Gathering together for a holiday centered on a roast turkey can be a huge bummer for those who keep a meat-free existence. But with a little advance planning, no one has to go hungry — or feel like their food was an afterthought.
Here, 11 veteran vegans share how they make Thanksgiving their own:
Photo by Melissa Danis
“This Thanksgiving will be my 28-year vegan anniversary,” says Moby, the Grammy-nominated artist and restaurateur, who will open Little Pine in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood this month.
When he showed up to his grandmother’s house after changing his eating habits, his first Thanksgiving as a vegan turned out to be a bust.
“I assumed I would be able to eat all of the vegetable sides, but all of them had an animal product in them. So I think I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Moby recalls.
Nowadays, however, the musician has so many like-minded vegan friends, he ends up party-hopping to seven or eight houses in one night, gifting a bottle or two of sparkling apple cider at each stop along the way.
“A lot of my friends in L.A. and New York will put together these really over-the-top vegan Thanksgiving parties with meatless versions of all the traditional dishes,” he says. “The combination of foods is so magical, I’ve never understood why we only do it once a year.”
Photo courtesy of by CHLOE
For Chloe Coscarelli, chef and owner of by CHLOE, a chic, casual vegan restaurant in New York City, Thanksgiving is what ultimately made her family “lean into” not eating meat.
“When I went vegan, the rest of the family wasn’t at that time so my mom had to make me a separate plate for Thanksgiving,” recalls the chef. “Everyone was so intrigued by my little meal, and it was so delicious, it really made my family want to eat vegan.”
Now that she is a chef, Coscarelli looks forward to the holiday as a time to experiment.
“It’s the one time of year I have a very captive audience and I don’t like to stay too traditional at all,” she says. “I like to do a meatloaf made out of different types of grains, herbs, and spices. Sometimes I will use lentils and tempeh. And at my restaurant I’m serving a Thanksgiving burger. It’s served on a potato bun with sauteed kale, rosemary gravy, sage and mushroom stuffing, a lemon-caper seitan, and, of course, a homemade fresh cranberry sauce. Very simple, juicy, with lots of familiar flavors going on but fun and different.”
Photo courtesy of Erin McKenna
Erin McKenna, whose eponymous vegan bakery has locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and Orlando, never really liked traditional Thanksgiving dishes growing up and admits to eating a bowl of cereal instead on more than one occasion.
Now that she is older, however, she has incorporated a few vegan-ified classics into her own holiday spread.
“My favorite things to prepare for Thanksgiving are this really decadent and a little crisp stuffing, Sweet Potato Sage Rolls, and Vegetable Pot Pie—all from my book Bread and Butter!” says McKenna. “Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes, to me at least, and I think they are the most interesting part of the meal.”
But don’t expect to dig into pumpkin pie for dessert at the McKenna household. Instead? “Van Leeuwen’s Vegan Mint Chip Ice Cream,” says the baker. “Totally not traditional, but after a big meal I think nothing goes down as nicely as ice cream.”
Photo courtesy of Thug Kitchen
Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, of the wildly popular vegan blog Thug Kitchen, like to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations as chill as possible, which sometimes means not advertising to carnivore guests that their dishes are meat- and dairy-free.
“We did a little dinner a few years ago and just didn’t tell anyone that everything except for the turkey was vegan,” says Holloway. “I think as long it tastes good, people don’t give a shit.”
Davis concurs. “Now I like to do individual pot pies for people and no one is mad about a delicious, buttery crust,” she says. “We also like to do a thing called PJ Thanksgiving. You’re going to be eating a lot, so you might as well show up wearing your pajamas and not fancy clothing. It’s what we all want to be doing anyway.”
Photo: Getty Images
“Although my diet is different from when I was a kid, Thanksgiving plans really haven’t changed,” she says. “I take great pride in creating plant-based dishes so delicious that all my non-veg friends and family walk away feeling delighted and inspired.”
Some of her greatest hits among meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike are Pecan-Crusted Seitan, roasted root vegetables, and Millet Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy.
“You can have mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and cranberry sauce – all the things you are used to for comfort,” Silverstone enthuses. “Just explore and pick what sounds the most yum! Know you are doing something great for your body, animals, and the earth. It’s a win-win scenario and a wonderful way to say ‘thanks.’”
Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary
“Thanksgiving should really be about being grateful and celebrating community, bounty and food,” says activist, author, and co-founder of the Farm Sanctuary rescue organization Gene Baur, who likes to make sure all of his animal friends are well fed on Turkey Day.
“As a vegan, it was very difficult to celebrate a holiday that celebrates a dead animal in the center of the table,” Baur says. “So when we started Farm Sanctuary we began feeding animals and helping animals on that day with our turkey adoption project.”
Back at home, Baur most looks forward to digging into squash, potatoes, and a vegan stuffing he makes using tofu.
“It’s similar to a scramble, very tasty, and really dense with protein,” he says.
Photo courtesy of Kathy Hester
“Where I’m from in the South, even meat eaters eat veggie plates,” says Kathy Hester, author of The Easy Vegan Cookbook. “Though those dishes are far from vegan, I grew up loving a plate of veggies for a meal. For Thanksgiving, that might mean double baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon and vegan marshmallows, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, or green beans with almonds, and cauliflower with a vegan cheesy sauce!”
The dishes are the complete opposite of bland, she says.
“Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to feel deprived,” Hester continues. “Mashed potatoes without cream? Trust me, you won’t miss it if you add a little olive oil and blend cashews and water in your blender to make a plant-based ‘cream.’ They will be just as rich.”
Photo courtesy of Ella Magers
Sexy, Fit Vegan blogger Ella Magers likes to keep her Thanksgiving fuss free.
“I always try to do something new and different,” says Magers. “Wasabi Cauliflower Mash was my hit last year and it’s so easy to make. I make a really awesome chili and I do a chocolate chia mousse that is really simple but so delicious. My big thing is keeping it simple.”
Which means she is also not opposed to outsourcing for dessert.
“I like to splurge on a vegan pecan pie from Whole Foods or raw coconut date balls,” she says. “This way you have more time to relax with family and friends.”
Photo courtesy of Cara Brotman
Cookbook author Cara Brotman goes all out on Thanksgiving with a multi-course meal that spotlights some of her favorite vegetables.
“The menu on Thanksgiving at my house begins with butternut squash soup,” says the author of Love on a Plate. “[Next] un ‘Chicken’ Kiev which is made from a lovely stuffing of corn and sunflower seeds along with spices and is rolled up in marinated coconut meat then dehydrated for a few hours. I also will have ‘dark’ meat which consists of oyster mushrooms marinated in garlic and oil then dehydrated a couple hours. When it’s finished I pile six or so pieces on top of each other and when your fork hits it, it’s like the tenderest most un-meat-like thing you’ve ever had.”
For a grand finale, Brotman pulls out her no-bake best.
“It wouldn’t be complete without a raw ‘pumpkin’ pie which is actually made from butternut squash, not pumpkin, only because I feel the squash has more flavor,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Moon Juice
Meanwhile, Moon Juice cafe and apothecary owner Amanda Chantal Bacon’s holiday has a decidedly West Coast vibe to it.
“California has such an abundance of fruits and veggies that it’s a true feast,” Bacon says. “The day includes nut cheeses, raw seed crisps, and juices for the ‘wine and cheese’ bit. Other highlights are persimmon and pomegranate arugula salad, roasted kabocha squash, braised leeks, and a raw cranberry sauce sweetened with honey.”
Two of her favorite sides are also the easiest to make.
“I love garbanzo beans stewed with olive oil and warming spices like cinnamon, fennel, cumin, Arbol chile, and ginger,” she adds. “And roasted sweet potatoes whipped with garlic, pink salt, and coconut oil is divine.”