If you can’t or don’t want to have your own all-vegan/vegetarian Thanksgiving, chances are that you’ll run into some issues when the big day comes. Usually these problems sprout from two sources: food and family. (And/or friends, depending on your living situation!) Luckily, with a little preparation and some mental strengthening, it isn’t so hard to make it through such a meat-heavy holiday.
The most effective way to change people’s minds about veganism, in my experience, is to show them that the food is amazing. People will eat just about anything, and when they realize it’s just as good as the standard dish, walls come down. (Or at least start to crack.)
If you don’t cook, eat before dinner or offer to bring snacks like vegetables, hummus, or crackers. Get yourself a couple of vegan thanksgiving classics, like a roast from Trader Joes, Tofurky, Gardein, or Field Roast.
Offer to make sides. These are usually very minimal prep, are easy to make vegan, and nobody will really know the difference. Roast some vegetables in oil, like beets, squash, brussels sprouts, sweet potato, mushrooms, and more. Make mashed potatoes, heat up some corn, bake some rolls, or try your hand at a vegan green bean casserole. These will give you so much to eat and they don’t take much time at all to whip up.
Bring a dessert! Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, chances are that most of the desserts at your gathering will not be vegan, so you’ll probably want something. As a bonus, everyone will eat dessert, no matter what kind, so you can show people that vegan dessert is just as good as the kind they’ve always known. We usually bring a pie or cookies, and I remember that at our very first Thanksgiving after we went vegan, our pie and cupcakes were the first desserts gone! :) If you’re looking for good dessert recipes, I would suggest Isa’s site for a wide variety of easy recipes.
If you’re not sure, or are lousy at prep like I am, get together some last minute/minimal or no prep foods. I’m talking about bringing a vegetable tray from the store, pickles and olives, a crusty loaf of bread, or a mix of nuts. (Pistachios are my favorite because they give me something to do with my hands when I’m in an uncomfortable conversation with someone.)
Dealing With People
Speaking of uncomfortable conversations, let’s talk about when I first went vegan. Holidays were kind of unbearable. People asked me really offensive questions, they backed up their arguments with untrue myths, and they were generally excited by picking on me. Looking back on that now, I realize that I should’ve been the one to be more mature about the whole thing.
My family and friends knew nothing about veganism, and their questions were mostly genuine and curious. Those that weren’t were from people who just wanted to rile me up, and now I can laugh their rude remarks off along with them. I should’ve been there to answer the questions, respond to the myths with information, and playfully insult my jokingly-insulting uncle right back. Think of thanksgiving (and christmas and new year’s eve and any other big holiday) as a way to bridge the gap between their understanding and your knowledge and compassion.
So the biggest tip I can give any vegan or vegetarian here is to not immediately react with anger or annoyance or shame. Prepare your words beforehand by educating yourself on any topic that might come up. (These bingo cards are pretty indicative of a Thanksgiving dinner, and most come with responses! And I also love Colleen-Patrick Goudreau's take on Thanksgiving for vegans.) Maturity and progress come from understanding. When you remember what you might’ve been like before learning about the animal industry, you might be more understanding of their stubbornness and incredulity. When they understand that vegan food isn’t as gross as they thought, or that some of what you’re saying makes sense, they might not be so quick to judge next time.
This does depend on the kind of people you’re having dinner with - whether they’re extremely logical, very funny, open-minded, whether they’re activists or farmers or conservatives - you’ll have to keep your own situation in mind and apply your knowledge to your own group of family and friends.
What specific questions do you have about dealing with big food-heavy holidays? (We have years of learning-the-hard-way and lots of time this week to help!) Or do you have additional advice for others? Let us know in the comments! :)