How to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving: Everything You Need to Know
Feast away with everything you need for a perfect vegan Thanksgiving dinner.
Senior Editor | New York City, NY | Contactable via: kat@livekindly.com

Kat has been writing about veganism, environment, and sustainability for five years. Their interests include over-analyzing the various socioeconomic forms of oppression, how that overlaps with veganism, and how the media in all of its forms reflects the current culture.

On the last Thursday in November, millions will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. The national holiday is centuries-old, dating back to celebrating the bounty of the harvest season. Today, Thanksgiving has become a social holiday — a time to giving thanks with our friends and family or for giving back to the community. For millions, turkey will be at the center of the table. But many are swapping the antiquated tradition for a vegan Thanksgiving.

An estimated 46 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Turkeys

It’s estimated that 45 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving each year, according to data from the National Turkey Federation. This equates to around 6 billion pounds of turkey meat production for one holiday.

Birds slaughtered for Thanksgiving represent 18 percent of the 244.5 million birds raised for food in the U.S. annually, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The numbers have remained relatively consistent over the past five years, according to both the National Turkey Federation and USDA.

Turkeys bred for Thanksgiving rarely set foot outdoors, according to Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s first shelter for rescued farm animals. One building can house as many as 10,000 birds, each having no more than four square feet of room to move. Ammonia — which comes from the birds’ droppings, is present in the air. This can irritate the birds’ respiratory tracts and eyes, increasing their susceptibility to bacterial respiratory infections like E. coli. According to poultry industry website Poultry World, acceptable levels of ammonia in poultry houses range between 25 ppm and Health and 50 ppm.

Because birds are bred to have large breasts, they cannot mate naturally. The Merck Veterinary Manual walks through the process of artificial insemination, which involves using the thumb and forefinger to “milk” the tom turkey, then injecting the hen’s oviduct with semen using a syringe. According to Business Insider, hens are inseminated two days after laying eggs. This process can be repeated up to 25 times and after that, she’s typically sent to slaughter. She might also be “force-molted” to prepare her body for another round of artificial insemination. This involves keeping her in a dark room with no food or water for 72 hours.

The eggs are sent to an incubator. The chicks hatch within a month and are subjected to painful procedures. Debeaking and de-toeing involve cutting off a newborn chick’s beak and toes with a shear, a hot blade, or an electrical current without anesthetic.

Turkeys reach “full weight” at four or five months of age and are packed into crowded shipping trucks, often victim to rough handling that leaves them with fractured limbs. Due to stress, many birds die in transport.

Domestic turkeys share many similarities with animals we don’t raise for food. They love to snuggle up to and get petted by their human friends and they form deep friendships with both humans and animals. Just like cat and dogs, they each have their own unique personalities. Cornelius, a turkey who lives with celebrity pig, Esther the Wonder Pig and her dads, is a big cuddler who gets jealous when someone else gets attention.

 

How to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving

How do you take a holiday centered around turkey, ham, and dairy-heavy sides and make it vegan? Start planning early. Think about what’s normally on a Thanksgiving table and then find recipes for vegan versions. Food blogs or YouTube channels are a great source — just type “vegan Thanksgiving recipes” and hit the search button. Or, you could pick up a cookbook, like chef Isa Chandra’s “The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook.”

Being the Only Vegan at a Traditional Thanksgiving

If you know you’re going to be the only vegan (aspiring or otherwise) at Thanksgiving, fear not. RSVP as soon as you can and offer to bring sides to lighten their workload. If you feel comfortable with it, make suggestions at how certain dishes like mashed potatoes can easily be made vegan. And if you live close by, try dropping by with simple substitutes like dairy-free butter, milk, or maybe even a vegan holiday cookbook.

Sometimes, relatives might be curious about why there’s no traditional turkey on your plate. The way to approach this will vary from person to person — after all, we all have different relationships with our families. You could answer briefly and honestly (“For ethical reasons,” “For the environment,” or “For my health.”). Or, if you feel that it’ll cause strife, you could just as well say that you don’t think the holiday is the time to get into it, but would be happy to talk about it on another day. Offering relatives some of your food is a great way to show them how delicious vegan Thanksgiving food is.

Vegan Thanksgiving Roasts

It’s completely valid to have a vegan Thanksgiving without a centerpiece. In fact, a lot of people will say that the holiday is really all about the sides (oh, and friends and family). But, there are options for those looking for a more traditional dinner.

Tofurky Roasts have been a meat-free Thanksgiving staple since 1997. | I l Love Vegan

1. Tofurky

The iconic Tofurky roast has been the centerpiece of many Thanksgiving tables since its debut in 1997. The ham-shaped roast features a spring seitan-and-tofu outer filled with a festive wild rice stuffing. Last November the long-standing brand reached a milestone: it would sell its 5 millionth roast that holiday season.

You can follow the instructions on the box, or turn to the internet for tips and tricks on cooking a Tofurky Roast. Nancy Olah, the author of the blog Fool a Carnivore, bastes hers with vegan broth as it cooks in a clay pot with carrots and potatoes. The bloggers behind I Love Vegan arrange their Tofurky in a roasting pan with vegetables and a savory sauce, then cover it in tinfoil before it goes in the oven.

Gardein offers two vegan holiday roasts. | Gardein

2. Gardein

Vegan meat brands Gardein has two options for Thanksgiving. The Holiday Roast, made from soy and wheat protein and filled with a cranberry-wild rice stuffing, serves up to eight people. The Savory Stuffed Turk’y, which comes in a bag like Gardein’s other meat-free options, is good if you’re having a smaller celebration. Both come with vegan gravy.

Other brands have since put their own vegan Thanksgiving roasts, including Field Roast, Gardein, Trader Joe’s, and newcomer Atlas Monroe, which won an award for its meatless fried chicken at a fried chicken festival. For those looking for something a little more “authentic,” California-based brand Vegetarian Plus offers a whole vegan turkey, drumsticks, gravy, and all. Gardein also makes vegan turkey cutlets.

Field Roast offers three vegan Thanksgiving roasts. | Field Roast

3. Field Roast

Field Roast offers three types of vegan holiday roasts. Its signature Celebration Roast is a two-pound roast rubbed with sage, garlic, and lemon juice and a traditional bread stuffing made with onion, cranberry, and butternut squash. It also comes with an earthy porcini mushroom gravy. There’s also the half Celebration Roast for one or two people, filled with stuffing made from Field Roast grain meat, granny smith apples, butternut squash, and mushrooms. Field Roast also makes the Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute, a hazelnut-infused grain meat roast wrapped in flaky puff pastry and stuffed with field roast sausage, candied ginger, cranberries, and ginger.

Trader Joe’s Turkey-less Roast is a budget-friendly holiday entrée.

4. Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s has a cult following with good reason. The popular grocery store chain celebrated in online groups (Vegan Trader Joe’s has more than 26,000 members on Facebook) for its budget-friendly options. For the past few years, Trader Joe’s Breaded Turkey-less Stuffed Roast With Gravy has been part of the grocery store’s holiday assortment. It features a wild rice stuffing core surrounded by soy protein and grain meat coated with a crisp herb breading.

You can also make your own vegan stuffed roast. | Sweet Simple Vegan

5. Homemade Vegan Holiday Roast

While there are plenty of convenient options for vegan roasts, you can also try your hand at making your own. This meat-free stuffed roast is made from a blend of seitan and white beans and features a kabocha, mushroom, and everything bagel-spiced stuffing.

Get the recipe here.

Forget turduckens, the vegducken is where it’s at. | hot for food

6. The Vegducken

Move over, turducken. Vegan blogger and cookbook author Lauren Toyota’s “franken-veg” entrée features a whole, roasted butternut squash wrapped around zucchini, eggplant, and a classic holiday stuffing.

Get the recipe here.

Who could resist something covered in mashed potatoes? | Pickled Plum

7. Vegan Thanksgiving Shepherd’s Pie

A meatless shepherd’s pie filled with lentils, mushrooms, vegetables, and herbs covered with a layer of dairy-free mashed potatoes that brown up in the oven. Need we say more?

Get the recipe here.

A gluten-free vegan meatloaf with holiday herbs and spices. | Vegan Richa

8. Vegan Thanksgiving Meatloaf

This festive vegan meatloaf is made from chickpeas, white beans, plenty of herbs and spices, and a barbecue sauce glaze. This pairs perfectly with cranberry sauce and all the classic Thanksgiving sides.

Get the recipe here.

Vegan Sides

What should you bring for sides? Here are some ideas for what vegan dishes to bring to Thanksgiving.

Is it Thanksgiving without the stuffing? | The Viet Vegan

1. Vegan Stuffing

This vegan stuffing features bread, leeks, and Honeycrisp apples cooked in the oven with an herb-infused broth. According to its creator Lisa Le, you can even kick it up a notch with vegan sausage or fresh herbs.

Get the recipe here.

The biscuits to your gravy. | Brand New Vegan

2. Vegan Buttermilk Biscuits

Of course, you need biscuits to mop up all that gravy. With no eggs, milk, or butter, these cheesy, fluffy, dairy-free biscuits belong on your Thanksgiving table.

Get the recipe here.

Creamy, buttery vegan mashed potatoes. | Making Thyme for Health

3. Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Nobody will believe these creamy, buttery mashed potatoes are actually dairy-free.

Get the recipe here.

Vegan green bean casserole topped with crispy, buttery, oniony breadcrumbs. | A Virtual Vegan

4. Vegan Green Bean Casserole

This vegan green bean casserole is a classic that will have everyone coming back for seconds.

Get the recipe here.

Yes please, vegan mac and cheese. | Sweet Potato Soul

5. Vegan Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a classic that nobody should miss out on. This dairy-free version features a butternut squash-based cheese sauce, topped with Brussels sprouts.

Get the recipe here.

Toasty marshmallows, crunchy pecans, and fluffy sweet potato. | Connoisseurus Veg

6. Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

Topped with gooey vegan marshmallows and crunchy pecans, this sweet potato casserole is the next best thing to dessert — but make sure you save room for pumpkin pie.

Get the recipe here.

Pass the vegan gravy, please.

Making the Perfect Gravy

Traditional gravy is made from the fat drippings that fall into the pan while the turkey roasts in the oven, thickened with flour or corn starch. The science (or art) of making vegan gravy is more or less the same. Plant-based recipe developer Jolinda Hackett breaks down the art of making vegan gravy on the Spruce Eats.

To make vegan gravy, you’ll need dairy-free butter, flour, garlic salt, cornstarch, soy sauce, and broth (Hackett lists vegetable, but there’s also vegan chicken or beef broth and mushroom broth). You can also add nutritional yeast, a popular ingredient for making dairy-free cheese sauce, and actual mushrooms, which would boost the gravy’s umami flavor.

Hackett notes that just like with traditional gravy, timing is everything. Stay close to the stove-top, and stir constantly to prevent lumps. Listen to your intuition and add more liquid as you see fit, keeping in mind that your vegan gravy will thicken as it cools. Get the recipe here.

Several brands offer pre-made vegan gravy, including Simply Organic, Imagine Foods, Pacific Organic, BOU, Road’s End Organic, and Williams Sonoma.

What About Dessert?

Remember to bring pie! These vegan Thanksgiving desserts will have everyone looking to grab a slice before dinner.

Always save room for vegan pumpkin pie. | Jessica in the Kitchen

1. Vegan Pumpkin Pie

You’ll want to accompany this vegan pumpkin pie with a big dollop of dairy-free whipped cream.

Get the recipe here.

End Thanksgiving on a sweet note. | Namely Marley

2. Vegan Pecan Pie

Crunchy, sweet, and infused with a dash of rum, this vegan pecan pie is the perfect dessert.

Get the recipe here.

Apple pie, elevated. | Adrian Mueller

3. Vegan Apple Pie

It’s still apple pie season. This vegan, gluten-free apple pie from restaurateur Matthew Kenney is an autumn staple. It features spiced nuts and apples in a rice flour-based pastry dough, served with a scoop of homemade dairy-free ice cream.

Get the recipe here.


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 How to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving: Everything You Need to Know
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How to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving: Everything You Need to Know
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Feast away with a perfect vegan Thanksgiving dinner. From DIYs, recipe hacks and tricks, to the best plant-based roasts around. Here's everything you need to know.
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