|By Juliana Di Leonardo
Thanksgiving, a holiday that celebrates togetherness and gratitude, also represents colonialism and oppression. By continuing to slaughter and mistreat innocent beings such as turkeys, we only perpetuate the kind of suffering that was once inflicted upon indigenous people living in the United States before us. As our society becomes more aware and conscious of the atrocities that occurred in the past, we are able to do more of the right action but it still surprises me that after so many years of hearing people complain about how turkeys taste or how difficult they are to actually cook that “Turkey Day” hasn’t already transitioned to a vegan holiday. As an effort to help guide people to make more compassionate decisions during this month of gratitude, my organization Humane Long Island collected hundreds of turkey alternatives of varying brands for people to try and enjoy for this year’s Thanksgiving.
While handing out the “tofu turkeys” I was given the opportunity to experience the world through the eyes of a “turkey” or rather the neck of one. I proudly wore an entire turkey mascot costume complete with a snood (a flap of skin that runs from the beak to the chest) and large feet for giveaways with Humane Long Island, Community Solidarity, and PETA this past Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. We successfully gave away 200 vegan turkey roasts, totaling 1,000 vegan meals to the communities of Huntington Station and Bedford Stuyvesant. During these giveaways, we received plenty of positive feedback with people sharing their gratitude for the free food, the vegan option, and the excuse to finally try a plant-powered meal. Aside from us talking with adults, sharing literature, and me looking gobble-tastic with two signs that read “Celebrate ThanksVegan!” and “Respect me. Don’t eat me!” we also met a lot of enthusiastic children. The children we encountered were small, sweet and excited to meet me: the turkey. They gave me hugs, high fives, and even took pictures with me. Their gentleness was a reminder that as children, we instinctively see non-human animals as friends and not food. It gave me hope that our messaging of respecting an individual’s life would penetrate them deeper and that even in my fuzzy costume, I might have influenced or reinforced the purity that we hold as small humans.
At the food share in Huntington, the difference in thinking between the kids and adults was clear. I had a conversation with a gentleman, who was slightly intoxicated, and told me that he didn’t understand why we were helping out the community by giving away food. I responded to him by saying, “Well, we’re stronger together than separate. Why should we fight each other when we can help better each other’s lives?” This same individual had asked if we had fishes in our coolers. We responded that we prefer fishes to be alive and well rather than dead. This then sparked a young boy who was volunteering to share with us that he too prefers fishes to be alive and rescues them from pet stores. Again, he was a reminder that a child’s perspective is clearer than an adult’s.
For this week’s Anuvrat, I encourage you to tap into your inner child, your younger self, and allow the practice of active kindness, Ahimsa, to exude from you in a way that is both innocent and inquisitive. Allow yourself to make decisions with a liberated outlook, and witness the compassion that follows. Start fresh and be innately you.
(Juliana Di Leonardo is the Vice President of Humane Long Island. She is a yoga and ballroom dance instructor, model, and artist. Her advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary “The Face of Fashion is Fear” and recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award)
Images courtesy of Provided and (Image provided)