“V” is for Vegan

And Other Thanksgiving Tales

Butternut+Squash+Stuffing

Butternut Squash Stuffing

Rebecca Christensen, Cactus Writer

Salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly, Thanksgiving and turkey—all of these things go hand in hand. For most people, this isn’t a problem. For some, however, Thanksgiving is the day when vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who has an alternative diet, load up on the green bean casserole and peas, and stare longingly, or resentfully, at the happy folks chowing down on turkey and apple pie.

This poses a problem for the traditional Thanksgiving fare. When a cook is trying to serve a dozen people, plus a few screeching children, a stray vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-struck person sitting at the table doesn’t often take priority. This is understandably frustrating for those people who are left with a narrow range of foods to choose from, especially when most of the foods are sides and condiments. But wait: the gravy has butter and turkey drippings in it; that’s off limits too!

Whether your centerpiece is turkey, duck, chicken, or all three at once (turducken, anyone?), vegetarians and vegans alike are excluded from partaking. What about those mashed potatoes? They had butter and cream mixed in before they were ever brought to the table. The apple pie? Butter, and possibly milk mixed into the crust. Even the ubiquitous green bean casserole is off limits for vegans, being that one of the usual ingredients is cream of mushroom soup.

To find out a little more about this gastronomical conundrum (I personally don’t have any dietary restrictions), I talked to people who are vegan, or vegetarian. After wading through the handful of people who for unrelated reasons didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I got some feedback on what some typical Thanksgiving meals look like.

Some said they eat “tofurky,” or tofu turkey, and some eat seitan turkey. Others still said that they just avoided what they couldn’t eat—presumably they had a more diverse dinner table than what I described above.
A few people also said that their friends and family made sure there was an assortment of foods on the dinner table so that everyone could eat their share. They themselves often contributed to the fare in a collaborative effort.

It seems that when people are unable to eat some of the more traditional Thanksgiving dishes, lots of squash and seasonal harvest vegetables make it onto the table. In the Vegan Holiday Cookbook by Nava Atlas (which I’d recommend if you’re looking for vegan recipes), she talks about how she likes to “focus on harvest produce for a truer sense of the holiday.” When I mentioned this to a few of the people I talked to, they nodded their heads and agreed with what she said.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other large feast days can be difficult for people who have restricted diets. If there’s someone in your family who cannot, or does not, eat meat or dairy, it never hurts to make sure there are several dishes that they can, and want, to eat; it’s also simple courtesy. Besides, can you really complain if it means there are more vegetables on the dinner table, and thus, a higher chance your kid might actually eat one of them?