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. ♦