Last year, I surprised my family with a visit to Pittsburgh for thanksgiving.

I’d secretly planned the trip for months in advance between me and my brother and it turned out just the way I planned, with everyone completely surprised and exceedingly happy. One thing I didn’t plan for, however, was how I would feel sitting down at the dinner table staring at a cooked turkey right in front of me.

I’d decided to begin following a vegan lifestyle a few months prior, for ethical reasons, and this was the first time I put myself in this kind of situation. I sat at the dinner table surrounded by my loving family, none of whom are vegetarian, but all of whom have always loved animals. I was overcome by a profound sadness that nearly brought me to tears while staring at the dead turkey on the table. This was a turkey whose world was full of confusion and fear, whose only life was filled with pain and suffering. At only 5 months old, he was killed by the humans who abused and overfed him to be over twice the weight normal for his age. Outside of captivity, he could have had a natural lifespan of up to 10 years. I sat there thinking about the life of this poor animal who was born with many natural instincts, yet was never allowed to fulfill any of them. Instead, my animal-loving family paid someone to abuse and kill him so they could have a few mouthfuls of pleasure, while celebrating a holiday centered around friends, family, food, and happiness.

That was the last thanksgiving I intend to celebrate, so long as turkey or any other animal is eaten as part of it.

Many people will argue that eating turkey is part of the thanksgiving tradition. This is a very sad and selfish way of viewing the holiday. Just because humans have followed tradition for many years does not mean that it’s right to continue to do so. Human slavery was a tradition for thousands of years, and allowing women to vote would have disrupted the tradition of privileged white men ruling the vote. Humans and animals have in common both the desire to thrive and the capacity to experience pain, and we all benefit when we choose not to create suffering in the world. Instead, we should be thankful to live in a time and society which allows us the opportunity to get all the nutrients we need to survive without harming other living creatures.

There is a scene I love from the first episode of the original “Kung Fu” television series from the early 1970s:

“Life sustains life, and all living creatures need nourishment. Yet with wisdom, the body learns to sustain in ways so that all may live.”

So as you spend the next few days planning your thanksgiving dinner, please consider leaving all animals off the table. Focus on celebrating the most important aspect of the holiday: being thankful for family, friends, and happiness.