I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, where meat and potatoes were the norm. When I first stopped eating animal products, my family worried about how we would share our all-important holiday meals, central to my family’s traditions. Flash forward, and we’re now fighting over the plant-based dishes that have become a popular part of our Thanksgiving spread, including my grandmother’s recipes which, together, we made plant-based. Here’s how we got there.
My journey to adopting a plant-based diet started when I was in middle school. One day I was walking around town with my mom and our family dog, Lucky, when an animal advocate handing out leaflets approached me and explained how farm animals—like pigs, chickens, and cows—have the same ability to suffer and feel pain as the animals with whom we share our homes. Yet, these smart, inquisitive, feeling beings are treated as nothing more than mere units of production on factory farms. For example, the norm is for turkeys to be crowded in dark, filthy sheds, forced to stand in their own waste for months. They suffer from severe leg pain because they’re bred to grow too large, too fast. I had never thought about the cruelties inherent in intensive animal agriculture, where 99 percent of meat, dairy, and eggs come from. When I learned how billions of animals suffer so greatly—and also the havoc factory farming wreaks on the environment—I realized this was an industry I could no longer support.
Thankfully, my parents were supportive of a daughter determined to incorporate more plant-based foods into our family meals. Over the years, they even grew to embrace plant-based dishes as much as I did. My mom ended up going vegetarian, and my dad, who still eats meat, has become a huge fan of plant-based meats, frequently buying veggie burgers. Like him, much of my extended family has become reducetarian. Now, each year, we prepare a fully vegan Thanksgiving meal together, complete with meat-free “turkey.”
What my family and I learned together is that there are so many faux meats on the market now, which are perfect for a holiday gathering. Field Roast makes meat-free roasts, in two flavors: Celebration and Hazelnut Cranberry en Croute, which is wrapped in a pastry crust. In addition to making Holiday Roast, which has a traditional Thanksgiving taste, Gardein sells lightly breaded turk’y cutlets. These cutlets are quick to bake and ideal for a smaller gathering, especially when you’re pressed for time. Even Trader Joe’s grocery store chain makes its own Breaded Turkey-less Stuffed Roast, with cranberry wild rice stuffing and meatless gravy. These alternatives to animal-based meats pack just as much protein, but they’re free of both cholesterol and cruelty while being much better for the environment.
One of my favorite parts of planning a Thanksgiving meal is getting to taste-test. With all of the options out there, if you’re planning to incorporate more plant-based options into your Thanksgiving, or even make the meal entirely plant-based, now is the time to start trying them, figuring out which options you like, and coming up with a menu. I usually start meal-planning in October, and my family loves sampling all of the different dishes leading up to the actual holiday. And while natural food stores are renowned for offering a variety of plant-based meats, now almost every mainstream grocer does too, including Kroger, Walmart, and Safeway.
In addition to incorporating plant-based meats that taste delicious, filling out a menu for a full-blown Thanksgiving meal is simple, since so many holiday staples are already plant-based, like cranberry sauce, green beans, and yams. Dishes like mashed potatoes are easily “veganized” by using non-dairy milk and butter. Plus, making traditional favorites plant-based can be a fun adventure for the whole family.
To top it off: there’s dessert! Pumpkin pie can be made vegan by replacing the evaporated milk and eggs with either silken tofu or coconut milk. Don’t want animal lard in your crust? Plant-based crusts can often be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores or can easily be made from scratch. Pair the pie with a scoop of creamy, ice cream made out of nuts, coconut, or beans, like So Delicious Vanilla Bean, or vegan whipped cream, such as Almond Milk Reddi-Wip, for a mouth-watering treat. Another standard at our house is buying a chocolate graham cracker crust and filling it with chocolate non-dairy ice cream and Oreo cookie crumbles. It’s quick to make, and kids love helping break up the cookies. If baking isn’t your thing, it’s easy to pop a pre-made pie into the oven. Products like Marie Callender’s Dutch Apple Pie and Claim Jumper’s Lattice Peach Pie are vegan, as are Daiya’s no-bake, dairy-free cheesecakes.
From appetizer to dessert, it’s simple to have a plant-based Thanksgiving—or even just add more plant-based options to both your special holiday feasts and your everyday meals—without sacrificing flavor, texture, or general deliciousness. If you’re like my family, it’ll have you craving plant-based concoctions all year round, and that’s good news for animals and the planet.
Kate is a public policy specialist at the Humane Society of the United States.