A Vegan Thanksgiving Survival Guide

A holiday how-to for those of us who prefer our turkeys alive and kicking.

A happy turkey at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter

Holiday gatherings can be tricky enough, depending on the clan you were born into and/or celebrate with. Be sure to listen to Kroll Call’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide show for tips! Being the lone vegan in your Thanksgiving crowd may add an extra complication, but it need not stop you from enjoying — or, at the very least, surviving — Thanksgiving with a crowd of non-vegans.

Yes, yes. The point of the holiday is to be thankful and hang out with your delightful friends and family. Read the word “delightful” in the previous sentence sincerely or sarcastically depending on your particular situation. However, the food and, if you’re vegan, the questions about what you are and aren’t eating and why are pretty difficult to escape. As someone with several holiday seasons as a vegan under her cruelty-free faux-leather belt, here are a few of my tips for making it through the day with sass and style.

Don’t get hangry!


Your friendly author posing with a very handsome cow at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter. I had eaten plenty of vegan snacks on the way to the shelter and therefore wasn’t hangry and could properly enjoy communing with the animals.

For those unfamiliar with the term, hangry comes from the dreaded combination of hungry and angry. Nothing can ruin a holiday faster! There are several ways to avoid this.

  1. If you know your host well enough and feel they’d be receptive, talk to them about veganizing one or two dishes. Many things are easily made vegan! Mashed potatoes can be made with vegan margarine and non-dairy milk. Dressing can be made with vegetable stock and cooked in a dish instead of (feel free to grimace with me, fellow vegans) inside a turkey. If your host is open to veganizing one or two things, send them your favorite recipes or Google “vegan thanksgiving” and send them a few links. One of my favorite vegan recipe sites, The Post Punk Kitchen, has a whole section dedicated to holiday recipes. Simple is probably best unless you know your host loves wild and complicated recipes. You don’t want to be known as the pain in the ass vegan. Unless being a pain in the ass is your thing, then go for it!
  2. Unfortunately, some non-vegans may see a request to veganize a recipe as an attack on their dairy- and meat-loving lifestyle and traditions. If you’re dealing with such a host or eating with someone you don’t feel comfortable asking, then offer to bring one or two dishes yourself. You needn’t even tell people it’s vegan if you don’t want to. However, if you want to make a big fuss out of it, you can always wait until someone tells you your dish is delicious and then shout, “Surprise, it’s vegan!” loudly enough to bring the entire dinner to a halt. Or tell them in a calm, quiet voice. It’s up to you. Even if it’s not a potluck style, most hosts will be happy to let you bring something if you just volunteer. This year, I’m thinking The Kitchen Witch’s Warm Spinach and Mushroom Salad might be a good side dish choice. The only change needed is a vegan butter substitute instead of dairy butter!
  3. If you don’t feel comfortable with any of these, just eat before you go. Maybe throw a few vegan protein bars in your purse. Tell people you’re fasting, have a mysterious throat condition, whatever. Then while everyone else is eating, sneak away and hang out with the family dog or cat. The family pet will likely sense you are vegan and enjoy your company. If you aren’t driving home, see if your host has some vegan wine (check out barnivore.com to find which booze is vegan) and get drunk if you like. The options really are endless!

Be ready for the ridiculous questions and statements from non-vegans.

Omnivore friends reading this, I’m sure we’re not talking about you. You’re probably a lovely person who doesn’t see a vegan and immediately start waxing poetic about your love of bacon. However, if you’ve ever done the “I love bacon” routine or asked any of the questions I list below of your vegan friend or family member, you should be sad about your lack of originality.

  1. If you’ve been vegan for any length of time, someone has probably stranded you on a hypothetical deserted island where your only choice is to kill and consume some wild animal or die. If not, prepare yourself because it’s bound to happen soon, and the holiday dinner table seems to be a popular place for people to pose this scenario. Feel free to remind them that there is probably fruit on the deserted island. After all, that animal you are meant to fight to the death for survival has to eat something! Tell them you’re going to befriend the bear and climb trees and eat coconuts together. I don’t think bears actually eat coconuts, but it’s a hypothetical island, dear reader – the rules of nature are yours to bend. If your wilderness skill level is anything like mine, you may also want to remind them that you’d be so incapable of building a shelter or any other basic needs that you’d likely perish before you had time to worry about your inability to fashion a rudimentary spear to kill the hypothetical animal they’ve stranded you with or anything else.
  2. But, where do you get your protein? If you are vegan already, you probably know that anyone eating a well balanced vegan diet is getting plenty of protein. However, there are some omnivores who think anyone who hasn’t gobbled down a steak in the past 24 hours is likely to pass out from protein deficiency. When they ask you about it with great concern, you have two choices. Firstly, you could have a list memorized of vegan foods that contain protein. The second sassier choice is to pick a random vitamin or nutrient – real or made up, I’m not fussy – and ask the meat eater where they get it. Put on the most concerned face you can muster and inquire, “Where do you get your chromium?”
  3. But, what about plants? Plants have feelings, too, and you eat them. At this point, it really is okay to roll your eyes and refuse to continue conversing with this person.
  4. Also be prepared if someone is genuinely curious and asking friendly questions about veganism. The holiday dinner table is probably not the place to bust out your iPad and start playing Earthlings or to go into graphic descriptions of animal abuse. Those conversations are worth having, and Earthlings is an amazing film that everyone should see, but wait until the day after Thanksgiving when everyone is depressed anyway. On Thanksgiving Day, I recommend keeping it light by discussing something like favorite vegan recipes or, if you follow my suggestion below, telling people about the awesome turkey you just adopted.

Help a turkey!

A happy turkey at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter

A happy turkey at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter.

If you’re strictly a dietary vegan, the above concerns might be simply an inconvenience or annoyance. If you’re an ethical vegan who chose to give up animal products due to a concern for animal rights, being around a bunch of people eating meat on a holiday that seems to center around the eating of meat can also be taxing emotionally.

I know not everyone has the funds to do so but one bright spot in my past few Thanksgivings has been sponsoring a turkey! Many animal sanctuaries offer the option to sponsor or symbolically adopt a variety of animals throughout the year. Turkeys are a popular Thanksgiving choice, but if you want to buck the system and adopt a pig, I can’t blame you. Pigs are precious.

Farm Sanctuary offers turkey adoptions for $30 leading up to Thanksgiving, and you even get to pick which beautiful bird you’re supporting. If you’re wondering, this year I’ve got my eye on Martha. There’s something about her. She looks like my kind of lady. If you have kids, sponsoring an animal would be a fun activity to share with them and a fantastic way to celebrate the holiday together.

If you don’t have the money to sponsor an animal this year, that’s okay! It’s still fun to check out the pictures and blog posts from Farm Sanctuary or your local animal sanctuary and maybe plan a future visit. Happy Turkeys and other animals who will live out their lives in a safe and caring environment is definitely something to be thankful for!




1 Comment on A Vegan Thanksgiving Survival Guide

  1. Great article!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.