Growing up, my mom cooked meals with so much love you could taste it in every bite. And since food is at the center of nearly every holiday, my mom spared no expense creating mouth-watering dishes our family happily devoured. We ate ham at Easter, beef stew on Halloween, and a giant roast every Christmas.
Thanksgiving was no different. Every November, my mom would deck out our dining room table with a gorgeous spread of roasted turkey and all the fixings. It was delicious, comforting, and an experience we could all enjoy together.
See, traditions are the way we stay connected as a family. They are deeply rooted, lovingly celebrated, and rarely ever changed. So you can imagine my mom’s sheer terror back in 2008 when I told her I had stopped eating meat, dairy, and eggs — just one month shy of Thanksgiving! My mother racked her brain with worry, wondering how her then-24-year-old daughter could ever enjoy a holiday without eating the holiday meal?
I was a bit clumsy about it at first, but after that year, I slowly began to figure out what I could actually eat at our yearly Thanksgiving dinner. More and more holiday options emerged as I learned just how many awesome vegan alternatives were out there. I found delicious non-dairy milks and buttery spreads in nearly every grocery store to substitute in all of my cooking and baking. I also managed to try a ton of yummy faux-meat products that help me compassionately recreate my favorite childhood dishes. And, due to some hardworking vegan companies, I can now enjoy plant-based cheeses and ice creams that taste surprisingly similar to their dairy counterparts!
I’m almost a decade into living vegan and I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of the whole Thanksgiving thing. I’ve learned plenty of tricks for turning this staple meal into something incredible, despite the lack of meat. Side dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing require a few easy swaps to become plant-based. I’ve also discovered a ton of delicious meat-free alternatives to turkey. Even gravy is super easy to make meat-free! I’m also proud to report that I’ve figured out how to make a vegan pumpkin pie that’s so amazing I could honestly eat the entire thing in one sitting (but I won’t, I promise). In fact, the entire meal is so tasty, the meat-eaters in my family usually reach for seconds!
The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that holiday traditions can be joyfully shared in a family, no matter what kind of food is on the table. And for me, letting go of exactly how my Thanksgiving dishes need to look and taste has allowed me to reach a surprising level of deliciousness with my own meals.
I have to commend my parents and (now vegan!) siblings for helping instill within me the confidence to cook plant-based holiday food with ease. Even though they initially didn’t get why I had jumped ship from eating meat, they’ve definitely done their best to support me every step of the way.
That first year, my mom bravely allowed me to teach her a new way of cooking. Even though it was changing up years of holiday food traditions, she trusted that the new ways of celebrating would bring us closer together. And our relationship grew in leaps and bounds as a result.
This year is a first for my husband and me — we will be enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my stepdaughter’s mom. Already, I’m learning how to shake up my own holiday traditions! I plan to spend the entire morning whipping up a crazy awesome variety of plant-based dishes and I can’t wait to dig in when the big meal is here.
Happy Thanksgiving to every family who celebrates in their own unique way!