Are you a vegan celebrating Thanksgiving this year with some meat-eaters? Here are my top 13 tips for how to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan.
Ever wondered how to survive Thanksgiving this year? For most people, this is a bizarre question.
However, if you’ve become vegan, Thanksgiving can take on a whole different meaning, especially if you’ve made the change since the previous Thanksgiving.
As a vegan at Thanksgiving, it can often feel like you carry this burden to justify your veganism and simultaneously inconvenience others. It can be downright unpleasant in some cases, particularly for people who may have inconsiderate family and friends.
It’s okay, though! I’m going to help you get through Thanksgiving this year with this handy “How to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan” guide. After first breaking down four key approaches/attitudes, this article will look at thirteen “survival” tips to keep in mind so that you can survive Thanksgiving as a vegan.
Four Key Approaches/Attitudes
There are a few main ideas that tie together the survival tips below! They also come in handy for being vegan during the holidays more generally:
- Be prepared – Do what you need to do so that you will enjoy yourself. Eat beforehand if that’s what it will take. Depending on your wants/needs, take the necessary steps ahead of time so that you won’t feel disappointed or get cranky (hanger is real!).
- Stay positive – If you end up letting yourself get disappointed or upset, you’ll likely be in a bad mood. Focus on the positive and remember that the holidays are about deepening our connection with the people closest to us. Try to lock yourself into an upbeat, positive state of mind—no matter how obnoxious or inconsiderate others may choose to be.
- Don’t preach – People rarely if ever respond well to preaching. It’s especially bad timing during the holidays, as people want to just relax and have a good time. Some people are particularly sensitive during this time as well because they connect the food they eat to their culture/traditions. Just mentioning veganism may put some people on the defensive, feeling like you’re demonizing their lifestyle. Do your best to rein in any vegan talk, even if you know deep down that you have the moral/ethical high ground.
- The food is secondary – Focusing on the food so much that you alienate people really isn’t worth it, right? If the vegan options (or lack thereof) leave you disappointed, do your best to accept it and move on. Focus on having a positive reaction to everything and keeping your cool. This will allow you to remember that the most important thing is spending time with the most important people in your life.
Unfortunately, being vegan can feel like a bit of a catch-22. Talk about veganism or make food requests? People will often complain and consider you an inconvenience. Don’t talk about veganism or make food requests? People will ask you questions about it anyway and consider you an inconvenience. In any case, Thanksgiving is probably a good time to refrain from talking about it.
That said, it never hurts to be prepared with some easily digestible facts, like “It takes 660 gallons to produce one hamburger.” If you think a little ahead of time about short and sweet comebacks to the omnivore classics like “Where do you get your protein (or B12)?” you’ll feel less flustered on the spot if the topic of veganism comes up.
How to Survive Thanksgiving as a Vegan
I don’t love framing this as “survival” because it sounds so intense. But hey, I think a little hyperbole is warranted here, as some people can have a really tough time with being vegan (heck, even being vegetarian or pescatarian) due to certain friends/relatives.
Here are helpful tips to keep in mind so that you not only survive Thanksgiving as a vegan but thrive at Thanksgiving as a vegan!
Lower your Expectations
The best way to not be disappointed is to have reasonable expectations.
While I’ve told my family numerous times what I can and cannot eat, there is always someone who might still ask if I can eat fish. And that’s okay. It would be unreasonable of me to expect everyone to understand veganism as I do.
But even for people who really should know better, try your best to have patience and don’t come in with the expectation that anyone else will understand what is vegan friendly and what is not.
I really can’t stress this enough—the more you prepare, the better off you will be in general!
Depending on your needs, this can be a lot of different things, but here’s a shortlist to keep in mind:
- Reach out to the host ahead of time
- Prepare your own dish(es)
- Know which dishes seem vegan but often aren’t
- Prepare simple answers to questions commonly asked of vegans
- Research take-out / delivery options (see below)
Contact your Host Beforehand
Reaching out to your Thanksgiving host beforehand is the best way to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings come the fourth Thursday of November. You can politely ask them about the possibility of tweaking recipes to be vegan-friendly (e.g., by substituting vegan butter/margarine, plant milk, etc.). You can also ask if there’s anything in particular that they would like for you to bring.
Taking this simple step will go a long way in ensuring that your Thanksgiving is more enjoyable. You’ll also avoid the potential awkwardness of bringing something that they’ve already gotten specifically for you.
Bring your own Dessert
Apart from obvious items such as turkey or ham, dessert is the most likely item to not be vegan due to the common ingredients of milk, butter, and eggs (and even sugar…). So it’s not a bad idea to come prepared with a tasty vegan dessert! This way you won’t find yourself feeling left out come dessert time.
Research Take-Out / Delivery Options
The simplest and easiest option may be to pick up something for yourself. Look into vegan options that might work for the particular holiday and the type of gathering you’re attending. Bonus points if the place has clearly marked vegan options or is close to the place of gathering.
BYOE (bring your own everything)
If there’s something vegan that you want, you probably can’t count on it magically being there. The best way to ensure that you enjoy the food and drinks that you want is to bring them yourself. There’s no shame in bringing stuff just for yourself—if anything, the host(s) should be pleased that you made sure you had enough!
Be sure to follow the previous tip of contacting your host beforehand to avoid any doubling up of dishes or other possible misunderstandings. The last thing you want to do is upset your host!
Hold Back on the Preaching
Thanksgiving is really just not the time to get on the soapbox and rant about veganism. As much as I always feel compelled to do this, sometimes it’s necessary to just suppress the urge. So I recommend refraining from talking about veganism unless it comes up naturally in the conversation or someone else asks you about it.
And if it does get to veganism, try to speak simply and authentically about what veganism has meant to you personally. Again, focus on the positive—maybe you’ve been able to cut down on your grocery bill, maybe you’ve discovered new foods, maybe you’ve lost weight, maybe you have more energy, etc.
You can also recommend easily accessible vegan documentaries on Netflix!
Keep Your Cool
I get it. I know from experience that this can be incredibly difficult. But losing your cool is definitely not the answer. If you take the high road, you’ll always come away having made a better impression. Unfortunately, many people already have negative stereotypes of vegans due to previous encounters, popular stereotypes, and misconceptions.
If you keep your cool, you can feel proud about taking the high road and giving vegans a good name. However, for better or worse, people will judge all vegans based on their interaction with you, so try to be a model of patience.
Get your Share of the Vegan Options
Imagine spending the time and effort to make or even just buy a vegan option, only to see all of it get eaten up. It would be tragic if the mushroom gravy you lovingly prepared disappeared before you had the chance to serve yourself. Who really wants to eat a dry roast, vegan or otherwise?
To avoid this problem, bring plenty of options and/or make sure you get some by being toward the start of the line. You can also just give some to the hosts to set aside for you.
Focus on Everything Else
Yes, everyone cares a lot about food during the holidays. But as a vegan, it’s often best to think of food as secondary. Ultimately, if you focus on the connections you’re establishing and nourishing with your friends and family, you won’t worry so much about being nourished yourself.
Plus, if you have a pleasurable time with everyone, even if you were disappointed in the food options, you will come away having made a much better impression than if you dwell on the fact that you could only eat asparagus.
Know your Non-Vegan Culprits
Whether it’s the holidays or not, it’s super helpful to know what ingredients tend to “spoil” certain dishes that otherwise seem like they should be vegan. Or at least easily made vegan.
- Butter – Ask the hosts to use margarine or vegan butter if possible. Or, volunteer to bring the mashed potatoes and make them yourself! You also have to watch out for butter in/on rolls, on carrots and other vegetables, and in desserts.
- Milk/cream – Again, milk/cream is typically in mashed potatoes. People also use it in some green bean casserole recipes. You can also expect it in many desserts.
- Gelatin – Unfortunately, cranberry sauce often contains gelatin. Look for a kind made with pectin or make your own.
- Cheese – You might find cheese in the green bean casserole, on other vegetables, or even on top of biscuits.
- Eggs – Most homemade or store-bought cakes and other desserts use eggs. It’s probably best if you supply your own dessert if you want to ensure that you get to indulge like everyone else.
- Stuffing – Stuffing is often baked inside the turkey. If you’re vegan, that probably grosses you out and doesn’t exactly make it very vegan friendly. You can ask the host to bake it in a casserole dish instead or simply abstain.
- Gravy – Gravy is typically made from the juices produced by the cooking of the meat. If you’re keen on having gravy, you’ll likely need to bring your own or buy some ahead of time.
Check out these easy vegan food swaps as they might come in handy for you or your host!
Have a Hosting Strategy
If you’re taking on the admirable but daunting task of hosting yourself, you’ll need to be especially prepared. The following tips should help you cover your bases.
- 100% vegan? – You’ll need to decide to what extent you’re okay with preparing and serving non-vegan dishes in your home. You should consult your guests to let them know and also share what you would prefer others to prepare/bring.
- Get a plant-based roast – If you don’t want to prepare or serve a turkey or ham, you can always get a plant-based roast. Check out some of your options here. The only thing, however, is that some of these may not be all that satisfactory to non-vegans. You may want to poll your guests ahead of time—if someone prefers to bring a ham or turkey, then they can do that and people can serve themselves what they prefer.
- Embrace your inner chef – Sure, it may be difficult, but getting in touch with your inner chef can really pay dividends! Whether or not it gets a rousing reception, it will show that you made the time/effort, if nothing else. Plus, sharing how delicious vegan food can be is one of the best ways to convince people to try more vegan food in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Hosting can be an unforgivable duty! Ask for help from your closest family/friends to help get you through it and make for a better experience for everyone. Don’t be afraid of asking people to bring dishes and make it a more potluck-style affair. This will ease your burden and ensure that people who don’t want to eat vegan won’t leave disappointed.
Eat Before You Go
Some people may have a complicated relationship with food and with their relatives mocking their choice to be vegan. In this very unfortunate situation, it may simply be best for you to eat beforehand. If nothing else, your disappointment with the lack of options for you isn’t likely to turn into a bad case of “hanger” because you’ve got an empty stomach.
But remember, it’s 2021. So you should be able to avoid this situation by simply talking to the host beforehand and bringing whatever you would like to have.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful, and it will help you have a pleasant and non-confrontational Thanksgiving!
If nothing else, remember the four key points for how to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan:
- Be prepared
- Stay positive
- Don’t preach
- The food is secondary
Ultimately, Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks. And hey, there’s a lot to be thankful about. After all, it’s sooo much easier to be a vegan in 2021 than in 2011!
Do you have any other bits of advice for how to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan? Any anecdotes you’d like to share from your past Thanksgiving experiences as a vegan? If so, please share!
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And, if you are looking for yummy vegan recipes to add to your routine, check out my recipe archive here! I have recently added many recipes that will help you survive Thanksgiving as a vegan even more!