The Whole Thanksgiving Thing

So, what’s everyone doing for Thanksgiving?

For me, it’s a time to gather with local friends who affirmatively appreciate being vegan. This year, I’ll be the one to host a very small gathering of friends with a vegan feast from SuTao, our best local vegan spot.

The last time I accepted an invitation to a non-100% vegan holiday gathering was more than twenty years ago. I know what I’m missing and I couldn’t bear it. That’s me. Most vegans do have ties to relatives and things are complicated. That said, no vegan I know has ever been grateful to sit at a table focused on a big greasy stuffed dead animal.

Over the last decade, I have heard an increasing measure of honesty around this time of year, at least about the human misery in this holiday’s chain of title. The truth is seeping in about the Native Americans who mourn their lost ancestors on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Heaven forbid anybody bring that up at the table! Never even heard about it for most of my life.

At the 1637 Pequot massacre, Europeans killed hundreds of indigenous adults and kids, burnt their village down, banned the word Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly obliterated a community that had evolved over ten thousand years. It didn’t take the Puritans long to domesticate their violent memories into the official holiday called Thanksgiving. The place, now Mystic, Connecticut, is today packed with tourist draws, including an exhibit of trapped beluga whales.

My surroundings are similar in Chester County, just west of Phildelphia, where towns commemorate genocide. In the town of Wayne, a mural on the Post Office interior wall depicts General Anthony Wayne triumphantly standing over the body of an indigenous person. This sordid tribute to domination is highlighted by ceiling lights.

Also appearing in the mural, like props on a stage, are an eagle appearing to glorify the conquest, and a bridled horse, ready to be used in more of the same.

In nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park, too, there’s a statue of this same general. That’s the Park where the U.S. government annually baits and shoots deer, driving them off to ever-narrowing strips of greenery along the surburban roadways. Did I mention that the National Park Service puts out an education package about the Trail of Tears?

I live on a multi-unit property where the buildings have names that glorify the European settlement period: Kings, Patriots, Militia, Flintlock, Settlers, Puritan, Pilgrims, Colonial, etc. In that period, millions of acres were seized and granted to states for the land-grant colleges which, as Harold Brown tells us, etched animal husbandry into the development of the country. The descendants of displaced indigenous people have never received compensation. Their sacred ceremonial sites were pillaged, and the artifacts locked in museum displays.

Indigenous languages and ecological knowledge are nearly extinct. Everyone is harmed by the loss. In this time of climate crisis, much of what’s going or gone could be life-sustaining. We need thought, conversation, planning and action to restore what’s salvageable, to try to repair wrongs. We need to come together to create a mental shift in humanity.

Why is our task so hard? Because our cultural nomenclature is based on the dominator mentality and its much-vaunted exploits. Local leaders changed the name of the town Louella, Pennsylvania to Wayne, in tribute to the local “Indian fighter” general. You’d think they could have contemplated calling the place Sorry Does Not Cover It, Pennsylvania. Not yet.

So, the endless distractions just keep on not-ending. Preparations for traditional gatherings can be distractions when those traditions are just what we need to transcend. We need to reclaim our time, and focus on our potential…

To crowdsource

A refusal

To war any more on the bio-community

A refusal

To war against, or wall off, so-called other people.

This is a commitment worth celebrating.

Let me finish by quoting one of this blog’s readers, Lynn Kennedy, who works with Indigenous people in Canada in the area of mental wellness and substance use:

The effects of colonization continue to impact current generations. Across North America, more and more people are being awakened to the injustices being done to Indigenous peoples and people of colour and are speaking out against the injustices being wrought on these peoples. I hope this extends to the continued barbaric injustices to farmed animals, and the impact on our natural world and our collective futures.

With that hope, here is a recipe for Cashew Nut Roast that Robin Lane gave me when I was a new vegan. It’s a nutty roast I really love to make. It can stand for turning the unthinking celebration of false memories into a healthful insistence on telling the truth.

Cashew Nut Roast

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients (organic when you can):

½ pound cashew pieces 4 ounces of brown rice 6 ounces of rye toast crumbs—including caraway seeds, or a dash of celery seed. 1 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 large, ripe tomatoes 4 tablespoons olive oil Up to ¼ cup vegetable broth (depends on the consistency you prefer) 2 teaspoons brewer’s yeast ½ teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon dried thyme A squeeze of lemon and a pinch of ground pepper

Preparation:

Cook rice until tender; grind cashews. (This can easily be done by hand by carefully running a rolling pin or jar over bagged nuts.)

Chop onion and garlic finely and heat in oil until they are slightly brown; chop and add one of the tomatoes; simmer until soft and add the broth.

Combine all of the above ingredients and press into two 9-by-5-by-2½-inch loaf pans or glass round pie baking dishes. Slice second tomato and use to decorate top, then bake for 30 minutes or a bit longer at 350 degrees F / 175 C.

Cut the Cashew Nut Roast into slices to serve as a main dish, or as a side dish as an alternative to bready stuffing.

May every reader feel the support of vegan friends this season.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

A Feral Thanksgiving

This is the year we’re not supposed to gather for Thanksgiving. Of course, many of us revamped this celebration years ago. It was uncomfortable at the outset for those whose families glossed over a lot to create a show of togetherness. Then we became vegan, and the fetishistic rituals focused on giant bird bodies looked sadder and more grotesque every year.

Uttering our regrets came as a multi-layered relief, even if we felt vaguely guilty or guilted by relatives who clung to tradition.

We regained a sense of normality by meeting at vegan tables. And yet, for us too, there would be much more to acknowledge. What was the Thanksgiving message for the people dragged against their will to this continent? Or for those who lived here long before it became the “New World”?

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered for a day of mourning every Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, recalling the Pequot people and their fate in the place now called Mystic, Connecticut. At the 1637 Pequot massacre, as many as 700 indigenous adults and kids were slain and their village burnt to the ground, clearing the land for European expansion. The Puritans outlawed the name Pequot, and began giving thanks annually for having so quickly exterminated the native community. We’ve got a walk-in closet full of skeletons here.

The Covid-19 stay-at-home guidance offers us time for a deep, collective breath — and for deep and collective regrets. 

Last Thanksgiving…

Colin Kaepernick spoke at the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony, in recognition of an Indigenous occupation of the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island. “Thank you to my Indigenous family,” Kaepernick said on Thanksgiving 2019. “I’m with you today and always.”

Kaepernick told Twitter followers that the U.S. has stolen 1.5 billion acres of Indigenous land.

It seems fitting to question the domestication of our historical memories into Thanksgiving. And maybe that’s harder to do as we decorate our doors and our tables in crimson and amber hues, and gather in kitchens to bake root vegetables and cashew roasts.

Maybe we need a long autumn weekend amidst the bare trees and chilly air to consider Plymouth Rock, to hear Colin Kaepernick’s words, to remember those who were never at the table, and to think about how, on such a busy planet, a human family would gather, and what it would say when it did.

Love and liberation,

Lee.