It’s Hard to be Vegan at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It is a beautiful time of the year filled with food, family and tradition. Traditional foods are a big part of the celebration and Thanksgiving can be a tough holiday for vegans, especially new vegans, to get through. There are some traditions that many people will not break and the food served on Thanksgiving is one of those. Often, there is not much for a vegan to eat, people at the table can be judgmental, and not eating what was prepared can lead to uncomfortable situations. At the same time, a host can be stressed that a vegan is coming to Thanksgiving dinner and not have any idea what to cook for them. But please don’t fret! Here are a few tips for both vegans and meat-eaters for a successful Thanksgiving dinner.

Communicationis important. Reach out to your vegan guest and discuss the meal. If they want to make a vegan dish to share, let them!  It is one less side dish for you to make and no one will have an empty stomach.

Try to keep the side dishes free from animal productswherever possible. The table is normally filled side dishes such as sweet potatoes, vegetables, rolls and salad. With all of these options, vegans and vegetarians will have more than enough food to eat without the turkey. Substitutions such as non-dairy milk (soy or almond) and vegan butter in the mashed potatoes or not adding sausage to the stuffing will be appreciated.  Not every recipe needs to be changed but little adjustments will make all of your guest feel welcome. A favorite trick of mine is to simply sauté a portabella mushroom cap in a frying pan with some vegetable stock. It has a thick, meaty texture and I eat it in place of the turkey with a drizzle of vegetable gravy (recipe below).

Both sides need to be tolerant. A family member once made me a salmon filet for Thanksgiving dinner because she knew, as a vegan, I wouldn’t eat turkey. She also knew that I didn’t eat fish too but making something special for me was her way of subtly trying to get me to eat more protein. This led to an awkward start to Thanksgiving. Vegans often feel guilty for not eating everything that was prepared. Vegans are used to hunting jokes, questions about protein and vitamin deficiencies, and being asked to defend their lifestyle choices. However, many vegans can be judgmental towards the meat-eaters in their family. Seeing family members eat meat should not be the cause for launching into to a speech about slaughterhouses, heart disease or animal cruelty. The Thanksgiving table is not the place for that.

I believe Thanksgiving should be about spending time with family, not just about the food. As a vegan, I don’t get angry when someone at the table makes gobbling sounds as they slice their turkey or jokes about me eating tree bark. I do my best to accept it when the bacon drippings are used in the brussels sprouts or sausage is in the dressing. If a roll, cranberry sauce and salad is all that I can eat, I am thankful for those, although I might sneak away later and eat the veggie wrap I have stashed in my car! I do not tell others why I don’t think they should eat meat.

It can be a challenging time for both sides. Being considerate to one another goes a long way towards a successful Thanksgiving holiday. This holiday isn’t about asking someone to change their opinion but hearing each other is what the spirit of Thanksgiving is all about.

Hope Neuman, G.C.H.N.,November 2018

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