My family's Thanksgivings are nothing short of an American cliché. We get together in the small Pennsylvania town where I grew up and watch all (and yes, I do mean all) the football games televised that day. My brother, a sports announcer, arrives after he's done announcing for the day. Our feast starts at noon, with my father's dog Mira-a friendly mutt who was rescued from a dumpster-waiting patiently under the table to scavenge whatever scraps miss our mouths. By the time we finally stop eating, usually after midnight, we're ready to sleep through the entire next day.
This has been our routine as long as I can remember. But this Thanksgiving will be different in one key way: we'll be enjoying a vegetarian meal.
I've been vegan for the last 13 years. My father and brother? Let's just say they're more in the meat and potatoes-hold the potatoes-camp. They've eaten the standard American diet their whole lives. If you put a hot meal in front them, they'll dig in before even asking what it is. Eat first ask questions later. You get the drift.
But things are changing. They've had too many doctor visits when they've been advised to eat healthier. My grandfather and uncle died early of heart attacks and other family members have died from cancer. As they're both growing older, they're becoming increasingly determined not to suffer the same fate.
They've also followed my work at the Humane Society of the United States to eliminate cages for mother pigs and egg-laying chickens, both of whom are confined so tightly they're barely able to move throughout their lives. As animal lovers, they've naturally been dismayed to see what happens to these animals and have come to realize that all animals, including those raised for food, deserve at least a decent life.
They've been torn between continuing to eat their current meat-, egg-, and dairy-heavy diets-perhaps paving a path to disease and early death-and taking steps to eat healthier and more humanely.
And they're not alone: this is a crossroads at which millions of people are arriving. Many, like my father and brother, are taking small-yet-meaningful steps by reducing meat in their diets and refining what meat they continue buying to avoid factory farms. We're also encouraged that there are some small farmers now striving to move the turkey industry away from the worst animal welfare problems. For those who are going to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving, it's of course best to ensure that bird didn't come from a factory farm, and instead seek out a farmer who meets higher animal welfare standards.
I couldn't be prouder that my brother is now making his Mondays meatless every week. And I'm thrilled my father supported having a vegetarian Thanksgiving this year. Rather than factory farmed turkey, we'll be sharing delicious vegetarian roasts from food companies like Gardein and Tofurky.
Though what I'm most thankful for, of course, is the time we'll get to spend together this holiday. That we can do it in a way that promotes living long, healthy lives while also being kind to animals is a new Thanksgiving tradition I hope we'll continue for the rest of our lives.