I don’t know of a single vegan who, when heading home to family Thanksgiving dinner, finds a fully plant-based tablescape. Well, outside of the Seventh Day Adventist community (hi, Adventist friends, here to help you with that empty seat at your next holiday gathering). We suck it up in the name of being a good sport for the sake of enjoying time with family, and maybe a yummy side or two.
But when it comes to brass tacks - what is the actual best way to handle dinner? Do you bring something vegan or give your host a head’s up? Do you try to duck out early to hit the vegan spot in town offering Thanksgiving-themed dinner or just load up on sides? There is of course no easy or right answer to the question, but here is how a few of our favorite vegans tackle the question.
Jolinda Hacket from TheSpruceEats.com recommends to “prepare in advance” and to communicate dietary restrictions to your host in addition to bringing something to feed yourself and enough for others. “If you're preparing food for yourself, be sure to bring along a bit extra, as everyone else is certain to be curious and want to taste. Most hosts would be more than happy to have you help share in the work of preparing the meal. And, if you prepare a dish or two on your own, it will also fill your plate up and divert attention from what you're eating and not eating. Any vegan who has spent an entire meal defending their dietary choices and dodging hunting jokes knows that sometimes, you just want to eat in peace, rather than hop up on the vegan soapbox.”
Or, if you’re time pinched and would rather grab and go, Jolinda reminds us that, “Whole Foods offers a pre-cooked vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, as do many larger health food stores and plenty of vegetarian restaurants such as Native Foods. You can also order vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving side dishes a la carte from Whole Foods as well.”
Iconic pop artist and decades-long vegan Peter Max feels that "I think it's proper to let your Thanksgiving host know that you are vegan beforehand’, and ‘how much you appreciate them preparing or having vegan dishes for you. That way they can have something for you and their other vegan guests. It's also good to offer to bring something vegan and delicious for the meal, so you can check to see what the host would like you to bring. There are usually great vegetables at every Thanksgiving feast like string beans, a host can easily prepare portions of these without butter or cream for vegans. And perhaps your host will make vegan versions of other favorites too, like non-dairy mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, baked apples and cranberries or a rice cornbread stuffing with sage.”
When it comes to dessert, Peter recommends that you, “bring something vegan that everyone can enjoy too. I love Erin McKenna's Bakery in New York for vegan pies- dutch apple and pumpkin, great vegan cupcakes too. You can bring something delicious and vegan to the Thanksgiving table that everyone will love. And they probably won't even know it's vegan- the recipes are so good now.”
An unexpected dish to bring, he suggests? Kimchi. He says that, ‘It was so unexpected, but everyone loved it, vegan or not. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time to get together with friends and family and maybe a time to turn a non-vegan on to a delicious vegan desserts or sides."
Lane Gold, author of the new Vegan Junk Food, Expanded Edition: 200+ Vegan Recipes for the Foods You Crave -- Minus the Ingredients You Don’t, has a different approach. She shares with us that, “To my mind, the holidays are about enjoying people and traditions and one of those traditions is definitely food but it doesn’t have to be a point of contention. I tend not to overwhelm a host by announcing that I’m vegan before I arrive because I don’t want anyone to do extra work to accommodate me. If it’s a potluck I’ll definitely bring something vegan so that I know I’ll have something other than carrot sticks to eat. Most vegans going to events knowing there might be limited options will eat a PB&J before they arrive, or at least I do. In general, I go to have fun and enjoy the company of friends and family, I don’t arrive with any kind of food agenda or expectation; increasingly I’m happily surprised that vegan options are already there.”
Or try a sneak attack. Vegan handbag designer and Filbert Founder Bridget Brown likes to, “Take Thanksgiving as an opportunity to push some subtle vegan propaganda in the form of a delicious vegan baked good. The keyword is DELICIOUS. Now’s not the time to peddle some dry and boring holiday desserts, so peruse some vegan baking cookbooks and go ham (see what I did there) on a beautiful berry cobbler, chocolate molten cake, or apple pie with coconut ice cream. I highly recommend The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau or Vegan Holiday Cooking by Joy Pierson.
Everyone will be so shocked when you tell them it was made without eggs or dairy, and hopefully will make them consider how easy it is to move to a plant based diet!”
And, above all else, Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete reminds us to, “Remember that the food isn’t the real point. One of the great things about vegan Thanksgiving is that it’s not quite as easy to eat so much that you’re disgustingly, uncomfortably stuffed and needing to immediately unbuckle your jeans and collapse into a food coma the instant the meal is over. Use the energy and attention you would have spent destroying your plate to instead be mindful and grateful that you have food on it, and that you have friends and family to share it with.” So true.