I'm feeling pretty awful right now, so sore and headachy and just sick that I'm not even feeling up to cooking anything for Thanksgiving at the moment. I'm reposting my guide from 2 years ago because I think it's really great for new vegans, though I probably should have posted it last week.
Thanksgiving is almost upon us. For most people, this is a day of family, food, and hopefully, love and community--but for some vegans and vegetarians, especially new vegans or vegetarians and their families, Thanksgiving can be especially stressful. Here are some things I've picked up over the years:
If you're around all of your family for the first time since making a huge lifestyle change, your family is bound to be curious. Some people handle their curiosity better than others, but be prepared to play 20 questions with each and every one of your relatives. I've experienced everything from family members who sneakily fed me dip loaded with bacon grease, to cousins who went out of their way to make sure I had something I would eat, to my immediate family who have always been supportive. I've had people try to serve me butter and eggs, or ask if chicken and fish are okay. I've even had family members assume my veganism was a result of my (Catholic) high school brainwashing me. Remember that when your family voices concerns, they do so because they love you. Gently inform them of your beliefs, and, if they persist, agree to disagree. Remember, you're not going to change everyone's mind all at once, and getting in someone's face, being belligerent, etc. only gives vegans a bad name while doing nothing to further the cause, and ultimately, Thanksgiving is a day for family, friends, and gratitude.
Nothing makes people understand veganism like amazing vegan food, so, if possible, take an amazing vegan dessert to share with everyone. If you can, help prepare the whole dinner. Not only is this great bonding time, but you can try to convert some of the dishes and make them vegan. This can be especially helpful for your hosts who want to accommodate you, but are unsure of what exactly is and isn't in your diet. Some dishes can be easily converted with no loss of flavor, using everyday ingredients available at most stores. For example,you can make vegan dressing/stuffing (use vegetable stock and bake in a dish instead of stuffing the turkey), or vegan mashed potatoes (use Earth Balance or olive oil instead of butter, and soy milk instead of milk). Make sure to pay special attention to the presentation of anything vegan you serve, because your food will be judged. I used to find it helpful to wait until after people had started eating and enjoying a dish before mentioning that it was vegan--although now everyone I know is well aware that I'm vegan.
If you know nothing will be vegan, or are unsure if there will be anything for you to eat, eat ahead of time and/or take a dish you love, to share with others. This is a good general tip for vegans at any event, and it makes any food you find that's accidentally vegan, a happy surprise!
Instead of obsessing about food, relax and enjoy the company. This a good general tip for everyone in any situation. In my experience, it does the most to promote veganism because it shows that vegans can be well-adjusted and social, and that veganism can be easy and fun. In college, both of my roommates became vegetarians after living with me, and they each said something along the lines of, "You showed me it didn't have to be hard (to give up meat)".
On the flip side, don't act like a vegan martyr. By that, I mean the modern common usage of martyr, i.e. someone who is constantly suffering. Being a vegan is a choice made freely, and it's something to be happy about. If you feel deprived or angry about it, you're doing it wrong. Additionally, no one wants to hang out with someone who is down about everything. A few years ago, one of my best (omni) friends, J, met a cute vegan girl and wanted to take her out, but they couldn't get their schedules to align until one night when J was going out to a steakhouse with his friends for a birthday party. The girl repeatedly said she didn't mind going to the steakhouse, and they wanted to hang out with each other sooner rather than later, so the plans were set. As soon as they stepped inside of the steakhouse, the girl loudly declared, "It smells like death in here," and proceeded to make snide comments all evening. Did anyone have a good time that night? Of course not. I'm not saying you should stay mum if you're uncomfortable, but I know I would like to eat without having to defend my choices, and I'm sure my dining companions feel the same way. Since we respect each other, even if we disagree, we can enjoy spending time together.
What Do I Eat, Now That Turkey's Off The Menu?
I remember the panic of my first Thanksgiving. I had been a perfectly content vegetarian for about 4 months, and while I had experienced my share of food disasters, for the most part, I was having a lot of fun learning about nutrition and trying out new foods. Then, a few days before Thanksgiving, something occurred to me: for the first time in my life, I wouldn't be able to join in the family traditions. I wouldn't be eating the turkey, or the gravy, or the giblet stuffing, and I definitely wouldn't be making my family's annual Thanksgiving Jell-o.
As I was only 14 at the time, this was a big moment for me, and I suddenly felt extremely alienated and isolated. Not because I wouldn't be eating turkey, but because I would be breaking one of the few traditions we observed, and I would be the only one doing so. I thought that I would be left out. As it turns out, my mother was great, and set aside stuffing for me without giblets, and the other dishes that couldn't be converted were things I didn't really care for anyway, so I was able to be part of the family and share most of the meal.
What did I eat instead of turkey for my first vegetarian Thanksgiving? I actually don't recall. I think it was some savory tofu dish that seemed daunting at the time, and ended up tasting okay but was generally underwhelming. The point is, the food itself didn't really matter, having my family make an effort on my part was enough to allow me to realize I could never not be a part of the family, and see how loved and accepted I was. I do know that for Christmas that year, and for the all of the Thanksgivings since that I've spent with them, my parents bought me a Tofurky. A whole Tofurky. Just for me. I've always appreciated the sentiment, even if I didn't really enjoy the entrée itself....I rag on it a bit, but it does make things easy, and I know many people who enjoy it immensely.
I actually was never a big fan of turkey on Thanksgiving because it usually came out kind of dry and wasn't particularly flavorful, which may account for why I don't miss turkey and don't care for Tofurky roasts. Give me a variety of delicious side dishes, or even just a plate of dressing and cranberry sauce, and I could be totally happy. I do enjoy the ritual of cooking for days, having a big production leading up to the main event, and then the delicious sedated afterglow, though. Plus, JD, my love, has a healthy appreciation for tradition, so we do a full spread, and we do it right.
I've been away from my family for 8 years now, so I've had some time to work on my Thanksgiving dishes, and I've done many different things for the vegan entrée at my Thanksgiving celebrations. For a few years, I made a simple harvest bake by mixing fall vegetables like celery, onions, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, and parsnips in a casserole dish with tempeh or seitan, seasoned it all with soy sauce, garlic, herbs, and wine if I wanted, and baked until everything was tender. I've also made yummy but not especially festive protein dishes like tempeh marsala. One year I tried making a tofu and gluten mock turkey, but it was terrible. I generally enjoy foods more when they're not trying to mimic something exactly, so I should have known better.
Many blogs have compiled great recipes and ideas, some of my favorites include:
Vegan Bits - The link will take you directly to a compilation of holiday recipes, but check out the more recent posts for more Thanksgiving info.
PETA's VegCooking - Tons of recipes, most of which look like they were tailor-made for home cooks with limited time.
Bryanna Clark Grogan - The vegan food mogul and author offers up recipes for some of the most common holiday dishes. Great info, ideas, and recipes for soy-free vegans.
Karina's Kitchen - Anyone with gluten or wheat allergies will understand why Karina is a Gluten Free Goddess. While it's not a vegetarian or vegan blog, Karina does make sure her vegan readers have plenty of gorgeous recipes to try. In her pre-Thanksgiving post she includes tons of dishes that everyone can enjoy, just make sure click on any recipe that sounds inviting, as many of Karina's recipes have tips or variations for vegans.
101 Cookbooks - Heidi's compiled and organized all of her vegan Thanksgiving recipes, so you don't have to search. She's even separated all of the vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes on another page so everything is simple and easy for her readers. I love Heidi's style because it's simple, elegant, beautiful, and everything starts with quality ingredients.
Unturkey - Do you remember Now and Zen's UnTurkey? So do the vegans who created this site. They've opensourced the recipe, so you can recreate it in your home.
Finally, there's Field Roast - many people serve the Celebration Roast version, but I'm partial to the Hazelnut Herb Cutlet. The official website also offers recipes.