When meeting new people who are just finding out that I’m vegan, I’m usually asked that pesky protein question, and then I’m often asked, "What do vegans eat for Thanksgiving?" I’m always kind of shocked by that question because even though Thanksgiving is a holiday that is centered around eating a turkey, the Thanksgiving table is usually filled with food that’s either accidentally vegan or easily veganized such as stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and cornbread. I think a more accurate question would be what don’t I eat for Thanksgiving.
The History of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving wasn’t always a day of eating one’s self into a food induced coma. It’s believed that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 between the colonists and the Wamponoag Indians. The early settlers were dying of starvation and the Native Americans showed them how to work the land. After the first corn harvest, the settlers had a celebratory feast with the natives to thank them. It is not believed that turkey was eaten, but we will never know for sure. But what we do know is that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest a grain. Yes, it was all about plant food.
Days of thanksgiving became a tradition for the early settlers, and in later years, many states adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday. In 1827 magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote many stories romanticizing the day. Many Thanksgiving “traditions” such as eating turkey and cranberry sauce actually came from Ms. Hale’s stories, not from history.
What Do Vegans Eat for Thanksgiving?
And that brings me back to my original question: what do vegans eat for Thanksgiving? Well, sometimes we replace the turkey with some sort of roast. There are plenty on the market these days including the famous (or infamous) Tofurky Roast, Field Roast’s Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute and the Gardein Holiday Roast. Some ambitious cooks even opt to make their own roasts using veggies and tofu or vital wheat gluten. While it’s certainly not necessary to have a turkey substitute on the table, it can help those who don’t eat meat feel like they’re still participating in the day’s traditions. (Sarah Josepha Hale’s version of tradition, that is.)
The Main Attraction
Sometimes the main dish isn’t necessarily a turkey substitute. Stuffed squash always looks beautiful on the Thanksgiving table, and just about anything can be used to fill it. Stuffed portobellos are also a favorite with those on a plant-based diet. I love use pre-made crescent roll dough to make a ring stuffed with hearty vegetables. It’s not always thought of as traditional, but baked ziti is sometimes part of a meatless Thanksgiving as well. Making a dish like pumpkin baked ziti gives the pasta dish a bit of a Thanksgiving twist.
Meatless Thanksgiving Side Dishes
I’ve been eating meatless for 26 years now, and there was no for my first vegetarian Thanksgiving. Instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t eat, I focused on what I could – all of the side dishes. Some of my favorite side dishes include mushroom stuffing, pan seared Brussels sprouts, roasted squash, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and mushroom gravy – and they’re all either already vegan dishes or very easy to veganize. Dessert is usually dairy-free pumpkin cheesecake, and maybe a pecan pie as well.
So what do vegans eat for Thanksgiving? A lot! My vegan friends and I have an annual feast, where we usually have so much food that it doesn't all fit on one plate.
Whatever it is you’re eating for Thanksgiving this year, don’t forget the original meaning of the holiday. Remember to take a few moments to be thankful.