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Vegan Guide To Thanksgiving: Recipes, Relatives And Reality

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Thanksgiving is a magical time when most Americans come together with family to gorge themselves to the point of a full-blown food-coma. Oh, and give thanks, be grateful, and that stuff too. Given that food is such a cornerstone of our social interactions and traditions, holidays—and Thanksgiving in particular—can be very intimidating for new and existing vegans.

And aside from the logistics of what to eat and how to deal with your loved ones, the ethical issues surrounding this "day of thanks" are quite troubling: from the very first Thanksgiving's foundation upon the slaughter of an indigenous people to the annual tradition revolving around the mass slaughter of turkeys.

How is a vegan to handle a holiday so loaded with (potential) landmines? Just leave it to this guide to help you navigate Thanksgiving like a pro—from "surviving" your non-vegan family to dropping "fun fact" historical truth bombs at the table to even educating effectively about the ethics of exploitation. Now that's something to be thankful for! 🐥︎tweet this🐥


Go Back To The Beginning: The Very First Thanksgiving

Before we dig into what to eat for Thanksgiving, let's take a look at where (and how) this all started. Impress your family with your historical prowess while secretly busting out an educational activism sneak-attack with the true history of this twisted holiday in The Truth About Thanksgiving:

Now I’m not here to spoil your holiday or invalidate your family traditions.  I simply want to take a look at both the origins of Thanksgiving and the current practices involved with its observance. Most of us Americans grow up with the romantic recitation of the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and "Indians" coming together to feast.

But this holiday has a human cost at its foundation—for all its warm and fuzzy feelings, Thanksgiving is essentially the celebration of genocide with genocide.

↪︎ Find more Thanksgiving truth on the full post here.


What To Eat Now? Recipe Roundup to the Rescue!

Now that you know how this whole Thanksgiving thing started, you may not feel so celebratory. But who's to say you don't start your own tradition altogether? Luckily, going vegan doesn't mean giving up your favorite holiday-tied tastes.

Given how un-gifted I am when it comes to the kitchen, I teamed up with some meal-mastering vegan YouTubers to bring you the “how to” of an epically ethical Thanksgiving dinner.


Below is the full recipe playlist. Click the Click this icon to see hte full playlist and navigate between videos icon to navigate between videos

↪︎ Grab the recipes and get all the tasty details here.


How to Help Friends & Family "Make the Connection"

If you're anything like me, one of the hardest parts of this holiday is the pain of knowing what the turkeys we break, breed, confine and kill experience. That awareness can make it incredibly challenging to be around non-vegan friends and family, much less try to talk to them about the issue.

This Draw My Life video offers a way to introduce loved ones to what turkeys experience—with all of the weight of their suffering, but without a single graphic image. Consisting entirely of marker-board-drawings and a poetic voice-over, this video follows the abbreviated five-month lifespan of a single turkey. As she shares her story, we see it all through her eyes:

↪︎ Find the written poem-transcript and resources for learning more about what turkeys experience here.


Share Truth Through Trivia: Presidential Turkey Pardons

Nothing fits a family gathering quit like sharing anecdotal trivia about bizarre governmental traditions! Impress your family with your know-how about the strange history of turkey pardons (and lay down some turkey truth while you're at it!)

Every year, the President of the United States pardons two turkeys from being slaughtered for Thanksgiving. But what most people don’t realize about this supposedly lighthearted tradition is that the majority of pardoned turkeys die within a year of their pardon:

↪︎ Read more and find additional links and resources here.


Remember the Individuals & Share Their Truth

The most powerfully effective way to make the connection between the body on our plate and the being they once were is to look them directly in the eye. I streamed this footage live to YouTube from a turkey slaughterhouse near me here in Iowa just before Thanksgiving. Even this small slaughterhouse alone kills over 20,000 turkeys a day.


Below is the full recipe playlist. Click the Click this icon to see hte full playlist and navigate between videos icon to navigate between videos

I stayed with them for hours. In the Iowa cold. They were terrified. Covered in feces and sores. Wheezing from respiratory infections and the weight of their overgrown bodies. Some already dying.

Within hours of this footage, they had all been killed. Dragged through an electrified water tank before having their throats slit open. All for families to gather over their corpses and "give thanks."

But this is nothing to be thankful for.

↪︎ Read more and find additional links and resources here.


Stay Vegan During the Holiday With This Survival Guide!

Now that we've covered the hows and whys of a vegan Thanksgiving, and the disturbing origins of the holiday itself, I'll leave you with something perhaps even more disturbing: your family!

Holidays can be a challenging time regardless of your dietary inclination. When you’re vegan in a family of non-vegans and/or surrounded by non-vegan friends, things get even less merry. But fear not because today I’m going to share my top tips for staying vegan during the holidays:

While you always have the option of not eating with your family and friends for the holidays, if you want to be with loved ones who still eat…well, loved ones, hopefully these tips can help. 🐥tweet this🐥

↪︎ Find more resources on social situations, non-vegan family interaction, and holiday recipes here.


I hope this holiday guide has helped you get grateful for your "vegan vision," while finding tools for handling the challenges that come with such awareness. While going vegan can be daunting when thinking of holidays and social gatherings, it also opens up opportunities for creativity and educating others.

I’d love to hear what you thought of this guide! Did you know the history of Thanksgiving? If you’re vegan, what (if anything) do you do for Thanksgiving? If you’re not vegan, does the worry of how to handle such holidays stop you from making the switch? Let me know in the comments!


Please share this guide around to help other vegans and vegans-to-be! (See the handy share links below!)

— Emily Moran Barwick

Bite Size Vegan content is and will always remain free for all. It's only with the support of viewers like you that I can continue creating vital vegan education. If you feel moved to support, every lil' nugget counts!

All donations go to Bite Size Vegan, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

Turkey icon by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY
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  1. Paula on June 28, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Hi Emily, appreciate you very much. Have you done anything where you address the question of Native Americans or any indigenous people who are particularly resentful of veganism being pushed on them? I got this response on facebook — it’s not the first time I’ve seen this type of reaction: “You enjoy your judgemental vegan journey on a real note. I honestly thought you were a vibe higher person then that. I do eat meat i enjoy the taste of meat i also know how my body reacts when i am on a strictly vegan diet. I don’t drink milk or eat milk products but i will eat chicken and eggs. It is a completely personal choice in what you choose to put in your body but unfortunately i see a lot of “Well im vegan now so i am so much better then you” type of mind set. This is truly sad. I need the protein from meat my body doesn’t process veggies that well even though i wish it would i love greens and beans of that sort. But i also love deer meat and know that i am doing a service to the local environment by helping control over population. Or would you rather they let the deers number become so massive they just shoot and waste the animal? I come from a native American family and well my ancestors hunted and killed with the respect of what the world provides to us and how the spirits provided to us. I see it no differently. But i will tell you this where i was accepting of your choice of being vegan you are judgemental and hostile of my personal choice….. Which say a lot of your character. Good luck on your journey my dear may everything turn out the way you wish it to be and realise you can never throw the first stone with uncleaned hands. Pushing your new found ideals of other is only going to make them shut you out and your voice fall on deaf ears.”

    I don’t know, should us vegans respect this particular culture’s “right” to kill and eat animals? Thanks in advance.

  2. view on September 28, 2019 at 11:50 am

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