Thanksgiving Day is not always easy for me as a vegan. When I adopted a plant-based diet 16 years ago, it changed how I viewed Thanksgiving and what this holiday means to me. I feel incredibly sad about the lives of animals lost for this one meal, especially when there are many delicious, plant-based, cruelty-free alternatives.
I still look forward to the shared meal with family. But now my scrumptious dishes are made from the plant kingdom. And I try to view this day as a celebration of values such as compassion, appreciation, and gratitude.
Here are some ideas for enjoying a compassionate Thanksgiving:
- Rather than eating a turkey, “adopt” one. Farm Sanctuary (which has shelters in New York State and California) offers the option of symbolically adopting a rescued turkey by making a small donation. The funds provide food and care for turkeys living at the shelter. Farm Sanctuary sends a certificate that includes a picture and the story of your adopted turkey.
- Visit an animal sanctuary. Some sanctuaries offer special events near Thanksgiving, such as Farm Sanctuary’s annual Celebration for the Turkeys. At this wonderful event, visitors enjoy quality time with the turkeys and other animal residents, along with staff, speakers, and other visitors who are committed to creating a just, compassionate, and sustainable food system.
- Enjoy an abundant feast from the plant kingdom. Try out vegan versions of your traditional favorites. This year, rather than cooking, my husband and I decided to order the Thanksgiving meal offered by a local vegan restaurant, In past years, we created delicious dishes such as roasted garlic mashed potatoes; shitake mushroom gravy; sweet potato biscuits; cranberry-orange relish; maple-glazed Brussels sprouts; and chocolate “cream” pie.
- Discover new recipes. If you aren’t sure where to get started with creating your own vegan feast, check out these recipes:
- Consider a meat alternative. Gardein, Tofurky, and Field Roast offer plant-based holiday roasts you can enjoy. These options can provide a satisfying centerpiece to the meal. Or create a home-cooked main dish for your centerpiece, such as stuffed butternut squash.
- Connect with your reasons for eating plant-based. Some of us go plant-based for health, others for ethical or environmental reasons. I was influenced by all of these considerations, but have stayed committed due to compassion for all sentient beings. Approximately 46 million turkeys are bred and killed each year in the US for Thanksgiving alone. Commercially raised turkeys are bred to be much heavier than wild turkeys, live in confined conditions, and are slaughtered at only 12 to 19 weeks old. Taking in these realities (and discovering the abundance of delicious, healthy plant-based options) made me realize that I no longer wanted or needed to participate in this.
- Consider what Thanksgiving means to you. Take time to explore your deeper meaning for the Thanksgiving holiday. Many of us follow old traditions out of habit, rather than making a conscious decision about how we want to enjoy our holidays. This year may be a perfect year to reevaluate your holidays, what they mean to you, and how you want to celebrate them. Maybe you will want to keep some old traditions, modify others, and create new ones.
- Take care of yourself emotionally. For many vegans, holidays and social events that center around animal-based foods can be difficult. You may feel like you don’t fit in, now that you eat differently than the majority of people around you. And you may feel sadness, despair, or anger about animal suffering. Decide the best way for you to navigate the holidays, whether that means not attending a holiday gathering, or deciding to attend and bringing lots of great vegan food you can share. Check out my Vegan Communication Resource Guide for books, videos, and articles to help you with coping and communication strategies.
- Practice gratitude. Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate all the blessings in your life, and to share that appreciation with others. Even in the midst of what is a challenging time for so many, we all have reasons for gratitude. There are many health and psychological benefits of making a daily practice of acknowledging our blessings.
- Make kind and compassionate purchases. One way of appreciating our blessings is to pass them on to others. In addition to donating time or money to causes that we care about, we can extend compassion to sentient beings and to workers by researching fair trade, cruelty-free, sustainable, and health-promoting choices for our food and gift purchases. Our decision to extend compassion to others is a win-win situation, because ultimately it brings more health, fulfillment, and joy back to us.
WISHING YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES A HEALTHY, JOYFUL, AND COMPASSIONATE THANKSGIVING!