My Thanksgiving table will be filled with organically grown corn, homemade cranberry sauce, yams, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, vegetable gravy, salads, roasted Brussels sprouts, cashew green bean casserole, and other delightful delicacies— but no turkey. It’s difficult for some to contemplate a Thanksgiving meal without turkey. Not very exciting—at least that’s the response I often receive from friends and others when I tell them that I don’t eat turkey or other animal products. To them, this seasonal celebration seems meaningless without meat on the table.
Thanksgiving is a time to cultivate gratitude. It is a time to celebrate all that we are thankful for. It is a time to remind ourselves to practice love. Being a vegetarian does not make me more saved or virtuous than anyone else. I recognize that is not a sin to use animals for food. Long before the first Pilgrim gathering or any national holiday, God’s goodness in people’s lives has been cause for a thankful heart. For example, Deuteronomy 14:26 reads, “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (NASB).
It is clear that God wants us to savor good tastes and experience satisfaction in eating. God has given us thousands of taste buds for a reason. He wants us to enjoy the good food that He intends for us. I think it’s unfortunate when food is made unpalatable or dull by tasteless preparation. Our food should be pleasing. We should eat with gratitude and joy, affirming the gifts of life that sustain health. However, God does not reduce food to trivial human desires. What is to prevent eating from becoming a gluttonous exercise to satisfy our selfish desires? God called the Israelites to come and eat while rejoicing in the presence of God. Our eating should likewise have God’s presence shining through it. To eat and drink in ways that bear witness to God’s presence among us is to acknowledge that food is an act of love. One’s pleasure in eating does not cease but rather merges with God’s presence, leaning towards the Garden and the well-being of creation.
My passion is not to legislate vegetarianism but rather to encourage everyone to merge their enjoyment of good food with the path that draws them into the presence of God and arouses their love for Him. How we live in this world is influenced by what we most identify with. Often, our desires and appetites suggest to us that we can eat and live without the presence of God. The insensitive and cruel treatment of animals and the degradation of our food demonstrate our willingness to abuse animals and damage the earth for our own selfish pleasures. God created us to delight in food and seeks to align our desires with His presence. God wants to merge our desire for food with a vibrant and abundant life that corresponds with a selfless and compassionate lifestyle.
Eden’s paradise was created to be a delightful and pleasurable experience because God is delightful and pleasurable. God envisions eating as a reflection of love that is meant to draw us into greater gratitude and joy. The joyful proclamation of the goodness of God’s creation means that animals should also merit our attention and care. I cannot choose to follow a predatory lifestyle that vainly follows my own desires in contradiction to God’s presence. Eating is presented as a delightful gift from God; it is to be thoroughly enjoyed as an anticipatory glimpse of someday eating and rejoicing in His very presence.
I choose not to support the horrific treatment of animals that occurs at modern factory farms when I am contemplating gratitude and giving thanks. Thanksgiving is meant to unite us and those around us in the joys of life. Causing an animal a painful life so that I can celebrate a festive meal creates disunity and is both ethically indefensible and ecologically unsustainable. Giving thanks and rejoicing are not primarily for us—they are for us in the presence of God. Thanksgiving is a family holiday, to be sure, yet in today’s world, our definition of family must be extended to our broader communities of shared lives. I understand that 46 million turkeys will be killed for Thanksgiving this year. The vast majority are kept in overcrowded conditions, suffering as they live in squalor and disease until the day of slaughter—a cruelty I do not care to witness.
Does God care about what I eat for Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is about gratitude, not consternation. It’s about witnessing the presence of God’s love, not simply fulfilling our gastronomical urges. It’s about choosing to use food in ways that draw us closer to one another and express our thanks to the Creator. If you are seeking better treatment of animals and/or leaving animals off your plate this Thanksgiving holiday, consider some tasty plant-based options. Here’s to celebrating gratitude, compassion, and good health!
Tofu No-Turkey Recipe
1 16-ounce pack of firm tofu
1 Tbs cornstarch
1 Tbs nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp crushed sage
2 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup oil
- Drain the tofu, press with a heavy weight for a couple hours, and then pat dry.
- Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth to make a batter.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet of foil (cut approximately 16” long), and spray the paper with nonstick spray.
- Spread a layer of batter (about 6″ wide and 1″ thick, forming a rectangle) on the sheet.
- Scoop stuffing in the center, roll sides in to close the batter, fold the paper and pinch the foil tightly closed.
- Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350°F.
- Let cool for about 1 hour and then slice into 1″ pieces.
- Lay pieces in a dish and drizzle with vegetarian gravy.
- Heat in the oven at 350°F to warm before serving.
2 cup dried bread cubes
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced onion
2 Tbs soy margarine
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp nutritional yeast flakes
½ cup water or vegetable broth
- Sauté onions and celery in margarine.
- Add bread cubes, seasonings and mix together.
- Add water or broth and cook for a few minutes.
Craig Ashton Jr.