A Vegan Thanksgiving Celebrates Good Food, Activism and Hope

A Vegan Thanksgiving Celebrates Good Food, Activism and Hope

By | 2011-11-22T17:31:13+00:00 November 22nd, 2011|Tags: , , |16 Comments
Clove, a rescued turkey at animal place

Clove, a rescued turkey at Animal Place

When I sit down with friends to carve the Tofurky on Thursday, it will feel a little bit like lighting a candle in the darkness. People eat meat every day, of course, but somehow a holiday that places such intense focus on the carcass of one particular animal—and is responsible for the slaughter of some 45 million of them—is especially hard for those who care about animals.

Because Thanksgiving feels so heartbreaking to some of us, it can be tempting to refuse to participate. But celebrating Thanksgiving as a vegan is both activism and a statement of hope. In my early days as a vegetarian, I always stuffed a squash, but now I like having the opportunity to support companies that provide compassionate alternatives. (Thank you, Tofurky and Field Roast!). I’ve purchased four Tofurky roasts (so far), and have a Field Roast brand Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute on its way in the mail. I don’t need that many entrees, but it makes me so happy to see them in the store, that I can’t resist buying one everywhere I go. (They inspire some good conversation in the check-out line, too.)

Thanksgiving also represents a chance to share vegan food with others in a celebratory way—always a nice little bit of outreach. Even though my dinner guests are all vegan or almost-vegan, I’m going to make platters for some turkey-eating neighbors. And I’m keeping the focus on foods that are festive, fun, and delicious because, especially at this time of year, that’s more important than ever for the image of vegan food.

It’s popular to define vegan Thanksgiving as the “healthy” alternative, and, of course, it almost always is. Any vegan meal is going to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than the usual holiday fare, and maybe higher in fiber, too. But, people already know that meat is bad for them. They knew it when I first started doing nutrition counseling 25 years ago, and it’s a message that has only gained in strength. The message that we really need to sell is that an all-plant menu is delicious and fun, and suitable for even the biggest food holiday of the year. If you have the time and means to do so, Thanksgiving is definitely the day to pull out all the stops in the kitchen.

When I see the huge expanse of grocery store freezer space holding hundreds of turkey bodies, it makes me sick and depressed. But, it’s also been gratifying to see the number of vegan and vegetarian recipes that seem to be everywhere on the internet and in newspapers, as well as the growing number of grocery stores that offer alternatives. Not to mention the expanding discussion about the ethics of eating animals. It’s why I manage to feel both sad and encouraged at the same time about Thanksgiving.

So for this difficult day, I’ll light the proverbial candle in celebration of friends and good food, and our progress toward a more compassionate world. I plan to have a festive, delicious and hopeful Thanksgiving and wish the same for you.



  1. Audrey November 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I wonderful reminder. Thank you!

  2. Jennifer November 23, 2011 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Great post. I really struggle with Thanksgiving for the reasons you state, but you’ve made me think about all the vegan and vegetarian recipes out there as TG alternatives and the increasing public dialogue about the ethics of eating animals, and that does give me hope. I too will be lighting a proverbial candle. Thanks.

  3. Christine November 23, 2011 at 7:11 am - Reply

    Well said. I completely understand this statement too:
    “it makes me so happy to see them in the store, that I can’t resist buying one everywhere I go.” This is how I feel about vegan food all year round. I always want to try everything and support the company who is making the food. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Matt November 23, 2011 at 7:22 am - Reply

    This is brilliant and moving, Ginny.
    Your fourth paragraph is very important, IMHO. When we focus on food being healthy first and foremost, we reinforce the idea that people should be concerned, first and foremost, with their self-interest. And as you spell out, almost everyone considers eating food that is familiar, tasty, and what everyone else eats to be their main self-interest.

  5. Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles November 23, 2011 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Such a positive message. I am looking forward to bringing my vegan meal to my family’s feast (with some to share) and hoping to inspire a couple people to stop the madness!

  6. Jaya Bhumitra November 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I like displaying the goods in my shopping basket in just such a way as to start conversations too! I also tote around some of the classic AR books when I take elevators, am at airport gates, etc. (and of course, I always leave Vegetarian Starter Guides in the seat back pockets of the planes).

  7. Mattheworbit November 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    We don’t have Thanksgiving celebrations in Australia (though my Mother and her family are American, so sometimes they’ll do something), but I had no idea that Thanksgiving is responsible for the deaths of 45 million turkeys. That is just horrifying.

    You guys are all so good for holding your space, and keeping your compassion and continuing to partake in the holiday, despite some of the animal unfriendly connotations. You guys are really being truly thankful – for the bounty of the land, and allowing some turkeys something to be thankful for, too. It’s never easy to stick to your guns and actively involve yourself in something that’s often unvegan by definition, but I think it does so much good.. It brings vegans together, and shows a good example for others to follow, allowing possibilities and happiness into an otherwise empty and unvegan space.

  8. bitt November 24, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Thank you for your message and for this blog!

  9. Adena November 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Thank you for posting this. I always read your blog and don’t usually say much, but it is encouraging to read every time.

    I think my new in-laws (I recently got married) were pretty pleased with my homemade apple sage seitan sausages, green bean casserole, and pumpkin cupcakes. It’s a way to at least give people some yummy cruelty free options without being seen as a pushy vegan. Hmmm, I think I’m about ready for some leftovers….

  10. Bea Elliott November 25, 2011 at 4:08 am - Reply

    Thanks for this post! Yes it’s true – It is a holiday of mixed emotions! But it does get better every year. More alternative products. More support from others. More reasons to continue a chosen compassionate and healthy path! 🙂

  11. Kristina November 28, 2011 at 7:24 am - Reply

    How did Thanksgiving become about eating turkeys I wonder?

  12. Nancy martin January 25, 2012 at 2:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this post. Thanksgiving day is celebrated by having a feast followed by fun activity. It’s really nice day to express thanks and gratitude to the people who have their share in making your life better and beautiful.

  13. Jo Tyler November 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you Ginny…I really appreciated reading this today. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  14. […] Thanksgiving dinner for non-vegans, it’s important to view it as outreach by making the dinner festive and delicious, and depending on your guests, maybe as traditional as possible. It’s a good time to skip the […]

  15. […] wrote a couple of years ago about my mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. It’s a sad day for anyone who cares about animals. But it is also an […]

  16. […] By Ginny Messina, MPH, RD Reprinted with permission from The Vegan R.D.-Thoughts on being Vegan-A Dietitian’s Perspective […]

Leave A Comment