoing argument with her mother and doesn’t wish to speak with her at the moment.  As for my sister’s ex, well, he’s remarried and has obligations to spend the holiday with his own family.

Traffic on Interstate 80 was terrible on Thanksgiving morning, and it took us nearly an hour more than expected to reach my sister’s house.  At one point, we nearly turned around and went home due to traffic being at a dead stop for close to 15 minutes.  I’m glad we didn’t.  Other than my nephew, my wife and I were the only guests.

Mom called while we were stuck in traffic to find out why we weren’t there yet.  She said that Sis, having initially expected lots of guests, had purchased a 30-pound kosher turkey.  I didn’t know that birds come that large, so I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she had been exaggerating more than a little.

My wife had made a fruit salad the night before and I put together a batch of fresh guacamole.  We transported both in a cooler, along with my almond milk and a few other miscellaneous items.  Well, it turned out that my sister had prepared a feast.  Knowing my food restrictions, she served me sautéed tofu with mushrooms and onions, although it was my wife who actually cut everything up in preparation for cooking.  Sis also fixed me roasted vegetables and a dressing prepared with gluten-free bread and vegetable broth.  Both were delicious, and we had ample leftovers to take home.

After dinner, we retired to my sister’s living room, with its amazing picture window view of the bay, Oakland and San Francisco.  I suppose living on a hilltop does have some advantages.  Sis was stretched out on the sofa, my nephew busied himself watching videos about Japan on his laptop, and my wife and I relaxed in a pair of rocker-recliners while we chatted.  Sis was facing us, while my wife and I had a clear view of the kitchen, where none of the leftovers had yet been put away.

Soon, Sis made up some soy mochas while my nephew sliced the pie.  Actually, there were two pies, both Dutch apple, my sister’s favorite.  One was “regular” and the other was both vegan and gluten-free for my benefit.  The latter cost a hefty $15.  Curiosity got the better of my sister and she decided to try my pie first.  She took one bite, gagged, and spit it out.  She began yelling that it tasted like lemon-flavored sawdust on cardboard.  I assured her that there was no reason to be shocked.  That’s more or less what a commercial gluten-free pie crust tastes like.  Those of us who cannot tolerate gluten can either put up with it or not eat pie at all.  I’m told that there are homemade gluten-free pies that actually taste decent, but I don’t cook and am happy to get whatever is available.  This was the first pie I had eaten in about a year or so.

Sis gave me the rest of her slice of pie and we took the remainder of the pie home in its box, where I promptly demolished it.  It really wasn’t as bad as she described.

I should mention that my sister has two cats.  Butternut (alias Butt, Nut or just Squash) is a rambunctious orange tabby that sheds fur like there’s no tomorrow.  Sis rescued her from a shelter in Albuquerque.  Then there is Macchiato, whose coat features a crazy quilt of every cat color known to man on one side, while being nearly entirely white on the other side.  Macchi was rescued from a shelter in Boise, Idaho.  My sister moves around a lot.

Macchiato is fairly shy and made herself scarce during most of our visit.  Butternut, however, is extremely outgoing and insists on being a part of whatever happens to be going on at the moment.  When not perched on the coffee table or getting underfoot, she would jump up to her cat bed, high atop her scratching post.  There, she could be queen and master of her domain.

The availability of a particularly large variety and quantity of food was not lost on Butternut.  I decided that I had better describe what I was seeing.  The squash meister had jumped up on the kitchen counter and was helping herself.  “Your cat is eating your turkey,” I nonchalantly informed my sister.

“WHAT!!!” was her reply, causing my nephew to spring out of his seat and complain that his mother had nearly caused him a heart attack.  Sis sprinted into the kitchen, removed Butternut from the counter and chastised her severely.  Still, she did not put away the food.  Instead, she returned to join us.

We lounged in my sister’s living room, she nearly asleep and me admiring the twinkling lights of the city while listening to my nephew regale me with tales of working in downtown San Francisco. It didn’t take too long before I noticed that Butternut was at the carcass again.

“Your cat is eating your turkey,” I repeated.

“Don’t say it like that!” yelled my sister.  I guess I was supposed to jump out of my seat and make a hullaballoo instead of being calm about it.  Once again, Sis removed her cat, but not before Butternut had lapped up most of the gravy out of the measuring cup in which my sister had served it.  She made growling noises at ol’ Butt that I suppose were designed to teach her a lesson that her behavior was unacceptable.

And then my sister finally began to put away the food.  The turkey, she indicated, would end up in freezer bags and would take her many weeks to use up for her lunches.  Whereupon she began to portion out the remaining turkey meat, totally unfazed that it had been mauled by the filthy mouth of a cat.

 

In the Wee, Small Hours

When I awake in the wee hours and find that I can’t get back to sleep, I don’t tweet like President-Elect Trump. Instead, I grab my phone off my nightstand and start to draft blog posts.

Now, writing in the middle of the night can yield some interesting results. Perhaps this is because my brain is still in that muddled middle ground between sleep and wakefulness. Reading the notes of my nocturnal ramblings the next day may, at times, leave me a bit puzzled. Now why did I wake up thinking about THAT? It is just as likely that I will end up hitting “Delete” than that my disconnected thoughts will ever make it into a post.

It is probably fortunate that I am easily distracted. I will remember that I need to make a packing list for an upcoming trip and I will start on that. I will take my turn in the ten or twelve Words With Friends games that I usually have going at any given time. I will check the headlines in The New York Times.

All of these pursuits are better than lying in the dark and thinking of my sister, who just moved more than a thousand miles away for a new job and was promptly fired. Or of my twentysomething niece, who has been suffering from anorexia in Boston and is now down to a skeletal 75 pounds. Or of my octogenarian father, whose hand has gone numb and who can no longer lift his other arm without awful pain.

Such thoughts make my own problems seem decidedly small. I remind myself that everything is relative. And I count my blessings. I look forward to tearing up the interstate this week so that we can spend Thanksgiving with as many family members as possible, and celebrate my father’s 83rd birthday to boot. Instead of worrying about what we don’t have, or what we might lose, I thank God for all that we do have.

And I recite what I find to be one of the most comforting Bible passages, the 91st Psalm, and I go back to sleep. After all, I have to get up for work in a few hours.

The Haircut

FRESNO

My father keeps telling me about how much he likes the work his barber does.  Now, Dad has very little hair left at this point, so it’s not as if I expected his barber to be a corn row connoisseur or a faux hawk aficionado.  But when he told me that his barber charges only four dollars (plus tip), I was sold.  I decided to put up with my sideburns for a couple of months in order to get my ears lowered both competently and cheaply when I headed south to visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, my wife and I drove from my parents’ house out in the country to “the big city” of Fresno to get coiffed.  (Well, really so my wife could use her computer to get some work done, since there is no high-speed internet connection or wi-fi out on the rangeland where my parents call home).  My father warned me that his barber might have the day off, but that “one of the girls” would take me.

When we arrived at the shop, we were greeted with a CLOSED sign on the door.  My wife told me this would happen!

Fortunately, we had just passed an open barber shop a few blocks away.  Inside, three barbers were working away on customers while another family waited their turn.  I sat down patiently and waited about 20 minutes to be called.  This was definitely not a discount hair establishment like the place my father patronized.  A sign advertised that a regular haircut would set you back $12.  But I was there already and I just wanted to get this itchy stuff off my ears and face.  I was not about to drive around looking for someplace less expensive.

The last time that I had my hair cut back home, I told a young woman at a salon that I wanted a “3.”  For at least 20 years, I’ve been familiar with the numbering system that many barbers use.  Before I was married, I used to get a “one,” which is basically your Marine special.  Just a bit of fuzz on top.  My wife says that this style makes me “look like an escaped mental patient,” so I began leaving some hair on my noggin. I am now used to having the sideburns removed and keeping a reasonable amount of hair north of that.  Still, I thought the “3” was a bit too short.  Therefore, this time around I requested a “4.”  “You know what a 4 is, right?” the barber asked.  Yes, I assured him, I know what it is.  Upon which I blinded myself by removing my eyeglasses and hoped for the best.

The barber was a young guy who insisted that I used to be a tutor at his high school (I have never taught), urged me to get a lump on my head checked out (I explained how I obtained it forty years ago) and griped about how Heald College closed down when he had almost completed his associate’s degree and how Fresno City College wouldn’t transfer any of the credits.

I should have told him that he missed his calling.  He should have been a bartender.  I wished I had the nerve to tell him to shut up and pay attention to what he was doing.

At that point, the barber requested the details of my Thanksgiving.  “Whad you grub on?” he inquired.  I explained that my mother prepared the traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and potatoes, but that I very much enjoyed my eggplant and tofu, thank you.

“You a vegetarian?” he asked, incredulous.  I answered in the affirmative, in no mood to explain the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan.  Then he asked when was the last time I ate meat.  “About 25 years ago,” I responded, upon which he wanted to know what my last meat meal consisted of.  “I really don’t remember,” I admitted.  “It was a long time ago.”

“If it was my last time eating meat, I’d remember,” he remonstrated.  “I’d have a triple cheeseburger.  But I could never stop eating meat.”

About this time, the barber offered me my eyeglasses and I glanced in the mirror to check out the new me with a “4.”

Welcome to the Marines, son.

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Things I Saw in the Central Valley

MADERA

We have been spending Thanksgiving weekend with my parents at their home in California’s Central Valley.  These are a few of the things I saw:

imagePalm trees.  Residing in northern California as we do, we tend to forget that tropical foliage predominates in the more southerly parts of our fair state.  With the freezing temperatures we have experienced the last few nights, I have no idea how the palms survive.

imageDonkeys.  Not something we see in Sacramento.  Unfortunately, Eeyore’s companion was camera shy and took off as soon as I pointed a camera in his direction.

imageMy little niece.  She recently turned one year old.  I don’t see her very often and can’t believe how big she’s grown already.

A homeless man in a wheelchair begging for change in front of a McDonald’s in Fresno.  It was freezing out, so we bought him some hot food and coffee.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

imageMy mother’s Siamese cat.  Taffy is 18 years old and spoiled rotten.  She refuses to eat cat food anymore and gets chicken, turkey and fish.  I think the poor thing has a cold, as she was coughing last night.

imageMacaroni Grill.  Pasta for dinner!  Garlic, mushrooms, who could as for more?

imageThe full moon, playing hide and seek with the clouds.

Here’s hoping all of you are enjoying the holiday weekend!

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Blackie

MADERA

Well, we made it through Thanksgiving without disaster.  My sister and her son, who were supposed to stay overnight at my parents’ house, instead visited for four hours and left.  This was probably for the best.

My sister showed up more than two hours late and then spent most of her visit griping about working irregular shifts at a hospital, being on call all the time and never getting any sleep.  As if on cue, her cell phone rang and the hospital tried to call her in.  She had to explain that this was not her on call day and, in any event, she was six hours away.

I think it was really rotten of my sister to browbeat my octogenarian parents in preparing an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner when we had planned to go out to a restaurant.  Mom was so tired from cooking.  It’s really unfair and thoughtless.

Thanksgiving is always a time for telling family stories, and my favorite story of the day was told by my mother.  She reminisced about her summer in a rented beach house at Brooklyn’s Coney Island when she was 13 years old.  A large homeless dog adopted her, much to her delight.  She named him Blackie and was disappointed when her parents would not let her keep him.  Still, the dog followed her around all summer, even stealing the ball from boys playing in the street and delivering it to my mother.

Then came the day when her mother gave her money and sent her to a local store to buy a six pack of beet for my Grandpa.  Even in the 1940s, it was illegal to sell beer to minors.

“Who are you buying it for?” asked the merchant accusatorily.  “For my father!” she protested.  The storekeeper took her money and told her to go wait outside.  Stepping outside to a patiently waiting Blackie, my mother soon saw the merchant come out and surreptitiously hand her a bag containing the contraband.

I’ve heard many wonderful family stories from my mother, but this was one of the most delightful.

Meanwhile, here in California’s Central Valley, the temperature has uncharacteristically dropped below freezing, threatening the area’s citrus crops.

I hope all of you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.  High on my list of the many things I am thankful for are all of you, my faithful readers. A heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you.

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Thanksgiving or Festivus?

Tofurky

Last week, I attended our Thanksgiving luncheon at work, despite my reservations about how it would go with me being a vegan.  Last year, I chose to take the coward’s way out by staying away.  This wasn’t so difficult, as I was still new, wasn’t yet in management and had duties that left me working by myself most of the time.  This year was a bit different since my role has changed so drastically.  Accordingly, I thought it advisable for me to show up.

I brought my own food, with the idea that how much of it I would use would depend on whether there was anything else available that I could eat.  Good thing I did.  I had the idea that there might be salad or plain vegetables, but the only thing for me turned out to be a dinner roll.

As I sat down at a crowded table and spooned out my broccoli onto a plate, I felt a little like I did back in junior high and high school, taking out my yarmulke to eat my lunch in the cafeteria.  It’s strange how, at my age, such things come back to me.

One of my coworkers inquired about what Thanksgiving was like for me.  “Do you have Tofurky?” she asked.

I patiently explained that, while some vegans go that route, we go out to dinner with family so that everyone can order what they want.  I thought I was telling the truth, too.

Then, on Sunday, I called my parents to check in only to discover that plans had changed.  Apparently, my sister, who drives just as far as we do to be with our parents, threw an unholy fit about how if she was coming all that way, at least she should be able to get a traditional turkey dinner at home.  Mom caved in to her demands, as she always does.  The fact that my wife and I have no interest in such a dinner was not even a factor.

In my mother’s favor, she did buy an eggplant to prepare for me.  My wife, who does not enjoy turkey, is not pleased.  My parents are “kosher at home,” meaning that we can’t even bring most of the foods that my wife enjoys.  I am wondering whether we should just stay home and eat what we want.

To make matters worse, we are scheduled to do even more driving, from my parents’ house in the Central Valley to my sister’s house in the Bay Area, to celebrate my father’s birthday.  Supposedly, this is so that my niece can join us and so that my parents can meet her boyfriend, with whom she is now living.

We have a history of really horrible Thanksgivings in my family, going back decades.  Until I was ten years old, we spent most Thanksgivings with my paternal grandparents.  For reasons too complex to get into here, my mother never got along with them.  There were a lot of horrific fights over the years, with my sisters and me usually in the middle.  We loved my grandparents, but felt guilty about doing so when my mother hated them.  (Later, I learned that much of her animosity was warranted.)  Between my parents’ screaming arguments and the ones they had with my grandparents, I was scared to death of marriage for years.  It’s something of a miracle that I ended up with a truly wonderful mother-in-law.  I feel badly that my wife got the raw end of the deal.

I related in this space last year how, the first time I brought my wife to my parents for Thanksgiving (we weren’t even married yet), my sister and my mother had it out in a screaming, cussing match worthy of a telenovela.  I was embarrassed.  She’ll never marry me now, I thought.  I am very, very lucky and blessed that my wife doesn’t give up so easily.

So what will this Thanksgiving bring?  I’m afraid to find out.  While the idea of family getting together over good food is lovely, the fact is that most of us do not live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal.  I believe it is important to recognize when a family is so deeply dysfunctional that it is really better if those involved do not gather in a single location.  This is particularly true when Thanksgiving feels more like Festivus, with its “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”

What I do know is that, high on the list of the many things for which I am thankful will be the fact that my wife and I am able to support ourselves and don’t have to live with family.  At least for now.

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Pardon Me, Turkey

turkey

The Vegan Files

You know it’s getting close to Thanksgiving when memes like this one get passed around online.  I suppose the intent is to cause the viewer to laugh at such a preposterous proposition.  You’re dead, turkey!  I want to see you plucked, stuffed, roasted and on a platter for my personal enjoyment!  That’s right, I want you dead so that I can carve you up and enjoy eating your rotting flesh.  The fact that you want to go on living, associating with others of your kind and raising future generations of birds means nothing to me.  Tofu??!! Yuck!

It would be particularly sad if I thought that we had no regard at all for our fellow creatures.  I know that this is not true because of the billions of dollars each year we spend on our pet dogs and cats.  Even when it comes to turkeys, each year the president “pardons” two of them to live out their lives well taken care of on a farm.  A couple of years ago, I read that this farm is in West Virginia and that the birds seldom survive for more than a few months past the date of their pardon.  This is because commercially raised turkeys are fed a diet designed to increase the size of the breast to grotesque proportions in order to satisfy consumer demand.  While there is such thing as free-range turkeys, for the most part, the birds are raised in tight spaces that prevent them from moving around much so that they can be fattened up that much faster.  By the time they are ready for slaughter, they are so large that they can barely move even if they wanted to.  They are so unhealthy that they are beyond benefitting from the freedom of a farm and veterinary care.

Whenever I hear that the president is getting ready to “pardon” two turkeys, I hope that perhaps he is referring to certain members of Congress.  Certainly the turkeys have done nothing wrong that would cause them to require a “pardon.”

tofu

The other theme of the meme above has to do with tofu.  How laughable that a turkey should plead for its life by asking us to eat such disgusting stuff instead!  While I know numerous people who profess to dislike tofu, the unfortunate fact is that most Americans (with the possible exception of those whose moms engaged in traditional Asian cooking) have never even tried it.

The turkey is right that tofu is “really good.”  While much has been written about the possible health dangers of eating too much soy (we won’t talk about the firm connection recently made between eating meat and colon cancer), the fact remains that it is a solid source of protein and one that requires much less of a carbon footprint to produce than, say, poultry.  Plus, tofu doesn’t have bones to deal with, doesn’t have a carcass to dispose of once picked clean, and doesn’t need to be roasted for hours (or fried in peanut oil, a cause of multiple house fires each Thanksgiving).  My own favorite thing about tofu is that it has a very mild flavor and goes with anything.  Even if baked in the oven, it doesn’t stink up the house.  I am not much of a cook, so I most often prepare tofu by simply dicing it and serving it over baked potatoes with carrots or spinach.  I also like it in soup, what I call “faux pho.”  And, yes, I have been known to eat it straight out of the package.  Sure, there are fancy faux turkey roasts, but the great thing about tofu is that you don’t have to cook it if you don’t want to.  If you like it hot, slice it and heat it in the microwave or dice it into an oil-coated pan with some mushrooms or broccoli.  Otherwise, toss it onto a salad and eat it cold.  Its diversity can’t be beat, and I like the fact that, if I haven’t prepared any lunch one day, I can throw a package of tofu into a bag with some bread and fruit and I will have a protein-packed, satisfying meal.

But back to the turkeys.  My father is quick to point out that almost all turkeys currently alive would not exist at all if they weren’t commercially raised for slaughter and thence the freezer case at your local supermarket.  This fact seems to me a lot like playing God.  We get to decide when they live and when they die.

When my little grandniece was visiting with us last week, I began singing Christmas songs with her.  “It’s not even Thanksgiving!” my wife noted.  “But I don’t know any Thanksgiving songs,” I protested.  Later, while my grandniece and her cousin were running amok in Chuck E. Cheese, I repeated the story to my sister-in-law.  She admitted to knowing only one Thanksgiving song:

Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys, fat turkeys
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are
We’re not made for living
We’re made for Thanksgiving
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are we.

(With thanks to Ghost Academy for confirming the lyrics)

Suffice it to say that I will not be singing this song with my grandniece.  “We’re not made for living?”  Seriously?  If you’re not going to treat your dog or cat like a mere thing that you can kill and dispose of at will, I question how you can countenance doing the same to a cow, pig or turkey.

To make things worse, I hear that the above ditty is sung in schools, thus indoctrinating children into feeling nothing when it comes to our fellow creatures.  Surely, there is a more compassionate Thanksgiving song about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans together giving thanks to God over maize and yams?  (Notwithstanding the fact that the ready availability of deer indicates the likelihood that venison was also on the menu.)

Too bad those landing at Plymouth Rock did not bring tofu across the ocean with them.

While it is unfortunately a myth that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird (he actually referred to the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character”), I love the story and wonder whether, if true, perhaps we’d eat roasted eagle with gravy and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  That is, if we found a way to force-feed the eagle and sing that it’s not made for living, just eating.

Tomorrow:  The Joy of Receiving

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So I’m a Vegan. How Do I Explain This to a Teenager?

The Vegan Files

My teenaged niece has expressed interest in learning about the vegan lifestyle.  As honored as I feel, I’m not sure I even knew that being a vegan is a lifestyle.

I recommended a book.  I told her about some websites.  But it turns out that she wants to know more about the reasons that I’ve committed myself to such a “difficult” way of life.  I am flattered that I’ve made such an impression, but I find myself at a total loss for what to tell her.

When we were together at a church event a few weeks ago, I told her a little bit about what factory farms do to chickens.  She just stared at me, clearly horrified.  The experience gave me chills.

It’s true that just out of sight are the bloody slaughterhouses that bring us our steaks, burgers and chicken.  It’s true that nursing calves are routinely separated from their mothers, that cows are kept pregnant constantly to make more beef and dairy cattle.  It’s true that it’s all about money.

Yes, I want my niece to know about these things, but this is not how I want to explain why I am a vegan.  She thinks that it must be so hard to give up things like Big Macs, beef tacos, cheese and ice cream.  But I don’t want her to think that doing the right thing means making painful dietary sacrifices.  On the contrary, I want her to see that, for me, being a vegan is an act of love.

At work this morning, I overheard a conversation between two young ladies that went something like this:

“Are you still on that vegan diet regimen?”

“Yes!  And it’s been a whole week!”

I grinned and kept walking.  There it goes again, I thought, the association of vegans with martyrdom and exceptional will power.  If only they knew how easy it is, I thought, as I heated up my lunch of veggie dogs smothered in soy cheese.

Later in the day, we held a going away celebration for a retiring coworker.  An enormous sheet cake covered in billows of whipped cream was presented.  I was offered a slice by several people and I declined each time.  No one can believe that I have the fortitude to resist cake.  Should I blow my cover and tell them that some of Duncan Hines’ cake mixes and frostings are vegan?  Should I let them keep thinking that I have the superhuman power to avoid sugar?  Or should I let them in on the secret that Oreos are vegan and so are the heavenly oatmeal raisin cookies sold by Trader Joe’s?

Last year, I stayed away from the company’s Thanksgiving pot luck, knowing that it would be very uncomfortable having everyone comment on the fact that I wasn’t eating.  This year, I plan to attend.  Now that I’ve been there for a while, many of my coworkers know that I’m a vegan.  I don’t think anyone will bat an eye when I show up with my own food in a little plastic container.  I will spoon it out onto a plate, grab a drink and sit down to eat with my fellow employees.  And I will undoubtedly endure a chorus of “Ooo, what’s that?  I didn’t see that on the buffet.”  That, mes amis, is tofu with mushrooms.  If you dare make a face, I will recount the gory details of where your drumstick and white meat came from and make you barf.

Sigh.  This is definitely not the idea that I want to relay to my young niece.  She might go vegan one of these days, or perhaps she won’t.  If she does, she’ll have plenty of time to experience the prejudice, the stares, the incredulity and the explanations that vegans are called upon to give over and over and over again.

For now, however, I’d like her to know that for those of us who love this planet, for those of us who love our bodies, for those of us who have an ounce of compassion, for those of us who give a damn, being a vegan is the only rational choice in an increasingly insane world.

Tomorrow:  Certain food combinations are just disgusting!

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A Prayer of Thanks

What is your family’s Thanksgiving tradition for giving thanks at the table?  Do the assembled family and friends bow their heads while one person says a prayer?  Do you have everyone hold hands in an unbroken chain while grace is said?  Do you go around the table and have everyone describe what he or she is thankful for this year?  Or do you dispense with the formalities and just dig in as soon as the turkey is carved?

As a moderately observant Jew, I come from a tradition where there is a blessing for everything.  Although the Hebrew prayers over different types of food were ingrained in me as a child, I did not begin saying an English language prayer over meals until after I got married and my wife started to encourage this.  I was delighted, but this meant that I had to come up with some brief, appropriate words to use for the occasion.

The blessing that I now use before we eat is pretty much the same on Thanksgiving as it is on any other day.  The only difference for a special occasion is that I might add a reference to my appreciation of particular individuals among us, particularly if we have been blessed by the presence of one or more honored guests.

My basic prayer goes something like this:  “Thank you, Lord, for the food we are about to receive and for the many gifts you have bestowed upon us.  Thank you for the blessings of our home, our health and our family.  Thank you for all your help at my job.  And thank you for all the work you do in our lives every day.  Amen.”

Admittedly, it’s a fairly plain vanilla prayer.  But I think it covers the important things.  Of course, if a particular family issue happens to be going on at the moment, I feel free to add a divine request for the complete recovery of a sick person (I still get an incredible kick when my wife refers to this by its Hebrew name, refu’ah shlemah), the safety of one who is away on a trip or the success of someone at school or work.

Among my favorite things about this prayer is the “innocuous factor.”  Over the many years that I have been saying this blessing (including in public), I have never heard anyone object to it on religious grounds.  I believe it reflects the gratitude that we all feel, regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof.  Who isn’t grateful for having a roof over his or her head, food in his or her stomach, a loving family and meaningful work?  As one who recently suffered through a year of unemployment, this last one hits close to home for me.  “Establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.”  Ps. 90:17 (NIV)

I suppose an atheist might object to this blessing, but then any type of prayer at all might be offensive to one who prefers that I do not address the Lord.  There’s not much I can do about that.

True, some Christians might object that I make no reference to Jesus, but everyone is of course free to add the flavor of their religious preferences at the end.  All I ask is that those assembled remain respectfully silent for the 30 seconds or so that it takes me to pray over our food.  I have never experienced anyone doing otherwise.  Some dirty looks from fellow diners in restaurants, yes.  The occasional flummoxed server who brings over the iced tea at just the moment that I am praying and doesn’t quite know how to behave, sure.  There will always be those who will roll their eyes at the holy roller over there.  And there will always be those who believe that praying over the food is a quaint relic of the past that has little relevance today.

Thankfully, many of us realize that, in these difficult times, prayer arguably has more relevance than ever.  And fortunately, gratitude is a universal language that all of us can understand.

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