4 Ways to make your Thanksgiving less Exploitative

There’s no perfect time to start a blog, but I’ve ‘gotta say that starting this blog around Canadian Thanksgiving loans itself to some pretty meaty discussions for a foodie and activist. We’ve got colonialism, neo-colonialism, poverty, charity, the gendered division of labour, exploitation of animals and our planet– practically a smorgasbord of topics to write about. In lieu of writing a novel about how Thanksgiving can be a hugely exploitative to-do, I decided to write a shorter article with four ways for you to make your thanksgiving less exploitative. If you’re in the U.S., then you’ve got even more time to mull these suggestions over!

1) Be conscious of your beloved holiday’s roots– colonialism and violence.

In Canada, the Thanksgiving holiday was appropriated from America in the late 1950s. Some say that Canada celebrated Thanksgiving long before America when Martin Frobisher arrived in Newfoundland in the mid 1500s to celebrate after returning safely from his exploits in the New World.  No matter how you choose to view the origins of the holiday (with patriotism or skepticism), Thanksgiving is rooted in colonialism. If you grew up learning about the first Thanksgiving as a time where Western Explorers and Native Peoples came together over a table filled with a bountiful harvest, you are not alone. In fact this image was created for American and Canadian textbooks after the first World War in order to promote patriotism (and likely to encourage people to fix their tables with consumer goods, giving thanks for the bounty they would supposedly have in peaceful times). Thanksgiving was, in fact, a Native practice that was part of traditional spiritual life where people viewed bounty as gifts for which to give thanks.  The first ‘Western’ thanksgiving did not include Native peoples; instead it was preceded by the murder of over 700 Pequot Indians in Massachusetts (men, women, and children). The feast was to celebrate the safe return of Western colonial volunteers who participated in the slaughter. Here’s a video with a more extensive description of what may have formed modern conceptions of Thanksgiving after this attack, when colonial families arrived in New England:

idle no more

Why is it important to remember this? Though you may feel depressed about the way Thanksgiving truly originated, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy spending time with family and munching on good food. Being conscious of the roots of the holiday serves to encourage consideration of how neo-colonial practices continue to exploit Canadian Native communities. For more info on resisting for change and justice, check out and support the Idle No More movement: http://www.idlenomore.ca/

2) Do more than just giving your soon-to-be-expired cans of lima beans to Food Banks in order to fight poverty.

Thanksgiving is one of the quintessential times of year where the majority of Western society takes a break from our hectic lives to stop and appreciate what we have. Along with this is a common desire to reach out and help those less fortunate– at Thanksgiving, this usually involves helping those without access to the same amount of food as we have. It’s important, though, to think about why we are giving to the Food Bank– is it because we really want to help fight poverty? Or is it because we want a quick way to push away our feelings of guilt that stem from our privileged position in society? If we want to fight poverty, I’d argue that giving a few cans to a food bank, though it may be a positive action in the short-term, is not the best way to direct your energy. Take a look at what your community does to mobilize around anti-poverty action and take part. Seek out an organization which aims to address issues of poverty from the community level and give a bit of your time or money to the cause. For example, The Working Centre in Kitchener, Ontario has an amazingly intersectional approach to addressing poverty in our community… it’s worth looking into! I promise. If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, why not make room at the table for a few members of your community who may not have anywhere to go? Make a new friend and begin a lifetime of sharing by sharing your table.

3) Acknowledge that your dinner probably enforced patriarchal norms.

YLF_053Here’s a question: who cooked your thanksgiving meal? Perhaps you live in a beautifully egalitarian family where Mom and Dad or husband and wife work together to prepare a meal. In which case, I give you mad props and graciously request that you not read this point. If your family is anything like mine, though, chances are your mother practically slaved over the oven and stovetop for one or two days to prepare the family meal. Perhaps your grandmother also worked hard to make her traditional pies, while an aunt or great-aunt concerned herself with bringing appetizers, salads, rolls, or any other accompanying piece requested. The key activity my dad participates in is the carving of the turkey. He sharpens his knife and carefully cuts perfect pieces, ensuring to save the bones so my mother can make soup in the coming week. There is something so eerily violent about the carving of a turkey, to me. One Thanksgiving I fell down the stairs as my dad was carving and he came running to me with knives in hand-the knives were scarier than the falling! Now, you have to know that my dad is the kindest, most loving and supportive guy, and I’m not saying in any way that he would reproduce his role in Thanksgiving dinner as violence towards anyone. I am suggesting, rather, that modern day Thanksgiving dinner reproduces an age-old gendered division of labour where women are seen as the ones responsible for preparing the dinner with care, while men are responsible for disecting and consuming both the products of women’s labour, and the labour itself.

If your wife is cooking dinner, why not offer to make the veggies? If she wants to carve the turkey, let her. If she wants to cook a vegan meal, support her. If she asks you to help her cook a vegan meal throw on some ‘kickin tunes and enjoy the shared experience. If you have no control over the situation (i.e. you’re like me and having dinner at your parents house) let your mom know how much you enjoyed everything and continually ask if you can help with anything.

I would like to note that I do give my dad credit for taking on the dishes after our family meal. Go dad! 😀

4) Cut the turkey– consider eating a Vegan (and organic!) Thanksgiving meal

Sadly, a staple in so many of our  Thanksgiving memories is the smell of turkey cooking in the morning. I can’t say I ever grew up with the smell of tofurkey in the morning and I will admit that to-date, I personally have not eaten tofu for thanksgiving; however, even if my past Thanksgiving eating habits haven’t lived up to my desire to eat consciously and compassionately, I know there is still room for improvement. In the following video, the Compassionate Cook, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talks about how we can challenge the cultural norm that says we have to kill a turkey to enjoy Thanksgiving, by compassionately choosing to fill our plates with plant-based, delicious grub.

I struggle so much with the rift between my desire to eat compassionately and the obligation I feel to eat what my family prepares during the holidays.  For four years I was a vegetarian and was bombarded by questions at every family gathering about what I did and did not eat. Over the summer I participated in a 30-day vegan challenge, and even my supportive mother found herself questioning my decision. It’s not easy to explain why you don’t want to participate in a cultural tradition  to people who disassociate the tradition of eating meat from the practice of slaughter– people who view meat-eating as a sign of cultural capital. This is what I know I will struggle with over the course of my journey towards eating a plant-based diet and I will always appreciate your stories, suggestions and comments on how to navigate this interesting journey!

For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and been able to critically think about how you can create a less exploitative Thanksgiving experience for yourself.

PEACE!
-Kate

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