I have to admit, that if there is something I’m secretly very jealous of, it’s the fact that in the United States, there is an oficial day, with no school or work, especially designed for giving thanks. Giving thanks was always an olympic sport at my house growing up. Which is probably why my friends to this day still call me the eternal optimist. I just can’t help it! Due to years of practice, and in spite of some very unlucky cards my mom and I were dealt, I have always had an eye for the silver lining. I have always found a way to be thankful, for the little things. After all, it was our attention to the little things in life that made it seem more normal. In between hospital visits, or midnight trips to the emergency room, we found a way to laugh and play. Hey, if my mom could do it in spite of a chronic illness she had had since age 11, there was no excuse for me not to do it. So the big hospital in town became the place where we could get the delicious peanut and caramel squares they sold at the cafeteria. The hospital near our house was the place where they had the good coffee and cake. The hospital for the long stays, had the little store that sold the little harlequins we were constantly trying to save up to get. Giving thanks and paying attention to the little things in life was our lifeline for many years, and just like with running, the more you do it, the more you love it. A holiday that celebrates just that, is a dream in my book.
Sadly, in Spain where I live now, Thanksgiving is not a local tradition and everyone has to go to work. This of course leaves me without the chance to make a festive dinner to celebrate the occasion, even though it was never a tradition in my family. Trust me, I’m all about stealing traditions I love from places where they are a given. However, I will be having a delicious dinner with my hubby, and plan on curling up on the couch with him and the doggies and feeling as grateful as I do every day.
Traditions however, got me thinking of what this holiday entails and what it means to go through it as a vegan. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the fact that it is not a holiday for presents. You don’t need to get heart shaped boxes of chocolates, or an endless array of wrapped up gifts for the tree, or spend hundreds on costumes and candy. It’s all about family, giving thanks and yes, the amazing food.
I think this is probably one of the reasons why this holiday can be hard for vegans, especially new ones or people thinking of making this change. In a holiday which is centered around food, with what is usually a giant dead turkey in the middle of the table, it can be overwhelming to think of losing your beloved family traditions and being able to simply enjoy the feast. Nothing however, can be further from the truth than saying you cannot have a scrumptious button-popping vegan Thanksgiving feast. Leave it to us to truly think that this holiday is all about a turkey, when in fact, the origins of this particular holiday were all about celebrating the harvest by eating yams, sweet potatoes, and especially corn.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to suggest you have corn and sweet potato hash and call it a night! Who wants that?! I’m just saying, lets look at this holiday from a distance and remember that it’s about the feeling of gratitude for everything we have, including the delicious food on the table.
Whenever I think about the joy of preparing a holiday meal for my family, I’ve realized that it is not about the taste and expectation of having meat as the centerpiece of the meal. It’s really about the process of waking up early, marinating and prepping delicious home cooked specialties. It’s about filling the house with delicious smells like roasted garlic and rosemary, and of course, an apple or pecan pie cooked from scratch baking in the oven. It’s about feeling that your time in the kitchen will be followed by laughter and stories at the table. And yes, you can achieve this all, even if you don’t eat meat.
Nowadays there are simply so many vegan alternatives to your favorites. You can buy the famous Tofurky roast or Gardein roast, and prepare it just like you would a turkey. Marinating it, basting it, injecting it with flavor and love, and creating the most decadent gravy to go with it. You can buy seitan roasts (made from wheat) with stuffing, and serve them with a side of cranberry sauce, you can buy stuffed roulades made from tofu or soy protein and cook them in a rich red wine sauce with mushrooms. Even if you live in a place where such products are not available, you can always make seitan from scratch (all it takes is flour and water, which almost makes it magical), and stuff it with your favorites, you can make a delicious lentil and mushroom ‘meatloaf’ oozing with ketchup or cranberry sauce. You can make croquettes or ‘meatballs’ with seitan, tofu or tempeh, beans or lentils and serve it with a myriad of dipping sauces. Nowadays your local health food store might even carry other specialty vegan ‘roasts’ all ready for you to take home and prepare to your liking. Yes, you can of course also have an incredible plate only filled with the wonderful side dishes that are typical at Thanksgiving, but I just want to show you how you can have your traditional foods, with a recipe that reminds you of the labor of love that cooking for this holiday entails. Having said that, you can also fill your plate with a traditional green bean casserole topped with fried onions, ooey and gooey sweet potatoes or yams, garlic mashed potatoes, wild rice pilafs, cranberry sauces and gravies, butternut squash soup, caramelized onions and brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus and other yummy sides, and of course delicious desserts like pecan or pumpkin pie, chocolate tarts or apple pie. The sky is the limit and all of these things can be made vegan with very simple substitutions.
If you’re having Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house and they aren’t vegan, offer to make some dishes for the party yourself, and make them traditional and decadent, only without the use of animal products. I can assure you that these will be the first to go! If your family isn’t vegan and haven’t wanted to skip the preparation of the bird, perhaps offer to help cook and make all of your family favorite side dishes without eggs or dairy so that everyone can have them. There is absolutely no sacrifice in taste by simply substituting the animal versions with vegan butter and non-dairy milks, and even things like vegan chorizo or vegan maple sausages in a stuffing.
I always say that the best way to be a great vegan advocate, is to keep it down to the basics, and that is, showing people that the food is just as delicious, if not more so, than the non-vegan alternative. It just takes a trip to the store, a little time in the kitchen, and a yummy recipe or your own creativity.
My motto is, stay true to your traditions even if this includes some sort of roast in the middle of the table, simply skip the animals. Unless of course you’re talking about your darling companion animals at the foot of the table keeping you company and joining in the fun. Traditions are a part of who we are as human beings, and they can bring so much pleasure and excitement into our lives (hello, I’m Kim and I’m a Christmas addict), but when a holiday is all about giving thanks and being kind and grateful, I love to have my actions and habits finally match my values and stay miles away from violence (and might I add it wasn’t always this way). I prefer to not contribute to an industry that is as cruel as they come.
Don’t worry, I’m not sending you off without our little vegan Thanksgiving survival medley! Here are some of the posts and recipes I think you’ll love reading in preparation for Tofurky Day!
For a little empowerment, tips on being vegan in social situations, and vegan entertaining enjoy:
For delicious festive holiday recipes (including some of the recipes behind the photos in this post) enjoy:
– Banana Nut Muffins with Pumpkin Butter (perfect for a post Thanksgiving breakfast, or serve only the pumpkin butter next to your dinner goodies).
My little wish for you and yours…
I wish all of our dear readers the Happiest of Thanksgivings, may we all enjoy the day surrounded by family and friends, remembering that saying thank you is what it’s really all about, but also remembering that there is no reason to skip out on family traditions just because you’ve changed the way you eat. May you have a very vegan and delicious Thanksgiving, and may you remember that after the dishes have been cleared and the leftovers have been stored, we can feel grateful and acknowledge that little silver lining in every situation that we go through. It’s my favorite way to feel grateful and blessed every day of the year, and boy do I!!
I have so much to feel grateful for, this and every year. I honestly don’t know how I got this lucky.
Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!
I leave you with some lyrics that I thought were perfect for the occasion, by the wonderful Tom Paxton as sang by the beautiful Nanci Grifith, a song my mom and I used to sing at the top of our lungs. Talk about traditions…
If you see me passin’ by
And you sit and you wonder why
And you wish that you were a rambler, too
Just nail your shoes to the kitchen floor
Lace ’em up and bar the door
Thank your stars for the roof that’s over you