Tell All: Dreading Thanksgiving as a vegetarian

Dear Tell All: I’m from rural Wisconsin and am the first person in my extended family to go to college. I entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016 and discovered a whole new world here. When I went home last summer I wasn’t the same person — a fact glaringly obvious to my family. I talked differently and thought differently, but the biggest problem is that I ate differently.

My family’s diet is heavy on meat, and so was mine until I went to college. When I started reading about sustainability, however, I was shocked by the meat industry’s harmful effect on the environment, as well as its abuse of animals. Encouraged by a group of like-minded friends, I became a vegetarian. This was relatively easy in Madison, given plentiful vegetarian options on campus and throughout the city. I felt better about myself and proud about by personal contribution to conservation.

But that’s not how it went over back home. During my first post-vegetarian visit, my mom was disgusted when I refused to eat her pork chops. Both my parents and siblings mocked me, and they haven’t let up since then. Silly me — I thought they might respect me for making a sacrifice for a worthy cause. Instead, our fights regularly escalate into screaming matches, with me defending my principles and the others sneering at them.

This will be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, and I’m dreading the extended-family turkey-fest. Any advice for surviving the ordeal?

Walnut Burger

Dear Walnut Burger: I give you high marks for your conscience but a D-minus for your communication skills. You don’t seem to realize that mom, dad, and the siblings see your vegetarianism not as a noble cause, but as a reproach to them. That’s what happens when you “refuse” to eat pork chops — angrily and self-righteously, I assume. It’s what happens when you scream your principles at them, expecting to be treated as a hero. How are they supposed to respond when you attack their way of life with an unfamiliar philosophy imported from the big city?

I recommend a lighter touch. At Thanksgiving, don’t make a big deal of your vegetarianism; just eat the side dishes and keep quiet. If someone fires off a hostile comment about your dietary conversion, don’t take the bait. In a reasonable tone, simply acknowledge that everybody has different tastes. If they push harder for a rationale, have a brief explanation ready to go, and deliver it in a nonconfrontational manner.

With this approach, Walnut Burger, you won’t make any more enemies in your extended family. Who knows, you might even make a convert. And you’ll definitely be more worthy of your heroic self-image.

Do you have a question about life or love in Madison?

Write Tell All, 100 State St., Madison, WI 53703. Or email tell

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