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 Thanksgiving, it always feels 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.