Being a Vegatarian on Turkey Day

If you were a wild turkey, you’d likely live in a forest in Europe or North America. You’d stay with your mother for at least a year, learning to fly and feed yourself, before venturing out on your own. You’d develop affectionate and lasting bonds with other turkeys, each one having a unique voice that identifies them. If you were a male turkey, you’d puff your chest and spread you purple, red, green, copper, bronze, and gold feathers to attract a mate. You’d be able to fly up to 55 mph and learn the precise details of an area over 1,000 acres in size. You’d live happily for up to 10 years.

If you were a domestic turkey, your beak and toes would be painfully cut off after you hatched. Born from artificial insemination, you’d be selectively bred to grow rapidly and excessively, surpassing and tripling the weight of a full grown, wild male in just four months. You’d be too large to fly or even walk. At most, you’d have four square feet of living space for your entire life. After three to five months, you’d be one of the 46 million turkeys slaughtered for Thanksgiving. 


For these reasons, and others, this is my third Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. Every year, friends and family ask, “What are you going to eat?” While turkey seems like such a central part of Thanksgiving dinner, the majority of a traditional meal is vegetarian. Since giving up meat is a choice I’ve made, I don’t miss the turkey. However, there are tons of delicious plant-based alternatives to complete your meal.

On a holiday about giving thanks, I think it’s important to prioritize compassion. I urge you to be thankful not just for the people in your lives, but for all living beings. After all, the original Thanksgiving in 1621 was a celebration of a plentiful harvest an opportunity for the pilgrims to give thanks for what they had. (The original Thanksgiving feast was a three-day event which certainly makes me l feel better about how much I’ll eat today.)


So, what am I eating this Thanksgiving? Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes and multi-colored carrots, mashed white potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, kale salad, and of course, pumpkin pie. If that doesn’t sound like enough vegetarian food, I’m also making my own stuffing with veggie broth (cooked in a pan instead of inside the turkey my family is eating). Last, but not least, I’m having tofurkey, a turkey alternative made of tofu, instead of the traditional turkey and homemade mushroom gravy (find the delicious recipe here).

If you’re interested in having a more plant-based Thanksgiving, or life in general, there are tons of easy alternatives to help modify any recipe. In place of milk or cream, try using a dairy alternative like almond, soy, or oat milk. Switching out butter for a vegan alternative is an easy change in any recipe; my favorite is Earth Balance, but there are lots of dairy-free brands to choose from. Cheese is one thing I’m really struggling to eliminate from the diet, the alternatives are delicious. Daiya is a relatively well-known brand of vegan cheese; you can get vegan cheese shredded, sliced, and sometimes even in a whole wheel. Nutritional yeast is also a great alternative for grated parmesan cheese — I use it all the time. Switching from chicken or beef broth to veggie broth is an easy switch, as well that doesn’t change the flavor of your recipe. Lastly, make sure to cut the marshmallows if you’re trying to be cruelty free — they contain gelatin which is made from animal by-products from the meat industry. Fortunately, Dandies is a brand of vegan marshmallows and Trader Joe’s has their own brand as well. 


With all of the plant-based alternatives available, there’s no reason to make a holiday about giving thanks so cruel. Leave the turkeys free to fly and prioritize compassion this holiday season.