How to Survive Thanksgiving: 6 Tips from a seasoned vegan (no pun intended)

By: Michael Finn

Are you a vegan/vegetarian who will be attending a Thanksgiving dinner this year that will also be serving turkey, ham, or other animal products? For most of us who share meals with diverse family members and/or friends this is the case. We all have loved ones in our lives who consume animals in some capacity. This article offers some tips and suggestions on how to survive the challenges of the holiday without ruffling any feathers in the process.    turkey-thanksgiving photo

If this is your first veggie Thanksgiving, please accept this boisterous “Thank you” from turkeys across the nation! Be comforted by the fact that it only gets easier with time. If you’re just beginning to consider a plant-based diet, hopefully these tips will help convince you that making the switch is as easy as pumpkin pie, and incidentally, more delicious!

  1. Talk to your host.

Be open with your host before the holiday arrives. Explain your dietary restrictions clearly so they know what to expect. If you’re bringing your own dishes to the celebration, it’s good to let them know in advance. Many hosts want to ensure that their guests will enjoy their food, and will attempt to provide something for everyone – so being open and proactive benefits all parties. Your host may want to prepare a veggie dish for you. If you’re comfortable with this, you can print off recipes from the internet for them. Otherwise, there’s a plethora of prepared veggie foods at the store.

2. Bring along a dish or two.

Many people are surprised to hear that any dish (even blood sausage) can be recreated without animal ingredients. Because of the versatility and creativity of veggie cuisine, you can indulge in all of your favorite Thanksgiving inspired entrees. By doing a simple online search, you can discover a multitude of veggie recipes for practically any meal you can fathom.

If you don’t enjoy cooking, rest assured that dozens of meat and dairy alternatives can be found at nearly every grocery store. Tofurkey, Field Roast, and vegan vurkey dinnerGardein all produce vegan faux “turkey” dinners, complete with gravy and stuffing. Earth Balance offers high-quality vegan butter, with which you can top your mashed potatoes. Follow Your Heart sells an assortment of dressings, cheeses, and toppings. Dandies marshmallows contain no animal ingredients, and are perfect for sweet potato casserole. Cranberry sauce and pumpkin/cherry pie filling is generally vegan friendly, so there should be no worries there.

3. Try to refrain from preaching your beliefs.

The Thanksgiving table is no place to start slinging mud – in fact, as a general rule – discussing veganism while eating is not advised. For this reason, try as hard as you can not to talk about the horrors of slaughter houses or factory farms during the meal.  Although it’s important to educate others about animal agriculture when opportunities arise,  choosing the time and place where your audience will be most receptive is critical to the success of your message. So, even though seeing a turkey on the table may be difficult, commenting during the meal is unlikely to have a positive impact.  Remember, the people who invited you to their dinner love and value you, so it’s important to respect them as well.

  1. Answer questions, but avoid confrontation.

Generally, there are two sorts of people who may comment on your diet: those who are genuinely interested, and those who want to mock and make jokes. While it doesn’t hurt to answer neutral questions when asked, avoid confrontational discussions that may lead to heated arguments. If a friend or family member is curious about your dietary preferences, by all means, oblige their inquiries; but if someone is prodding you with jokes or arguments, respectfully tell them that you’re trying to enjoy your holiday, and would appreciate discussing another topic. More often than not, this will dissuade further pestering.

  1.  Don’t apologize for being vegetarian.

Compassion should never be apologized for, so try not to say you’re sorry for being an “inconvenience.” It may feel uncomfortable if you’re the only herbivore at the celebration, but be proud and confident with your decision to abstain from cruelty. Remember, it gets easier with time! When people do change their recipes or go out of their way to provide plant-based options for you – show your appreciation and say thank you.

  1. How to handle the sights and smells of meat.

Personally, I find this to be one of the hardest facets about Thanksgiving. It’s difficult to avoid the sights and smells of meat entirely during the holiday. The only bits of advice I can offer for this conundrum is to try not to focus on the meat, but on the people you’re with. This may take some practice, but I’ve found it helps significantly. There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks away from the table. I know it probably sounds strange, but if you need to step out when you’re overwhelmed, do so – take a bathroom break or step outdoors.

My final suggestion… give a moment of thanks to yourself. Celebrate the fact that you care enough about animals not to harm them in any way. There are billions of other people in the world who will never care about them the way you do. Being vegan/vegetarian really is a beautiful gesture. While the President of the United States pardons a single turkey in November, by refraining from eating meat, you pardon all animals, holiday or not!

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