Navigating Thanksgiving as a New or Seasoned Vegan

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When you’re new to veganism, Thanksgiving can be a bit intimidating.  You might not know what to eat, and your family may feel unequipped to accommodate you.  Even seasoned vegans come up against awkward situations during the holidays.  Fortunately, it is possible to navigate the tricky maze of Thanksgiving food while staying vegan and, most importantly, having a good time!

Photo by Thad Zajdowicz

Photo by Thad Zajdowicz

Scope Out the Menu
There are many dishes on traditional Thanksgiving menus that are “accidentally vegan,” and others that sound vegan but aren’t.  Don’t be afraid to ask you family questions about the food they’re going to serve.  Find out if there will be sides such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce or roasted vegetables that you can turn into a meal.  Be specific but not belligerent; not everyone will understand that you won’t eat stuffing made with chicken broth or that anything cooked in butter is off-limits.

Bring a Dish to Share
Once you have a handle on the holiday menu, decide what you’re going to bring to add to the festivities.  A great way to introduce your family to the wonders of a plant-based diet is to pick a favorite holiday dish and make a vegan version.  That way, everyone can experience amazing vegan food for themselves, and you’ll be guaranteed to have something delicious to enjoy for the meal.  If you don’t cook, consider bringing a few packaged vegan treats or picking up a dessert from a local vegan bakery.

Be Prepared for Questions
thinking kid by marcziniFor the first couple of years after you go plant-based, it’s inevitable that everyone is going to have questions.  Whether these arise from incredulity, ignorance, curiosity or a perceived need to defend personal food choices, it’s important to handle them all with patience.  Chances are if Grandma wants to know why you’re not eating her signature pumpkin pie, it’s not meant as an attack.  Like most of your family, she’s just trying to understand what veganism really means.

Be compassionate with your answers, but don’t preach.  Save the lecture on factory farming for another time.  If a family member asks for more information, offer to speak with them privately later or after the holiday.  If you encounter negativity or a belligerent attitude, resist the urge to engage.  Concentrate instead on staying calm and enjoying the day.

Enjoy the Time and Be Happy!
Remember that Thanksgiving isn’t about who’s eating turkey and who isn’t–it’s about being thankful for what you have and sharing time with the special people in your life.  While celebrating a holiday by plopping a dead bird in the middle of the table doesn’t make sense to vegans, it’s also no fun to spend the whole day stressing out.  Don’t let the potential pitfalls of the day ruin the time you have to relax and enjoy all that you’ve been blessed with.  Focus on the things that really matter and make memories you can treasure when you think back on your first (or fifth, or tenth) vegan Thanksgiving.

For more tips on making it through Thanksgiving (and other holidays with a lot of food), check out these posts:

Thanksgiving Q&A with Happy Herbivore, including what to do if your annoying Uncle Ned keeps waving turkey legs in your face.

How to Stay Plant-Based and Survive the Holidays from Building Muscle, with practical tips on keeping your diet clean and your sanity intact.


About the Author:

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She has been a member of the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce since August 2017 and is a former member of Toastmasters International, from which she was awarded a Competent Communicator designation for public speaking. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, play silly card games and knit socks.
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  1. Natalie  November 14, 2014

    This is just what I needed! Thanks!


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