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A Meatless Thanksgiving

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When we moved into our renovated house in late October 2005 I said to my husband, "We should host Thanksgiving this year." We finally had a real dining room after living in our shoebox on the Upper West Side.

"No one will come," he said.

I knew he was right. No one wants a turkey-less Thanksgiving. I resigned myself to a meal at someone else's house, cringing at the sight of a gravy-dripping bird proudly displayed in the center of a dining room table.

It was either that or dinner for three, which my husband, daughter and I did one year.

This year there's a twist in the family drama. Various dysfunctions among siblings, parents and even a friend prevent others from hosting. My dining room will be christened for Thanksgiving. What I'm most grateful for is the chance to gather nearly a dozen people for a meat-less harvest meal.

I stopped eating meat 30 years ago, the day I arrived at college. The decision was not borne of some great moral struggle, though I've always had a deep, abiding love for animals. I eat cheese and eggs. I never saw vegetarianism as a movement or something to broadcast, much less proselytize about.

Now I do.

Now I know far too much to hope only my husband (a vegetarian since we got together a decade ago) and my seven-year-old daughter will follow my lead. Now I hope to convince as many humans as I can to think about the connection between what they eat and how it was raised. I want to do whatever I'm able to connect the dots between E-coli and factory farming. I'm urging everyone I come in contact with to watch the documentary "Food Inc," even though I spent a good portion of it crouching behind the seat, cupping my ears.

Food Inc. showed me I had work to do. I hadn't made the connection that cheese I'd been buying at stores like Whole Foods might be made with milk from factory-farm cows. That next Thursday, I found a local cheese artisan, Shepherd Valley of New Jersey, at my town's farm market. During the weekend, my family visited this amazing sheep farm that is responsible for the most delicious, grass-fed cheese. The butter I bought at their farm store showed me I had no idea what real butter tastes like.

I read egg cartons as carefully as I read bank statements. I know free-range and cage-free and all that marketing hullabaloo does not insure laying hens are living a humane existence. I try my best. Sometimes the twee farmy name on the cartoon makes me reach for a particular brand. Until I stop procrastinating and raise chickens (which I've been swearing to do since I moved to a big piece of land in suburbia) I will not be satisfied that I'm eating ethically-grown eggs.

We live with so many disconnects. So much about how we live and what we're exposed to makes us feel powerless. Eating is an exception. Eating is the great equalizer. I can be conscious about every food I choose or reject. With every trip to the health food store or farm market or the farm out yonder I can teach my daughter she never ever has to set foot in an A&P. Or more importantly, what she eats has a story. And every story has something to do with dirt or a tree or an animal. And she has a place in this cycle of life.

I'm already anticipating a few wise cracks over the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Just for sport, you know. I could launch into a lecture on how turkeys have been so genetically modified that they are incapable of natural reproduction. Or I can cook up a harvest feast of my husband's home-made breads, creamy potato leek soup, sweet potato fries, fresh salads and other vegetables dishes that will leave everyone just as stuffed and overfed as they would otherwise be.

If I'm really lucky, right before we gather around the table before dusk, someone will notice the sound of crunching leaves outside the window. The kids will run over first and squeal with delight at the brood of wild turkeys pecking at the lawn. The rest of us will not be able to resist watching these iridescent feathery creatures pursuing subsistence.

I love these birds. They are always a great source of pleasure and humor. But on Thanksgiving, I will raise my glass to them and whisper "lucky you."

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