It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving - a favorite of mine, a day when overeating is actually celebrated. For some reason, there always seems to be an increase in interest in vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based diets around the holiday season. Maybe it’s because of worried relatives scrambling to create inclusive meat-free holiday menus for “picky eaters” and dieters who believe cutting meat out of their diets will keep them trim during the holidays. Or, could it have something to do with the fact that on a single day we become aware of how much meat we as a nation consume - 46 million turkeys to be exact. Cue, vegan Thanksgiving.
So, whatever your reasons for needing meat and animal free holiday solutions, welcome! The recipes I have chosen to share are all vegan, so by default they are also vegetarian, pescatarian, and plant-based friendly.
In this thanksgiving guide
- vegan vs vegetarian
- different types of vegetarians
- what is a plant-based diet
- benefits of going meatless
- cooking tips
- main course
- side dishes
BEING 90 PERCENT VEGAN
I have been a vegetarian for over 10 years that dabbles in veganism. For me, because I travel so much, eggs and cheeses are an integral part of getting enough protein. There are so many vegan health benefits and vegan environmental benefits that I want to be a part of, but sometimes you need a bit of flexibility and to do what is best for your circumstances.
Becoming 100% vegan, 100% of the time is just not possible. Ok, it is technically possible. I did try a few times. In some places I would end up in China no one spoke English, and restaurants were consistently offering pork as a veg option. I remember after explaining no meat in the little Cantonese I can speak, the response would be - ok got it, no animals, but pork is ok, right? ...Um, no. At times like this when I was vegan, I usually ended up with a plate of white rice and ketchup or hot sauce. Not a healthy way to live when you are on the road for a month at a time. By allowing eggs and cheese into my diet again, I was able to add a fried egg on top of my rice - protein!
I will never be that girl that sits in the corner scarfing protein bars sans enjoying a nice meal. I believe in some level of balance. And, Thanksgiving is not something I am willing to miss out on. And, neither should you. Through the years I have tried every meat alternative, and vegan recipe out there. For the holidays I don’t want a healthy plant-based salad, I want to feel like I'm overindulging like everything else, I want something decadent. This list of my favorite vegan Thanksgiving recipes might be vegan, but I definitely wouldn't call them healthy.
VEGAN VS VEGETARIAN VS PLANT-BASED DIETS?
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is a way of eating, and technically living, that aims to not participate in any forms of animal exploitation or cruelty. Veganism goes beyond dietary restrictions and includes lifestyle choices like clothing - not wearing leather products.
Vegans do not eat any animals or products that come from animals, like meat, eggs, and dairy. Some vegans even choose not to eat honey, which comes from bees. Individuals choose to become vegans for all different types of reasons. Veganism benefits range from ethical concerns about the treatment and killing of animals, to the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry, to health improvement.
There are also different kinds of vegans, one of the more mainstream types of vegans are those that eat only raw foods. Raw vegan diets eat only raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and plant foods. If there is cooking involved temperatures must be below 118°F (48°C).
What is a vegetarian diet?
Although vegetarian diets are gaining popularity, especially in large urban cities, The Vegetarian Times published a Vegetarianism in America study which found that 3.2 percent of adults in the United States (7.3 million people,) follow a vegetarian diet. And, approximately only 0.5 percent, which is a whopping 1 million people are strict vegans.
By the strictest definition of the word, vegetarians do not consume any flesh, including fish.
There are a few different sub-categories of vegetarian diets that allow for more flexibility. They are -
This type of vegetarian does not eat any animal flesh but does eat eggs and dairy products.
This type of eating style follows the same rules as a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, but they allow themselves to eat fish.
A lacto-vegetarian does not eat animal flesh, including fish, and does not eat eggs. They do however consume dairy products.
This eating style does not eat animal flesh, including fish, and does not eat dairy. But, they do consume eggs.
Like vegans people's reasons for becoming a vegetarian range from ethical, environment, to health.
What is a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets, also called whole-foods plant-based diet aka WFPB, are where things sometimes get a little hazy when it comes to definitions. This is because WFPB is not a set diet plan with restrictions, but more of a lifestyle.
People who eat a plant-based diet also eat animal products, including meat - so, you can see where there is a lot of room for interpretation here.
Here are the basic principles that plant-based eaters follow
- Focuses on whole and minimally processed foods
- Limits animal products
- Diet focuses on plants like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts
- The diet avoids refined foods, and foods with added sugars, white flour, or processed oils
- There is a special attention to food quality in plant-based eating that favor locally sourced and organic options
For these reasons of flexibility in eating meat and animal products, this diet is often scrutinized by the vegan and vegetarian community and is often considered more of a conscious eating plan for those who literally want to have their cake (non-vegan) and eat it too.
If you decide to go veg you are in good company, celebrities that appear to have found the fountain of youth, by following no-meat diets include Beyonce, Natalie Portman, Gisele Bündchen, Alicia Silverstone, Liam Hemsworth, Moby, and even Waka Flocka Flame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_RoKIMyP80
Health benefits of going veg
Did you know that Oreos are vegan? So are most potato chips. Just because you go vegan, it doesn’t mean you are automatically healthy. There is even a special term for unhealthy vegans called junk food vegans. But, if you eat a balanced veg based diet, research shows it can play a significant role in improving overall health like;
Improved blood pressure
Lower risk of diabetes/heart disease
Decreased risk of cancer
Research shows that vegetarians have a much lower risk of developing different types of cancer when comparing their cancer risk to meat eaters. Strangely, the same study found a higher incidence of colon cancer among vegetarians.
The benefits of going veg are attributed to vegetarian diets which tend to be lower in fat, especially saturated fats, and are higher in fiber, than animal-based foods.
environmental impacts of going veg
I would be remiss not to acknowledge the new wave of “eco-bloggers” that swear eating meat is actually eco-friendly, and in some cases, the political thing to do - to them I say, any excuse will do. We get it, you like eating meat, don’t want to give it up, and have face to save in the eco-community. But, let’s not deny the global impacts of replacing factory farmed meat with vegetables.
The proof is in the science. Plant-based diets have been shown to contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, water wastage, deforestation, and climate change - all of which are side effects of large-scale meat production.
A One Green Planet article argues that meat production generally requires more resources and cause higher greenhouse emissions than plant-based options.
Nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide are considered the top three greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.
Animal agriculture contributes to 65% of the total amount of nitrous oxide emissions, 35–40% of global methane emissions, and 9% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Animal agriculture also uses a ton of water. Between 550 and 5,200 gallons of water is necessary to produce 1 pound of beef. To put that into perspective, meat production needs 43 times more water than, pound for pound, the same amount of cereal grain.
And, animal agriculture also leads to deforestation. Often, dense forest areas need to be converted into more grassy areas better suited for grazing or growing animal feed crops. The destruction of forests to make room for animal farming has been linked to some species becoming endangered and even extinct.
Some premade ingredients have sneaky animal products in them, that we don’t always realize unless we read the ingredient label. Here are a few to watch out for.
The shiny top on bread comes from an egg wash. And, many doughs contain honey, egg yolks, or even protein from poultry feathers as ingredients.
Condiments, dressings, sauces
Anchovies in Worcestershire sauce, eggs in mayo, dairy in ranch dressing, and cheese in store-bought pesto are just a few. Make sure to read labels to ensure they are veg-friendly.
Did you know the process to make refined white sugar involves animal bone char—ick?
breaded fried foods are often coated in an eggy batter. And, watch out for deep fryers that use animal fat instead of oil.
Gummy candies, Jell-O, marshmallows
All of these get their jiggly texture from gelatin which comes from boiled bones. But, there are many vegan versions available on the market so, be on the lookout for those options.
Bright red “natural” color comes from the extract of crushed and boiled beetles.
Roasted salted peanuts
Gelatin sometimes helps the salt stick to the peanuts.
Imported beers and wines are sometimes made with a fish gelatin. You are generally safe with clear hard liquors.
Omega-3, vitamin D-fortified juices might get those added nutrients from ingredients like fish oil and sheep’s wool-derived lanolin.
The Main Course - Vegan Thanksgiving Turkey
Ok, let’s start with the main course. Turkey. I am sure you have all heard of Tofurky. Back when I was still a meat eater, I remember I first learned about Tofurkey on Gilmore Girls. I never really liked meat, but I didn’t know that there were other protein options out there.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get at least 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of body mass—that's about 43 grams for a 120-pound woman. Some of the best and most popular sources of vegan protein include natural soy, lentils, beans, quinoa, and seitan.
For years, Tofurky's roast with stuffing and gravy was a Thanksgiving staple for my family. Here is my Tofurkey review - Does it taste like turkey? No. Does it taste good? Yes! Even meat-eaters enjoy a slice of Tofurky. It has a nice flavor, not chemically or artificial, and a nice texture, meaning it’s not rubbery like other grocery store options. As an added bonus it comes with veg safe stuffing inside; more on stuffing later.
When you go veg, you start to realize that you are consuming A LOT of soy.
Soy consumption in the U.S. since the early 1990s has been continuing to increase. Soy food sales are climbing from $300 million in 1992 to over $4 billion in 2008. But, this shift in eating style could be attributed to increases in certain types of cancer.
Soy foods have a lot of isoflavones. Isoflavones are like weak estrogen-like compounds found in plants. Estrogen can promote the development, growth, and spread of breast cancers, doctors worry that eating a lot of soy foods which contain isoflavones might worsen the prognosis of women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Research results have been mixed, a small study done by researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medical College suggests that for some women, adding a medium amount of soy to their diets turns on genes that can cause cancer to grow.
Personally I rather not risk it, and I don't really love the taste of soy. Especially since most of the soy grown and used in the United States is GMO and heavily processed.
That is why I like Quorn products, they are soy free. Some of them, like the holiday roast, contain eggs, but quite a few are vegan. And, what I love about them is they offer innovative and delicious recipes to try with their product line.
Quorn Meatless Turkey Roast (contains eggs)
Vegan Thanksgiving Stuffing
Stuffing is tricky. Most store-bought stuffings contain chicken broth in them, and many of the vegan options I have tried are super dry. That is why I tend to like the stuffing in the Tofurky roast.
I love this recipe from the Minimalist Baker who substitutes her family recipe with vegan ingredients. I also love that it has lentils in it. Lentils are one of my favorite foods, and you get an extra kick of natural protein.
If you are looking for a more traditional carb only receipt try this one from The Edgy Veg. Look how hearty this looks.
Lastly here is a vegan and gluten-free stuffing option by The Pretty Bee - cornbread stuffing
Dips - take a break from the hummus and try one of these creamy options
I first discovered spinach artichoke dip in college and was hooked after that. Every time I would try to go vegan, this is one of the dishes I would miss most. This recipe by Yup It’s Vegan satisfies my cravings. I mean I can’t even look at this photo without drooling
India is my second home, and if a meal doesn’t have curry in it, it just feels like it’s incomplete. For something a little more exotic than traditional Ranch. Try this recipe.
I hate, hate, hate chopped liver. But, I love this. I mean it sounds strange - eggs, walnuts, peas, and onions - but it’s one of those things you need to try to understand that, it just works.
Vegan Thanksgiving Side Dishes
For me, the hardest part about eating vegan is giving up cheese. There a million delicious options on the market, but none of them replace actual cheese. Enter nutritional yeast! I put it on everything. Again, it isn’t cheese, but it gives foods that salty and savory taste I find myself craving.
For me, the more garlic the better, and this recipe by Loving It Vegan does not skimp on the garlic.
Stuffed Mushrooms, that don't taste like a rubber tire
Veggies, raise your hands - how many times have you been given a rubbery portobello mushroom to eat? Probably too many to count. That is why I love this stuffed mushroom recipe. You still get all the umami deliciousness of a mushroom - but it’s so much more elevated and yummy.
What Vegan Thanksgiving table is not complete, without a green bean casserole? Here is another recipe from the Minimalist Baker (they are on fire when it comes to vegan recipes), that won’t leave the veggies out from super American, seasonal dishes like green bean casserole with frizzled onions on top.
Vegan Thanksgiving Desserts
And the best part of any meal, dessert.
Because what is Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Try this recipe from Yummy Mummy Kitchen.
Another seasonal favorite. This recipe is brought to you by Chocolate Covered Katie.