The New Vegetarian's Guide to a Happy Thanksgiving | Vegetarian Times Skip to main content

The New Vegetarian's Guide to a Happy Thanksgiving

The New Vegetarian's Guide to a Happy Thanksgiving

How to keep the peace between the omnivores and vegetarians at your holiday table

Heading home for Thanksgiving as a newbie vegetarian? No need to fear the meat-eaters. Here, seasoned vegetarians offer do’s and don’ts, answers for the silly (and serious) questions you may get from family and friends, tips for veg makeovers of traditional family dishes, and suggestions for main dishes even omnivores will love.  

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Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur, a vegan, marks 1986 as his most memorable Thanksgiving, because that was the year he started celebrating the holiday by saving turkeys from slaughter. “It was a way to turn a violent tradition into a more compassionate one,” says Baur. “One of the highlights that first year was an iconic picture taken as Clyde, our rescued turkey, poked his head into the oven as we were pulling out the main course, a stuffed squash.”

Q: What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes?

: I love many of the plant-based side dishes commonly served at Thanksgiving, including potatoes, cornbread, stuffing, beets, veggies, corn, beans, and squash. My new book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, includes some Thanksgiving table-worthy recipes, like roasted-root salad and roasted asparagus with preserved lemon and crispy capers.

Q: Do you have traditional dishes that you have remade veg?

A: Yes, I have actually created a new dish by combining scrambled tofu with stuffing. The spices and veggies of each dish are complementary, and the heavier tofu and lighter stuffing balance each other out nicely.

Q: What question are you most often asked about your diet and how do you respond?

A: “Where do you get your protein?” It might seem silly to long-time veggies who have found getting protein to be very easy, but to people who have been bombarded by marketing campaigns touting animal protein, it’s often a serious concern, and I address it as such. I explain that the average American actually gets too much protein, and that protein is present in most plant foods. Vegan foods especially high in protein include beans, greens, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts, and seeds.

ESSENTIAL DO: Be friendly and supportive of others who may be curious about exploring a more compassionate holiday.

ESSENTIAL DON’T: Don’t allow the holiday carnage to get the best of you. Focus on the positive.  

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Julieanna Hever, RD, The Plant-Based Dietitian, cooking show host, and author of The Vegiterranean Diet, says that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday: “The focus is on gratitude, a priority that is often overlooked with the bustle of daily living.”

Q: What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes?

A: I love all the colorful squashes, fruits, and root vegetables, and I find myself cooking more frequently during this time of year. My favorite dishes include anything with pumpkin or butternut squash, and roasted Brussels sprouts. I have a stuffed acorn squash and herbed tempeh recipe that are my go-to Thanksgiving entrées.

Q: Do you have traditional family dishes that you have remade veg?

A: Yes, I’ve revamped a chocolate-chip pumpkin bread that has become a family favorite; I swap in vegetable broth in any soups we traditionally made; and I use either prepared tempeh, tofu, or faux meats instead of turkey.

Q: Do you have other non-food-related Thanksgiving traditions?

A: We all go around the table and say what we are most grateful for and what we hope for in the upcoming year.

ESSENTIAL DO: Enjoy an indulgence. When you focus on eating healthfully throughout the year, it is a good thing to enjoy a treat on holidays.

ESSENTIAL DON’T: Don’t be defensive when someone tries to pressure you into “just one bite” of something not in alignment with your beliefs. One of the easiest responses is, “Thank you for offering, but I’m enjoying what’s on my plate.  

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NBC legal analyst, trial lawyer, and owner of The Bloom Firm, Lisa Bloom, a vegan, hosted her most unforgettable Thanksgiving in 2013, the first year that her omnivore guests embraced a full-fledged veg feast. How did she win them over? “It helped that the [faux turkey], mushroom gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, almond string beans, and the boatload of pies were insanely tasty.” The final verdict: “Afterward everyone realized how nice it was not to be catatonic after the meal; full, but no one went into cardiac arrest. And no animals were harmed in our celebration of gratitude, which is what Thanksgiving is all about for me.”

Q: What question are you most often asked about your diet and how do you respond?

A: My philosophy is that I don’t actively proselytize, but if asked a direct question, I will give an honest answer. So, I often have this conversation: New Friend: Oh, you’re vegan. Why? Me: Because I love animals, so I don’t want to financially support their cruelty and deaths. NF: How does it affect your health? Me: Well, I’m 53. I run marathons, climb mountains, take long cycling trips. I almost never get sick. I take no medication. My cardiologist says I have the heart of a 20-year-old. For all that I thank my whole-food vegan diet and daily exercise regimen.

Q: What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes?

A: One Veg World’s [faux] turkey with a crispy “skin,” my Moroccan-spiced carrot dip, and my chocolate pecan pie.

ESSENTIAL DO: Offer to bring a few dishes. This is key to family happiness. Make sure they are amazing and delicious.

ESSENTIAL DON’T: Don’t apologize for being a compassionate soul, caring about your health, wanting to reverse climate change, or whatever your reason for going veg is.

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Comments on this Blog

My biggest problem at other people's tables is that you don't know if there are dairy or meat (chicken broth included) used in preparation of a dish. Asking that question of the cook is awkward and sometimes people are insulted. This happens all the time to me in restaurants too. So what to do?