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Happy Thanksvegging

A guide to getting through the holiday without eating meat or losing your mind.

5. Make your own food.

I was lucky enough to move in with another vegan soon after I graduated high school, and she taught me some cooking basics. We even invented a recipe called Tofuttibeast (though it involves seitan, not tofu, and should really be called Seitanbeast). I recommend it as a DIY Thanksgiving dish because it’s pretty easy to make:

Defrost some phyllo dough (also called filo or fillo dough; you can find packages of it in the frozen section of most grocery stores near piecrusts and stuff) and lay about five sheets onto a greased baking pan. Then take a couple packages of seitan (available at Whole Foods and most other health-food stores) and empty them on top of the dough. Make vegetarian gravy (you can also find this at most health stores—it comes in a packet, and it’s just a powder you mix with water and stir till it’s thick) and pour that on top of the seitan. Fold the phyllo dough over the seitan and gravy, adding a couple more sheets on top if you need them to cover the top. Bake it in the over at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or until the dough is nice and golden. After it cools for a bit, eat it with more gravy and real mashed potatoes (which you can veganize by mashing them with soy milk or the water you boiled them in).

If you’re worried about putting people off with a dish that has “beast” in the name, you could also try something as irresistibly cute as these veggie pot-pies in jars. And seriously: VEGETABLES. They’re the most widely available vegan food there is, the simplest to fancy up, and the most accessible to non-vegetarian minds. I know brussels sprouts have a bad reputation, but if you wash them, trim the stems and outer leaves, cut them in half, spread them out on a baking sheet, douse them in olive oil (maybe adding a little balsamic vinegar or minced garlic), sprinkle salt on them, and then bake them for a LONG TIME—like 45 minutes or so, until their outer leaves are dark brown with some black—at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they will come out as crispy and greasy and delicious as french fries. I swear.

Anna F.’s article about becoming vegetarian has a bunch more helpful recipes and advice on food you can bring to dinners and parties.

6. Be assertive.

Even after I’d discovered how easy it was to make my own veg-friendly Thanksgiving dishes, I still didn’t introduce them to my family for a couple more years. Why not? Because I was too afraid to ask my aunt, our annual hostess, if she could save some space in the oven for me. When I finally gathered up the courage to ask, she instantly said yes, and guess what else? Suddenly she was as interested in vegan food as I’d wanted her and everyone else to be all along. She asked me about egg and milk substitutes, and in subsequent years made sure to stock her kitchen with products I had recommended, which was really an above-and-beyond thing for her to do. So not only is politely asking for space to prepare your own food totally acceptable, it might also help you feel like less of an outcast.

7. Find or bring allies. Or hang out with them later.

If your family does make you feel like an outsider for being vegetarian or vegan, hopefully there is at least one person who will be an ally. After the same aunt expressed interest in the foods I was bringing and eating, she was the person I hung out with the most before and after Thanksgiving dinner. And finally seeing what a big job she had serving food for so many people, I did all I could to help her out, too. If someone like my aunt is in your life, stick with them and use them as your buffer any time someone is singling you out or making you feel uncomfortable (that not only goes for being vegetarian but pretty much anything else).

If the adults around are bumming you out and there are younger kids in your family, play board games or go outside and jump around in the leaves with them. They might ask about what you are or aren’t eating, but kids tend to understand that there are far more important things in life than debating someone’s food choices—like watching whatever holiday cartoon special might be on.

Bringing a veg friend also helps, if guests are allowed. This can be hard because people usually have their own thing going on for Thanksgiving, but a nice thing about holiday meals is that no one seems to start them at the same time. Chances are, one of your friends will be free around the time your dinner is being served. This also means you could luck out and get invited to someone else’s meat-free dinner at a time when it’s easy to sneak away from your family. During my second vegan Thanksgiving, a friend asked me to join her family’s all-vegetarian meal. Her house wasn’t far, and her family was eating later than mine. I put in some time with my people and then left to have a real feast with hers.

Even if you don’t know anyone having a vegetarian Thanksgiving you can join, you can still have an I-survived-Thanksgiving hang with your friends. Meet up at your favorite diner later Thanksgiving night, or cook whatever you want together the day before or after. And remember: After you leave home you will be totally free to make your own traditions with whomever you choose to spend holidays with. You can cook an enormous feast for yourself or with pals. You can go out (a lot of restaurants are open Thanksgiving day, including vegetarian ones). You can spend the day in your pajamas, binge-watching your favorite shows and eating vegan pizza with your cats! It really won’t be that different from the choices you already made about what you eat (or don’t eat)—it will be completely up to you. ♦

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32 Comments

  • TinyWarrior November 15th, 2013 3:20 PM

    I’ve been a strict vegetarian since I was 12, and and on-again-off-again vegan since I was 14 (I’m 15 now). This article is so helpful, and I’m looking forward to jumping back onto the vegan bandwagon again this Thanksgiving!

  • soviet_kitsch November 15th, 2013 3:37 PM

    i love this article. i went vegan a few months ago and my family is nothing but supportive, but i still loved reading your tofuttibeast recipe. om nom nom.

  • emseely November 15th, 2013 5:00 PM

    Yayyy! I’m a lifetime vegetarian, I’ve never eaten meat or fish before in my life, so I was super excited to see this article. I’m lucky enough to have a vegetarian family, and now I realize how blessed I’ve been to have a grandma who roasts a tofurkey every year for us. Thanks rookie, I’d love to see more articles/recipe ideas for us veggies!

    • vvk97 November 15th, 2013 7:43 PM

      My sentiments exactly. I’m Hindu and though religion was only part of the reason my family is vegetarian, I’ve grown up never eating meat.

    • eyelet November 16th, 2013 8:18 AM

      I’ve never had meat or fish either– most people can’t believe it, but it really isn’t a big deal when you grow up without it.

      While my family obviously already has meatless Thanksgivings, this was a cool article to see.

  • kelsey November 15th, 2013 5:53 PM

    AHHH! THANK YOU! This is my first holiday season as a hard core vegan and I’m still figuring out how to refuse things (like cake) without making people feel bad. Most of my friends are totally chill about it, for which I’m lucky, but this is still SO SO SO helpful.

  • navyblueguava November 15th, 2013 5:56 PM

    Love this article- perfect to the last touch! I’m actually glad to eat meat, much to the horror of all my vegetarian friends. However, this article was a cool way to see that Thanksgiving can be complete without turkey, if you know what I mean. Also, I would like to recommend stuffing, even though I’m not sure about wether or not its an animal product. Stuffing is probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving!

    http://theneonguava.wordpress.com

    • lipsticklullabies November 15th, 2013 8:19 PM

      Most brands of stuffing do contain meat, but Stove Top Pork Stuffing Mix is actually vegetarian (and I’m pretty sure it’s vegan as well), even though it has pork in the name. :) Happy early Thanksgiving!

    • Emma November 15th, 2013 9:12 PM

      you can make vegan stuffing by cooking breadcrumbs, onions, celery, cranberries, and whatever else you normally put in stuffing with vegetable broth. that’s what I did last year and it was really yummy!

    • AngstyTheBrave November 15th, 2013 9:40 PM

      I’m pretty sure that stuffing is usually vegan, or at least vegetarian, but it’s sometimes cooked inside the turkey, so any vegans/vegetarians should probably ask. But it is good!

  • Kacey Campbell November 15th, 2013 6:54 PM

    Last year was my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, and I must say, it was way less scary than I thought it would be. What really helped was the Vegetarian Times Thanksgiving issue, which had some kick ass recipes my mom made for me and just heated up at my aunt’s house. To any new veggies and vegans (there are some vegan recipes too sometimes!), I highly recommend checking it out.

  • Chloe22 November 15th, 2013 7:04 PM

    I have been vegetarian since 6th grade (in tenth now) and luckily I haven’t had too much trouble, aside from people at a church i used to go to that only saw me as a vegetarian (and the only conversation we ever had was why i shouldn’t be). Since 6th grade I also found out that I am allergic to gluten and lactose! But my dad is the best cook ever, so all is well!
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • Tyknos93 November 15th, 2013 8:14 PM

    This article could not have come sooner! As a struggling college student it’s always nice to be able to have a nice hot homemade meal with your family, but being from the South where seemingly EVERYTHING is made with meat is difficult. I normally spend Thanksgiving in a corner with a bag of no heat bread rolls, staring longingly at everyone’s full plates. This year I’ll make a more conscious effort to stick to my diet and fill my belly.

    http://blazoningpens.blogspot.com/

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild November 15th, 2013 8:20 PM

    This is great. I’ve been a vegan for a couple of years now. I definitely get some fight back from family, but this year my great-aunt has even offered to make a vegan dish for me! Baby steps.

    Melissa
    http://wildflwrchild.blogspot.com

  • Emma November 15th, 2013 9:13 PM

    Ahhhh I love any/all vegan or vegetarian Rookie articles. These are awesome ideas, thank you! Are there any Rookies out there who have heard of farm Sanctuary? I am gonna intern there next year as part of my gap year!

    • Stephanie November 16th, 2013 6:02 PM

      My friend who introduced me to veganism interned there! She had an amazing experience. I hope you do as well!

  • flingsgotoofast November 15th, 2013 10:25 PM

    I love this article so much because I have been a vegetarian for about 8 months now and this coming Thanksgiving will be my first as a vegetarian! I have to admit I am very nervous about what it is going to be like. Thank you so so much !!!

  • julalondon November 15th, 2013 10:40 PM

    I have been vegetarian for about 4 and a half years now and i still get the stupid questions…HATE THAT!!! Thank you for this post!!!=)

  • irismonster November 15th, 2013 11:44 PM

    i love this so much! I’m vegetarian but not vegan, and my biggest pet peeve is that people have it so wrong about hypocrisy and food. I have never in my life initiated a condescending discussion of eating meat, and I can’t tell you how many times someone who does eat it has done that to me. Yet people still think that vegetarians and vegans are condescending. Jeez.

    I actually recently suffered an in-class practice debate about whether or not vegetarians are better people than meat eaters. I took no part in it, for obvious reasons, but there were actually a bunch of people who argued that people who ate meat were genuinely better people because they had more vitamins in their diet (??). Even if that was the case, there are these things called vitamin pills, and for the record, I do not have to take them in order to be perfectly healthy. And all of that aside, I just fail to see the logic. Honestly.

  • clarekawaii November 16th, 2013 12:25 AM

    Ahhhh I wish this article was around when I had to battle my first ever Thanksgiving last month in Canada! Not only did I not know the family (I was staying with a host), I’m also a vegan sigh. I got through it though, they were actually really obliging, by the end of the night they were all checking labels and offering me things, it was really lovely!

    I’ll remember to keep this article in mind if I ever find myself in Canada or the USA at Thanksgiving time again~

  • Cait @teaandfire November 16th, 2013 1:04 AM

    Was so excited to see this! I know I’m not the only vegan out there, because sometimes it feels like I am! I try to be as cruelty free as I can (concerning makeup, clothes, etc., but money dictates that). I am on a full vegan diet though (I have what is possibly an undiagnosed chronic disease and found that eating veg really helped eliminate my issues! I had also been vegetarian for two years before I went vegan.

    OK to the thing I really wanted to get to:

    ~*~Mashed Cauliflower Casserole~*~ :

    Steam cook cauliflower, and then mash it (of course!). My favorite thing to mix in is classic hummus and Lawry’s salt, but you can put whatever you want in: black pepper, veggie/vegan friendly butter, sea salt, turmeric, etc. I then top it with broiled panko bread crumbs (I’m sure there are gf alternatives to this, too!)- it is SO good, easy to make, and an enjoyable dish to bring for not only yourself but also your family/friends/guests! Happy Thanksgiving! (oh, and gardein has new stuffed turky: at least, new to me, as my Target now carries this- that is so good and perfect to bring with you if you’re not sure what else you’ll be able to have!(http://gardein.com/products/savory-stuffed-turky/)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    (teaandfire is both my twitter and tumblr username: come say hello! :D )

    • Stephanie November 16th, 2013 6:04 PM

      Oooh, thanks for this recipe! I will try it!

  • Torrie November 16th, 2013 2:49 AM

    Thank you, Rookie. I’ve been vegan now for a little over a year and I’m just as passionate now, if not more, than when I first began. My family has warmed up hugely. There is usually only meat in the house when my mom and dad bring in take out. My dad loves to try stuff from Gardein, Tofurkey, and Daiya. He loves Vegenaise more than regular mayo. My mom now enjoys cooking vegan meals with me for the family. A year ago they were rolling their eyes, and a year before that when I was vegetarian my mom ordered a “special farm raised turkey” to try to make me eat meat and served me vegetables cooked in turkey stock without my knowledge. People change a lot.

    If I’m invited to a guest’s dinner this year I will definitely make multiple vegan dishes for other people to try — and then tell them it’s vegan after they say how delicious it is!

    It was the best decision of my life so far and I’m thankful every single day :)

  • Esmee November 16th, 2013 7:11 AM

    I can’t believe it’s such a hassle to eat vegetarian/vegan on thanksgiving.
    The internet is swamped with recipes!
    I recommend checking out the Minimalist Baker, who tries to make a vegetarian or vegan recipe with as little ingredients as possible.

    I’m not vegetarian nor vegan, but I do like to try substitutes for dairy and the like wherever possible. Also it’s quite cost effective.
    In my opinion meat is also a luxury product. It really is exceptional we can eat meat everyday!

  • elliecp November 16th, 2013 7:22 AM

    this is really cool. I’m an animal rights activist but due to various health and ease reasons have to keep meat in my diet at the moment. Ive always wanted to be vegetarian though, and hope that maybe I can go fully vegan or something when I’m older.
    I forget sometimes how difficult the holiday seasons must be if you don’t eat meat!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Mira November 17th, 2013 1:04 PM

    i’ve been a vegetarian since last year and i really love it but i’ve gotten most of those dumb comments. why are people so rude? i just don’t like eating cute lil animals :(

  • AnimalDecay November 17th, 2013 5:32 PM

    Omg thank you SO MUCH this is so fantastic <3

  • Savidi November 18th, 2013 6:47 PM

    this is so great! i’m 13 and i stopped eating meat this year too. I haven’t looked back, meat isn’t even appealing to me anymore. I’m Canadian so we already had Thanksgiving. My parents are supportive of it so i did a lot of research and helped my mom cook a really great vegetarian dinner. I’m also constantly doing the things you mentioned in the article. People are always asking me annoying questions, “oh my god! You’re only 13, how can you possibly survive without eating meat??” Actually, just fine. But yeah, this article is really awesome. I can really relate.

  • sternenfall November 18th, 2013 7:22 PM

    Have you heard of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and the post punk kitchen? She’s my hero

    • eikcaj November 19th, 2013 10:26 PM

      Isa is the BOMB! Anyone who’s interested in yummy dishes — period — ought to look her up! Luckily I was given the Veganomicon when I became a vegetarian almost 6 years ago, and although I’ve bought other cookbooks since then, that one is still my favorite.

      Regardless I must say, Stephanie, THANK YOU for this article!!! Winter time is always a bit stressful due to the amount of holidays. I love my family, just not the drama, y’know?? That said, my family always does a big feast for Thanksgiving, so my vegan dishes go unnoticed. They always like my vegan desserts though. ;)

    • thebrownette November 20th, 2013 12:06 AM

      ISA IS A GODDESS. and responds when you tweet her!

  • anna eve November 27th, 2013 6:41 PM

    This is an awesome article! I’ve had various experiences with vegetarianism over the years, I’m not currently a vegetarian, but I try not to eat much meat because of ethical/health reasons. Incidentally, I brought my own vegan meal to Thanksgiving last year because I was having a lot of stomach problems and meat/dairy only made them worse. I would highly recommend Maple Glazed Tempeh, it’s super easy and delicious, and there are a lot of recipes on the internet. My mom was so supportive, we even made a pumpkin pie using cashews instead of dairy. I hope to go vegetarian/vegan at some point again, so it’s great to know there’s such a strong veggie community!

    http://lilliputianlilac.blogspot.com