For vegans, vegetarians and other plant-based eaters, the annual Thanksgiving celebration of friends, family, gratitude – and large quantities of poultry protein – can be an inherently challenging mix. Like everyone else, we too love the togetherness and warmth of the Thanksgiving holiday.
But for all its joys, Thanksgiving, a.k.a. “Turkey Day,” is a national event uniquely built around the mass production and eating of animals, something that may fundamentally be at odds with not only your plant-based diet but also your core values and lifestyle. For many of us, no other holiday comes close to bringing up as much ambivalence and concern as Thanksgiving.
So what’s a vegan or vegetarian to do? Below are five tips for enjoying Thanksgiving cheer while minimizing the stress of sharing a table with our turkey-cooking, turkey-eating loved ones.
1. Communicate Your Dietary Needs in Advance
No one likes to be caught off guard, least of all a stressed-out Thanksgiving host who’s trying so hard to keep everyone happy. Be considerate of your host, whether family or friend, by communicating your particular dietary concerns well in advance of the big day. Explain clearly and specifically what you can and can’t eat, without lecturing or trying to convert, although it’s fine to offer a brief explanation of your plant-based lifestyle if your host seems curious.
Many people don’t realize the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan, and could mistakenly think that eggs or dairy, for instance, are OK with you. Be sure to communicate gently and graciously so your host doesn’t feel pressured or, worse yet, feel self-conscious about their own dietary choices.
2. Suggest Win-Win Plant-Based Thanksgiving Solutions
It’s fine to politely inquire what your host will be serving, and to let them know which dishes would work for you – hopefully, there’s already some whole food vegan plant-based items on their Thanksgiving menu. If not, and if they offer to make something different or extra, go ahead and suggest a few simple dishes that you (and perhaps others) would enjoy.
If your host seems open to it – and you’ll have to feel that out – you might suggest plant-based substitutions such as vegetable broth or miso for chicken or beef stock in soups, almond milk and vegan margarine for dairy in mashed potatoes, vegan coffee creamer and, of course, vegan main course options such as Tofurky Roast or Gardein’s Holiday Roast. Let them know where to purchase these products if they’re unfamiliar with them.
You can also suggest making a vegan version of a recipe, such as a tomato sauce or soup, where meat can easily be added to one of the batches after cooking.
3. Offer to Bring Whole Food Plant-Based Dishes
A great way to share the vegan love on Thanksgiving is to share healthy and delicious whole food plant-based items such as chunky sweet potato casserole, tossed garden salad with green goddess dressing, cranberry apple sauce, and desserts such as pumpkin pie, blueberry lemon bars, or baked apples with cashew cream.
Be sure to check out the Plant-Based Cooking Holiday page for more vegan plant-based ideas. Your “potluck” approach takes the pressure off your host, demonstrates goodwill, and most important – shows everyone how delicious whole plant-based foods can be!
4. Take Charge of Your Plant-Based Holiday
Ultimately, it’s you who will need to make sure you have a good meal, and a good time, this Thanksgiving holiday. Once you know what’s being served and what substitutions will be available, proceed accordingly. Bring your own plant-based main dish if you’re concerned about being stuck with a bunch of vegetable sides and not getting enough protein – we all know how unsatisfying that can be.
If it’s easier for your host and you check with them first, you can provide your own vegan creamer, salad, side dishes, beverages and the like in small, discreet personal containers. Of course, family and friends may wonder what you’re doing, which brings us to the next tip.
5. It’s a Party, Not a Protest
You may have strong feelings about your diet, but the Thanksgiving table is not necessarily the best time or place for an extended discussion. Love and relationships are what this beautiful holiday is all about, and you’ll want to keep that in mind as Uncle Joe or Aunt Sally wonder what you’re up to – or maybe even make an awkward comment.
Instead of being defensive or preachy, welcome their questions and their confusion, briefly explaining that you’ve gone plant-based for health, environmental, animal welfare or whatever combination of reasons are most important to you. Keep it simple, offering to revisit the subject at another time or to email them whole food vegan plant-based resources and information if they seem interested.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Bring your best self to the Thanksgiving table and keep the focus on what you’re thankful for. If awkward moments arise, let them go and move on to something more positive and uplifting. It’s just one day! Make the most of it. Be flexible, kind and forgiving, and remember that we’re all only human – including yourself!
Wishing you a beautiful, positive and uplifting holiday.