Vegan Thanksgiving: Celebrating a Turkey-Free Table (Recipes Included!)

Dinner Party!

Dealing with People Who Want You to Eat Birds

Despite the fact that historically turkeys have virtually nothing to do with what we call the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in 1621, your omni friends and family members have likely embraced their cultural indoctrination on the subject fully and unquestioningly. When they realize you plan to celebrate a day of thanks and plenty without a dead turkey on your table — or without partaking of the one upon theirs — they will probably look at you as if you’ve sprouted a second head.

Take deep breaths, and remind yourself of the virtues of patience and compassion. Then use these ideas to pave the way for a joyful, peaceful, and compassionate holiday celebration.

If you’re going to family members’ homes for Thanksgiving — whatever the host says — TAKE FOOD. Crock pot soups, stews, and casseroles, along with pre-made chilled dishes like dips, pasta salads, potato salads, or green salads can be lifesavers.

Massaged kale salads can be made ahead, and are sturdy enough to travel well without wilting. Tapenade and bruschetta also travel well, and the bread can be easily refreshed in the oven 5 minutes before serving time. Cashew cream cheese topped with raspberry-jalapeno jam (or any berry jam, if you don’t like a spicy kick), served with crackers, is incredibly luscious and easy to take along — just tote the ingredients separately, and top the cream cheese with the jam right before serving for the prettiest presentation. Chilled desserts like pumpkin, sweet potato, or chocolate-peanut butter pies are also easy to make ahead — they travel well, too, and show off how luscious vegan cooking can be.

Even with the most well-meaning host in the world, unless you know they’ve had prior experience with vegan cooking and eating, you leave yourself open to a frustrating and awkward meal of just cranberry sauce if you don’t take a few things that definitely don’t contain animal ingredients. Cranberry sauce is delicious! But as a whole meal, it’s decidedly lacking. Take food!

Communicate in a friendly and open way with your hosts or guests, about your food habits. The fact that you’re vegan shouldn’t come as a shock to your hosts (or guests!), as you all sit down to eat. Ask what sides you can bring — then veganize ’em. I never expect a host or hostess to go out of their way on my behalf, but if they ask how to veganize something I’m delighted to talk about it! Some easy strategies include substituting Earth Balance or refined coconut oil for butter, soy milk for almond milk, veggie broth for chicken or turkey broth in stuffing, or nonvegan toppings on the side instead of on the dish — for example, whole roasted sweet potatoes can be served with the butter and brown sugar on the side, instead of all of it cooked together in a casserole. I generally don’t voice these options unless the host specifically asks, but that’s your call. Whether such ideas will be well received depends on the relationships and personalities of the people involved; but many Thanksgiving dishes are insanely easy to veganize!

If you’re hosting omni guests, you can use one of two strategies: invite them to bring something they do like, if they don’t prefer what you’re making; or (my favorite!) ask everyone to bring vegan food. Supply recipes (and perhaps ingredients) as needed, if they’re unfamiliar with vegan cooking.

During holiday dinners with omni friends and family, especially if you’re newly vegan, someone is almost certain to question, deride, or otherwise offer negative comments about your weird non-dead-bird-eating ways. Deep breaths! It’s not the time: don’t allow yourself to be goaded into going into all the whys and wherefores of vegan eating, in this situation — it will only fill your day with conflict.

At such events, if questioned I like to say something like, ‘It just makes sense to me on every level, and I really love eating this way’… or… ”Well it makes me happy, so I do it.’ Seriously: who can argue with that?! Apologize for nothing, but don’t rise to the bait, and gently but firmly deflect the conversation towards other topics. I love vegan advocacy, but at holidays widely believed to revolve around meat consumption, 9 times out of 10 nothing good will come from getting drawn into a discussion about the ethics of eating animals. Odds are good that no matter what you say or don’t say — just by being ‘the vegan in the room’ — often you’ll prompt uncomfortable self-reflection among some turkey-eaters. That can trigger a defensive emotional response, which turns out to be unconducive to the meaningful exchange of ideas. Don’t fall for it!

If pressed, you can say something like, ‘There are so many reasons to eat vegan, it’s hard to quickly summarize… Once I get going, it may take a while! Why don’t we talk about it later, after everyone’s had time to catch up on everything else? By the way, how’s work going — are you liking that new job?’ … or… ‘Believe me, I LOVE to talk about this stuff! But I don’t want it to take over the day. Why don’t we talk about it after dinner? … Now tell me, what’s in this punch? Because it’s really delicious!’ Then, after dinner, when it’s late enough that you can leave whenever you want: GAME ON!

If you’re hosting other vegan cooks, in your own home, then disregard all of the above advice and enjoy your day: you have my envy, you lucky so-and-so’s!

Whatever your Thanksgiving plans, with a bit of forethought (and deep breaths as needed!) it’s easy to revel in an indulgently delicious feast — with no deceased turkeys anywhere near your plate, and with only joy, peace, and compassion to fill your day.

Enjoy it!

Image credits: Page 1, images by the author; page 2, Creative Commons photo by Dinner Series.

  1. John L Farthing

    Not just for its wonderful recipes but especially for its wise counsel about ways to handle the awkward moments that can easily arise during the holidays, this article is “must reading.” Thanks!

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