Eating with Cosette was a little uncomfortable.
It was tough to get past the lumpy head, the flappy gobbler and, worst of all, those unblinking, accusatory eyes. Did this turkey somehow know that I’d basted, brined, barbecued, paper-bagged and fried her kind?
We were carnivores at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary’s vegan Thanksgiving feast. Cosette wasn’t on the menu. She was the guest of honor.
The husband was skeptical when I explained our weekend plans.
“So, is it like a tree farm, where we get to pick one, then buy it? Can we do the killing ourselves?” he asked, with a “Hunger Games”-like glimmer in his eyes.
“No! You meet them. And pet them and then eat vegan stuff,” I explained.
“So, we are traveling an hour away to fondle turkeys and eat sawdust?”
My 8-year-old was a little less dismissive when I explained to him the idea of a feast that used no animal products. All week long, questions, ideas and complaints came flying from the back seat.
“So, what about soy milk? Does that involve cows?” he asked. Followed by: “Dessert! How do we eat dessert?”
I suggested fruit.
“That’s not dessert. What about Popsicles? Lollipops!”
On the drive to the sanctuary in Poolesville, the smell of barbecue smoke hit the car seconds before we spotted a huge banner for “Carnivore BBQ” at a River Road garden store.
“No! We’re not stopping,” I told my husband and sons. “We’re eating vegan today. I have tabbouleh. And lollipops.”
We passed a group of hunters in full camo regalia and bright orange hats getting out of a Range Rover.
“I bet their wives had the same idea as you. Just drop me off with them,” my husband said.
When we got to Poplar Springs, a gorgeous farm of 400 acres unfolded before us. A pond was full of geese and ducks, little barns dotted the hillside, and hundreds of cars were parked along a dirt road. Not all of them were hybrids, either.
Terry Cummings has run the sanctuary with her husband since 1997. They lease the land and have taken in about 200 abused and abandoned farm animals, including Cosette and her companion, Tilly. Montgomery County animal control officers found the two turkeys living inside a house.
Most of the 900 people who attended the feast, which featured lentil-walnut loaves, seitan slabs, Tofurkey, salads, beans and — my husband gleefully pointed out — lots and lots of chips, care deeply about animals, Cummings said.
Patricia Weltz, a Bethesda lawyer in her 60s, was one of them. She said she became a vegan after learning more about the dairy industry, about the way calves and mothers are split, about the way dairy cows are treated.
I don’t think petting Cosette will change my sons’ mind about our diet any more than watching President Obama spare the lives of a couple of turkeys at the annual White House poultry pardon. Like much of the country, they love to eat turkey. Last year, 736 million pounds of turkey meat were consumed on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. That’s a lot of drumsticks and wings.
Yes, Cummings said, carnivores are rarely won over by coming face to face with their furry or feathered victims. “ ‘I see how wonderful they are, but I’m not eating these turkeys,’ is what people will tell me,” she said.
To really persuade folks to go vegan, the better approach would be a trip to a slaughterhouse. Or maybe a look at some of the sickening, undercover videos reportedly taken at a Butterball farm where turkeys apparently were kicked, thrown, covered in maggots or left bleeding and broken to die.
A less harsh push toward veganism? The approach of Bruce Platter from Dunn Loring and his 8-year-old daughter, Haley.
They live in a house divided. He and his daughter are trying to go vegan; his wife and 12-year-old son are not.
“My son is, like, running over to the neighbors whenever they have beef,” Platter said. “I don’t even try anymore.”
His wife, who hasn’t eaten red meat in years, eats poultry and fish. So on Thanksgiving, he goes to a local vegan feast first, then returns to sit at the table solemnly while his family carves up Cosette’s third cousin removed.
Platter does a lot of his cooking and is known for his vegan cookies. I complained about the time it takes to go vegan.
“Nah. Here’s my secret: Taco Bell. Bean burrito, add salsa and guac,” he said. “There you go, vegan for a buck-fifty.”
At the mention of Taco Bell, I saw another glimmer in my husband’s eyes.
We got back into the car. Frantic driving to the nearest outlet ensued.
“Three beef Burrito Supremes,” he yelled into the drive-through speaker. I shook my head and rolled my eyes. He relented.
“Make those with guac.”
Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.