Giving Thanks: An Invitation to Awareness

A Vegan Gratitude Day Dinner, Leek and Bean Cassoulet

Keeping It Kind: A Vegan Gratitude Day Dinner, Leek and Bean Cassoulet

For Gratitude Day in 2010, Awyn (Jottings) wrote the piece posted below. It has remained with me since then and I asked Awyn for permission to publish it here. Awyn and I met thanks to Sam Hamill’s Poets Against War initiative to which we both contributed. She included two of my anti-war poems in “Salamander Cove,”  her poetry magazine, where I was honored to keep company with such lights as Sherman Alexie and Robert Peake. Wow! The magazine was paused in 2012 but is expected back this December. Awyn (Annie Wyndham) is a former human rights worker and an accomplished poet and writer of conscience. Her poems have appeared in “Burlington Poetry Review,” “Spoonful” (Cambridge’s Stone Soup poetry venue) and other literary publications. You can sample Awyn’s poetry on her blog. J.D.

Here’s Awyn:

Happy Thanksgiving! — to all those who celebrate this special holiday.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I itemized all the things for which I was thankful. Here it is that time again, one year later and that still all holds true but no special dinner has been planned. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving Day in October and it’s nowhere near as big a holiday here as it is in the U.S.

In the U.S., for many Thanksgiving means not only a big family dinner but watching the annual parade or football game on TV, big sales on Black Friday the day after, and the horrendous traffic back for those who came in from out of town. All part of the tradition.

We have plenty of big, sit-down dinners here with my mate’s family, but my fondly remembered American Thanksgivings are now a thing of the past. I don’t know any Americans here, my mate’s not that crazy about pumpkin pie, and I’m a vegetarian, so there’d be no turkey. Turkey is traditional but I’ve had many an untraditional version, with calamari or tofu or soup.  It was still a thanks-giving.  My kids are hundreds of miles away and none of us can afford to visit at this time. Hence no big family Thanksgiving get-together celebration this year. We will share our good wishes over the telephone. As for spectator parade-watching or sports broadcasts or Black Friday shopping, none of that interests me. In that, I guess you could say I’m untraditional. Pumpkin pie, however, is non-negotiable. You absolutely cannot have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It just doesn’t compute.

The most interesting Thanksgiving I ever heard about was from the wife of a former colleague who volunteered at a local soup kitchen. She told me that one Thanksgiving, to raise awareness of all the people who were starving in the world, some organization whose name I can no longer remember invited people to attend a big sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, for $15 per person, proceeds to go towards world hunger.

When you arrived, you were asked to pick your entry ticket out of a box. There were three kinds of tickets.

If you got a green ticket, you would be served the full dinner, with all the trimmings–and be allowed seconds on desert.

If you got a yellow ticket, you would be served what starving people in third-world countries sometimes get to eat–a child-sized helping of rice or thin, watery soup–and nothing else.

And if you got a white ticket–you’d get nothing at all.

So imagine you’re at this banquet and you get the full meal, with all the trimmings, and you’re sitting next to someone who got nothing. Would you turn and give half of what you have to that person? What if you’re one of the unlucky ones who got the thin, watery soup? Or worse, the empty plate. Would you quietly sip your water and listen to your stomach growl, hoping the people next to you might offer to give you some of theirs?

I’m sure a lot of sharing went around, probably immediately, after the initial surprise (and perhaps discomfort) wore off. Giving money to a charity, for which you get a sit-down dinner, is one thing; being invited to dinner and served an empty plate and having it suddenly sink in what real deprivation is like, is quite another. (Well, the invitation did say the theme was Awareness.)  But how uncomfortable to have to sit in front of an empty plate all evening long while others are eating. That glass of water can only go so far.

I went without  lunch yesterday–not by choice.  I simply forgot.  I was working on something and the hours flew and I suddenly realized it was getting dark outside and all I’d had to eat the whole day long was a cup of coffee at 6 a.m.  My stomach began reminding me it hadn’t been fed.  Loudly.  No problem.  I could open my refrigerator or reach for something in the cupboard and solve the problem, instantly.

But what if I couldn’t?  What if, for whatever reason,there was none to be had and no more food would be forthcoming for another day. Another two days. Maybe even a whole week. How would I deal with that?  Certainly, after a day or two, lack of food would make me woozy, lightheaded … lethargic, even.   I’d probably lose weight.  Temporarily fasting is one thing. Starvation, however, is quite another.

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I think that’s what the organizers of that unusual Thanksgiving dinner wanted to convey–that life is not fair.  Some of us get to sit down every evening to a good meal, Every Single Night.  Some can only afford to buy food meant for animals.  Some get somebody else‘s leftovers, fished out of a trash can.  And some get nothing at all.

So many things to be thankful for this holiday.   Awareness–however received–is one of them.

© 2010, Annie Wyndham, All rights reserved; cassoulet photograph courtesy of SarahJane Veganheathen via Flickr under CC A – SA 2.0 generic license; little girl courtesy of Filipe Moreira via Flickr under CC A-SA 2.0 generic license; the sketch that says it all is Awyn’s

Further Discussion on Poverty – Hunger! – The BeZine, 100,000 Poets for Change

Note: On our (The Bardo Group and Beguine Again, publishers of The BeZine) 2015 Facebook Page for 100,000 Poets for Change, we’ve been discussing poverty, which is our theme for September. I’m sharing some of the conversation there. If you’d like to join us on Facebook, please let us know. All are welcome. For the September 2015 issue of The BeZine, we’ll be exploring poverty and on September 26, we’ll hold our virtual event and we invite reader participation. Instructions will be in our blog that day. Links to everyone’s work will be collected and posted as a Page and also incorporated into a PDF that will be archived at 100,000 Poets (writers, artists, photographers, musicians and friends) for Change; i.e., peace and sustainability.

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Thanks to Terri Stewart (Beguine Again) and Michael Dickel (Fragments of Michael Dickel) for encouraging thought and discussion around poverty and homelessness. How about exploring poverty and hunger, often referred to these days as “food insecurity?” (Better, I think, to call it by its true name.)

One question, for example: How do our consumption patterns contribute to hunger? We first started thinking about and taking action on this (those of us who have been around long enough) with the publication of Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet in 1971 in which she explored the roots of hunger, poverty and environmental crises.

Here is part of an overview of the UN’s 1998 report on inequity in consumption courtesy of Anup Shah of Global Issues http://www.globalissues.org/…/2…/consumption-and-consumerism:
“Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.
… The real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects.
… Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:
Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
Own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%
Runaway growth in consumption in the past 50 years is putting strains on the environment never before seen.”
Human Development Report 1998 Overview, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — Emphasis Added. Figures quoted use data from 1995

Posted by me last night on The BeZine 100 100TPC 2015 Facebook Public Group Page

Here is some of the discussion that followed. Please add your own thoughts in the comments section below.  

There was a report by Oxfam, a couple of years ago I think, that produced even more extreme statistics regarding the very small percentage of those who own the vast majority of the world’s assets! I shall have to dig it out.”  John Anstie 

“interesting and arresting….but let’s not forget waste….have you ever seen what supermarkets throw away each day? It’s criminal.” Jacqueline Dick

“In a number of urban areas, groups collect “waste” from groceries and even restaurants to distribute to those in need. It should be done more widely. And, for the environment, what is beyond salvage should be composted, not tossed into landfills or incinerators.Michael Dickel

“I wonder how many of us are vegan or willing to go go vegan because land used to feed and raise meat and poultry can be put to better use – and more environmentally sound use – to sufficiently feed the earth’s population on plants? Lappe first brought this to our attention in ’71 followed by many others including John Robbins and Will Tuttle*. There is sufficient body of study to support this, which along with animal cruelty and human health is driving the trend to plant-based food consumption.” Jamie Dedes

* If people don’t have enough to eat, don’t have clean water, and don’t have employment, their anger will foster hostilities. So, for those who feel disconnected from hunger issues because it’s not in front of them and they have enough to eat, I would submit that in the interest of self-preservation world hunger needs to be faced and addressed compassionately and pragmatically.  I don’t know how many people outside the vegan community are familiar with Will Tuttle’s work.  Dr. Tuttle is professional pianist and composer, he’s an eloquent spokesperson for the vegan imperative.  I strongly recommend his book The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Harmony.

The reference to “Earthlings” in the video is about the movie, which I reviewed in 2011 and which I have scheduled to post here tomorrow.

May all sentient beings find peace.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to
the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.
– Metta (amity, good will) Prayer (Buddhist)

Photo credit: Jamie Dedes