Last year, as a junior at Howard University, I had the typical college student’s urge for drastic change—we’ll call it my “boho moment.” I staged a one-woman boycott against hair weaves and chemical relaxers—and while I was at it, I decided to swear off meat, too. I made the requisite declaration to my family. They played along, even gave me a soapbox to stand on at every family gathering. But I don’t care (too much) about what they think. I demand to be taken seriously. And this week will be the true test of my commitment.
This will be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian—excuse me—as a black vegetarian from the Southern United States. As in Texas. As in raised on meat as much as milk. My dad barbecued every weekend. Sunday dinners revolved around collards and green beans with turkey chunks in every forkful, salads and baked potatoes were always sprinkled with bacon. Thanksgiving always included fried turkeys.
This year, I’ll be bringing the Tofurky.
Now, I’m not naïve. I realize that not everybody is receptive to a meat-free diet. Just one year ago, I would have scoffed at my own veggie ways, but now that I’m almost one year deep in fruit and vegetable salads, I understand that I’m still a black girl in a community where no meat means no good. I’ve heard everything from “I don’t trust people who don’t eat meat” to “that’s white people stuff” to “I’m revoking your black card.” I’m tired of having to defend the lack of pork on my dinner plate. Here’s what I wish my family would keep in mind this Thanksgiving when I’m passing on the roasted bird:
1. Vegetarianism is the dietary equivalent of Republicanism in the black community. We can all get along, as long as we don’t talk about politics, or in my case, about food. Yeah, I know we’ve been eating meat since the Last Supper, and “it ain’t hurt you before, it ain’t gon’ hurt you now.” But there are enough reasons for family fights—let’s not do it over beef or pork.
2. I’m no PETA crusader. Don’t worry. I’m not going to secretly replace your honey-baked ham with some glazed tofu, then jump from the shadows screaming, “Ha! I knew you’d like it!” I won’t be passing out brochures with pictures of slaughtered animals plastered everywhere. And I promise not to preach about the need for change in black folks’ diets. (Even if it’s true.)
3. Just because I don’t eat meat doesn’t make me a bourgie foodie. I still want the greens, the macaroni and cheese, the sweet potatoes and the pound cake. Just as long as they weren’t marinated in ham hocks.
But I know what to expect. In my family, it does not take big or daring changes to get you the side-eye or the sideways comment: I wore black nail polish on my first visit home from college. My aunt’s response: “So you’ve become a witch now?”
Can’t wait to hear her analysis of the Tofurky.
Jada F. Smith is a writer and intern for The Root.
is an intern at The Root and senior journalism major at Howard University.