Sunday, November 18, 2007

...in which the New Yorker helps me write about Thanksgiving



November 19, 2007 issue of The New Yorker magazine

It's so fitting that VeganMoFo should fall in November, because Thanksgiving, as it's celebrated in North America, is such a significant holiday in the lives of most vegans. Love it or hate it, celebrate it alone, with friends, or family, embrace or boycott it, you are nevertheless reacting to it on some level. After the positive reaction to Nipplegate 2007™ , I bring you my meditations on Thanksgiving, helped out completely by the latest copy of the New Yorker. The entire issue was like one big pot of faux chicken soup for the vegan's soul- nourishing, thought-provoking, full of morsels to chew on. Shall we? (Click on photos to see bigger versions with clearer text)



This ad greets you on the inside of the front cover. I normally would have overlooked it, since I try to avoid all Thanksgiving ads, especially those featuring turkey, but something caught my eye. The "turkey" was unnaturally bright and shiny. Upon closer inspection, one learns that the hostess says "it was my first tofurkey and I wanted it to be just right."

Wait, wait. Let's just pause right there. Why is there this huge cultural misconception that vegans and vegetarians eat A HUGE BLOCK OF TOFU IN THE SHAPE OF A TURKEY for Thanksgiving?? Ok, ok, I'll admit, the name "tofurky" is a bit misleading. So as a public service, I want to show everyone not familiar with it what an actual Tofurky looks like:


photo courtesy of http://www.tofurky.com/

See, it's a roast-shaped thing. And while it does contain tofu, it also contains wheat gluten (seitan), beans, vegetables, and a host of other ingredients. And no, all vegans don't eat this for the big day- take me, for instance- I've never (gasp!) tried it!

Back to the ad- the weird turkey-like substance aside, it's a good sentiment, right?



Reading the copy on the next page, we note that it's a Citibank ad with the phrase "All the trimmings All in the family" intended to give you the warm fuzzies. The ad reads, "Well, my son Jack went and married a vegetarian. So I grabbed my Citi card and went to the store. I picked up the old favorites like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, and turnips. (Bazu says: "yay!") As well as 15 pounds of 'turkey' tofu. (Bazu says: "sigh.") The dinner was a hit. Alice knows she's already more like a daughter than an in-law. And all aroud, our family was feeling a lot of love. (Bazu says "awwww. I don't care that you're a big bad corporation. I love the fantasy of an in-law that would serve 'turkey tofu' for Thanksgiving, whatever that imaginary thing is.)

But wait! It goes on!



"... My husband Steve especially loved that I made a small turkey for him to eat later." (Bazu says: "D'OH! Fooled by the corporate machine again!")



Later in the magazine, there is a review of the book "My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals" in which the author asked chefs to describe their fantasy meals. The article mentioned that truffles of all sorts figured prominently in the chefs' responses, as well as foie gras. (Bazu: :'-( ) So it was a little life affirming to read Tyler Florence's response, pictured above. "No frou-frou French. No snout-to-tail. No fucking foie gras." (Bazu: yayyyy! down with foie gras! I never thought I'd say anything positive about Tyler Florence!)

Thankfully, the article touches on the rather macabre underpinnings about such a question about a "final" meal- the implicit understanding that your final meal precedes your death. I think the connection between not just food and life, but food and death is something that is too often glossed over.



Which is why the above quote, by a scholar of the death penalty, is really thought-provoking. As you know, inmates on death row are allowed to order whatever food they want before they die. "The taking of a human life is too daunting a prospect to accept on its own, so we surround it with a lot of ritual." I am most decidedly against the death penalty, and arcane rituals like the last meal really horrify me, the way that the condemned is given a last hurrah before being brutally put to death. ...Which in my vegan mind is a short leap to the horrible rituals against the killing and eating of animals. We do all kinds of things to turn our faces collectively against the death that is contained in the consuming of flesh, just as we do our best to shroud the killing of humans behind closed doors and intricate rituals, bringing together food, law, religion, and the state in an awkward dance.

Which leads us to this cartoon, also in this latest issue of the New Yorker. (I told you the issue was a cornucopia of potential veganica, didn't I?)



Here we have a turkey with a sad and resigned look on her or his face, strapped down to a gurney. The farmer, a blank expression on his face, holds up a needle, and we are meant to infer that this turkey is about to receive a lethal injection, akin to how the vast majority of executions in this country are carried out. The cartoon most likely is meant to be a "lighthearted" play on the fact that millions of turkeys are on death row this month, awaiting execution. (Not for any crime they committed, it should be added.) But it is hard for a viewer to find the image of this turkey, splayed as if on a crucifix, all that funny. The fact that the syringe filled with poison could just as easily be the syringe with which so many will be "injecting flavor" into their sacrificial turkeys this coming Thursday underscores this uneasy connection between Thanksgiving and death. The death of the Native Americans that was precipitated by the coming of the Pilgrims to this continent. The death of millions of slaves on the backs of whom this country was founded. The death of the animals on whom we feed. The death of those who are put to death, but not before being offered one last fancy meal. You know, the fancy meals that don't mean anything because the person feeding you is about to kill you? Kind of like those meals that farm animals, especially those raised "humanely" get up to the moment they are led to the chopping block or the slaughterhouse.

In the coming week, I'll be posting about Thanksgiving. I don't celebrate the holiday's history of death and carnage, both historical and contemporary. But I do plan to celebrate Thanksgiving as a meditation on food, and how the simple acts of eating and breaking bread can have such deep political, historical, and social implications. More to come.


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27 comments:

Coppe said...

Interesting, thoughtful post. The comic especially strikes me as morbid.

"The taking of a human life is too daunting a prospect to accept on its own, so we surround it with a lot of ritual."

I think you're right in saying this quote could easily be applied to animal lives. Meateating today is incredibly ritualised.

Vegan_Noodle said...

Very thought-provoking post Bazu. To start off with, I've never had a tofurky either! But I got a coupon yesterday so I figured I'd try one out (though not on thanksgiving day, too cliche for me I guess).

I thought it was typical how the citi card add started with "my son WENT and married a vegetarian" as if she were some kind of freak. I think last year at Thanksgiving I was still prety new to veganism, but this year it seems like there have been so many questions, jokes, etc. I am trying to make Thanksgiving about spending time with family and showing the world how amazing vegan food can be. Looking forward to your next post on the subject!

maybepigscanfly said...

Wow interesting post Bazu. I think I would have been shocked to open the magazine and find all that.

Yeah I've never had tofurkey either, but it's awesome to see that alternatives to Turkey are actually being advertised.

Oh and the citi add. Womyn can be vegetarians, but don't think for a second that a man can go without his meat- not even for a day! Ok I'll say no more.

Vivacious Vegan said...

I thought the same thing Vegan Noodle did. The line about how "my son WENT and married a vegetarian" bothered me but I was willing to let it slide for the small amount of veggie love that Citibank was showing. Until you revealed the last sentence. WTF? WHY??? So unecessary.

I'm almost ashamed to admit this but I felt a little teary-eyed seeing that cartoon. Why oh why don't people make the connection? And if/when they do why don't they care?

Mihl said...

All of that is very interesting. So they found out that there are vegans outside and that they need to address their adds to those vegans. Although it is great they people start thinking of celebrating holidays with vegan food, I also think that it's sad how nearly every movement/ way of thinking ends up as an advertisement.

textual bulldog said...

Like the others, when I started your post I reached over and grabbed my copy of the New Yorker to read the ad and the thing that bugged me was "My son WENT and married a vegetarian." There's a way in which people can accomodate you without making you feel particularly welcome or accepted, and this ad hit the nail on the head in terms of expressing that tone (I thought).

And I can't believe how many vegans haven't tried Tofurky! I plan to bog about my vegan Thanksgiving memories today, I think, and Tofurky definitely figures prominently. ;)

Nikk said...

I really like Tofurky. My MIL is making one for me, which the husband and my brother in law will help me out with. I think it's great that I won't be the only one eating it, even if it will grace their plates along side some dead bird.

Rural Vegan said...

This is my favorite post of yours so far, Bazu. On one hand I am encouraged by seeing Tofurkey and veg*n Citibank ads, but then the grim reality of Thanksgiving sets in with the turkey cartoon. I can't wait to read more from you this week. Get busy!

Ashasarala said...

I agree with you 100% on your thoughts here. I am totally not into celebrating Thanksgiving for all the history behind it. The history makes me ill, really.

In fact, I was going to forget Thanksgiving altogether this year, despite my family's protests. But then I thought about it. Can't I use this day off from work as an excuse to cook a great meal, spend time with family and really appreciate the things we have in our lives? Yes, I can! So that's what I'm going to do.

I love reading your blog. We have many of the same views!

urban vegan said...

I hate how Thanksgiving has come to represent a mass turkey slaughterfest--just as Xmas has become a kosher materialistic binge. Thanks for poitning out all these veg references. Sadly, the stereotypes continue to be perpetuated...

VeggieGirl said...

extremely thought-provoking, insightful post Bazu - Thanksgiving is quite bittersweet for me; I love the tradition of getting together with a large group of family and friends for a celebration, but I do not agree with what Thanksgiving basically represents (urban vegan's comment above, sums it up quite well).

b36Kitchen said...

great post Bazu...I say the same as everyone else above.

also i've never had tofurky either. it just seams a little weird to me.

KathyF said...

I've noticed the same thing, that people tend to think Tofurkey is made from tofu. Guess that name is misleading.

Personally, I prefer making my own turkey substitute, using gluten, tofu, prepared seitan, whatever. They're not that difficult to make, and the whole family can participate.

I was really touched when my husband, who is in the States with our daughters, asked me what he'd need to buy to make that Vegetarian Times Unturkey thing I've made before. After he "went and married a vegetarian" he's not really regretting it!

Johanna3 said...

Very thought-provoking post , Citibank really make a stupid comment.

Melody Polakow said...

Absolutely beautifully written and so thought provoking to me, one with the same thoughts as you.. I just don't express them as well...

kate said...

Hello All

Notice that the Citicard advertisement lists (with pictures) the other T-giving foods: cranberry sause, mashed potatoes, green beens, and turnips. The picture of turnips is beets.

Scott and Kate

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