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.