Thanksgiving as a Vegan: A Short, Personal History

Thanksgiving 1983

I am 15 and a new vegetarian. Veganism won’t enter my awareness until for more than ten years and “Meat is Murder” hadn’t even been released yet. Damn it! It was kind of lonely then. One of my mom’s magazines informed me that Lindsay Wagner, a.k.a., The Bionic Woman, was a vegetarian, too, and I read and re-read that celebrity profile to extract as much as I could from it but there wasn’t much offered. Still, it was something. A vegetarian in the 1980s was kind of like an alien to be stared at from a distance and generally avoided, though, especially so at when plopped down at a Thanksgiving table. Basically, we were annoying, holiday-ruining aliens.

Sample quote: “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m fine. [Mumbles.] Please stop asking. And please looking at me.”

Sample meal: A pickle-and-olive sandwich with mustard. I’m fine, though. I’m fine. Stop looking at me.

Thanksgiving 1990

So, yeah, it’s 1990 and I’m still vegetarian. Things haven’t changed much from Thanksgiving of 1983. Same basic food, except I’ve discovered the Moosewood Cookbook and how to cook a little, which expands my options considerably but basically turns my lactose malabsorbing-stomach into a dysfunctional dairy churn of sorts. Seven years after my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, my mother still wonders aloud when I am going to stop being on my “crazy diet” and I tiptoe around guilt-trips from at least three pressure points at the table (uncle, grandparent, friend of the family) like I am navigating tripwire. In 1990, vegetarians at Thanksgiving exist to suck all the joy out of eating a turkey carcass and I was no different.

Sample quote: “How many times do I need to tell you that I won’t eat ‘even a little piece’ of turkey? Every year I tell you no! Seriously. God! Leave me alone! Can Thanksgiving break be over yet?”

Sample meal: Some kind of Moosewood casserole recipe with five cups of cheese, three cups of butter and two cups each of sour cream and milk. Oh, and a cup of yogurt in case it didn’t have enough dairy in it.

Thanksgiving 1996

I am a new vegan in 1996, baby, so I am telling allllllllll the people about everrrrrrrrrrything that was done to the dead animals on the table and I have my vegan boyfriend with me for back up. YOU KNOW IT. I am also sponsoring a turkey at Farm Sanctuary this year and proudly displaying his picture and my adoption certificate at the table. Not uncoincidentally, this is the last Thanksgiving we have with my parents. The parting is mutual.

Sample quote: Long sections I’d pretty much memorized from Diet for a New America as light dinner conversation for the occasion.

Sample meal: This newfangled thing called a Tofurky! And Tofutti ice cream with pumpkin pie spice sprinkled on top. Livin’ large!

Thanksgiving 2002

I’ve settled into my veganism a bit and my vegan ex-boyfriend is now my vegan husband and I we have a baby in tow. YAY me! Also to be filed under YAY me: we started having vegan Thanksgiving meals and we are a lot happier. I did try to make something with an unmeltable, wax-like substance called “vegan cheese” that I had to scrap and so that was disappointing but otherwise, everything was looking way better. We celebrate the season with an inflatable turkey and pro-vegan sign in our front yard.

Sample quote: “Oh, wow, where did you get that amazing bag? Is it Matt and Nat? Did you order it from MooShoes? Can you believe we don’t have to order out of catalogs anymore?”

Sample meal: Carbs stuffed with carbs and served with a side of carbs.

Thanksgiving 2009

Thirteen years vegan, can you even believe it? By 2009, we have melting dairy-free cheese and gelatin-free marshmallows and Facebook groups where vegans can tear one another to shreds over and even glossy magazines dedicated to us! We can, like, go to a Target and buy things! We can be normal people if we want! This year is really the best vegan Thanksgiving yet. How could it possibly get better? We’ve reached Peak Vegan!

Sample quote: “Did you hear Trisha started dating that horrible raw foodist dude and they started eating honey and drinking raw goat milk — I know, can you believe it? — and now she’s not even vegan anymore. I think she eats meat now, too. Like, I almost got arrested with her at an anti-fur demo in ’98. Remember that? Whatever. I blocked her on Facebook. Buh-bye.”

Sample meal: A variety of showstoppers from the November issue of VegNews.

Thanksgiving 2014

I’m getting to be something of an ol’ pro at this vegan Thanksgiving thing and it occurs to me that our son has zero personal memories of the horrid day I’ve regaled him with of turkey carcasses and people pulling apart wishbones and evil people trying to hide meat in the supposed safe food. To him, the week leading up to Thanksgiving is when he eats lunch at home so he can avoid the stench in his school cafeteria. Other than that, Thanksgiving means a vegan feast with friends and also learning the truth about Christopher Columbus.

Sample quote: “This year, I’d like to give thanks for Miyoko’s cheeses.”

Sample meal: All the classic dishes, veganized.

Thanksgiving 2018

All the main dishes have been crisped in the Air Fryer and an Instant Pot is letting off some steam in the kitchen. Aquafaba is in all the desserts. A gorgeous array of cashew cheeses, crackers and fruit is on the table. We can’t confuse increased options with thinking that things are better for the animals, though. Maybe it’s time that we recommited ourselves to activism and outreach?

Sample quote: “I don’t know. Quinoa just isn’t doing it for me anymore.”

Sample meal: Allllllllllll the things!