The First (Vegan Family) Thanksgiving


Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. You have food, family, friends—plus it’s Fall! An explosion of colorful foliage and chilly morning walks and warm coats. Nothing beats this time of year, and more than previous years, this will be the beginning of something new and special for our family.

When someone first becomes a vegan, no doubt one of the most daunting occasions is Thanksgiving. Our culture has enshrined meat at this time of year more than any other—hell, our President has to “pardon” the life of a turkey via an official ceremony—and so it has become the center in this traditional festival of food. As such, a vegan’s first Thanksgiving can seem to land them a wash in a sea of animal products with no hope in sight. What am I going to eat? Wait, can I make stuffing without animal products? What about mashed potatoes? Green bean casserole? Oh my gosh, pies?! And what about a central dish: if there is no meat what will I do? These fears are totally understandable and probably every vegan has had them as one point or another, but I don’t have to tell you that there are endless possibilities for eating a delicious (and gut stuffing) Thanksgiving dinner.

Eventually, the new vegan figures this out and is able to craft a delicious meal (possibly even one that wows the omnivores), but then a new wrinkle is added—another “new,” another “first”—one that many of you might be facing (or will face soon): the first Thanksgiving with a new baby.

All of us can easily feel overwhelmed by the new experience of having to cook a vegan meal (and believe me the logistics of putting together an all-day eatery with all the dishes coming out at the same time is still beyond me); and many of you might not cherish the prospect of sitting down to a meal with your close or extended family. However, as parents you should see Thanksgiving (your first or even your tenth) as an opportunity to do anything, to taste anything, to try anything, and to share anything that matters to you with your family. Make your own traditions or adapt the ones you grew up with. Tolstoy said that “Man must not check reason by tradition, but contrariwise, must check tradition by reason.” We are not bound to what our parents did nor are we chained to the traditions that society foists on us. Yes, you can still hangout and watch football, or run a Thanksgiving 5k, or play an all-day cutthroat round of board games, but do not forget that it is freeing to know that you can always start fresh and begin to share new observances with your child.

I am enthusiastic for this upcoming Thanksgiving with my family because it begins our journey of forging brand-new traditions and rituals. My wife and I have, in a real sense, carte blanche to do what we want. We have the chance to look at our family and ask: How do we want to live? What should we eat? What do we want to teach our child? What do we want her to carry into the future? We don’t have answers to all these questions, but some will surely involve teaching her things like kindness, generosity, respect, and caring for all animals; the abilities to be self-sufficient, to be resourceful in all areas of life, and to think for herself; and, finally, (since it is Thanksgiving) to share in the connection and sense of accomplishment that comes from cooking your own food.

What matters is that you come to this journey with an open mind and an open heart and a willingness to share and connect with those around you. I understand that the holidays might not be the most comforting and relaxing time for many, but if you begin from the premise that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks then you can only do your best in creating the traditions that are best for you and your family. That is why I am excited.

The great thing about Thanksgiving is that you can pretty much do everything that omnivores do, so traditions can carry over quite easily. That said, the only major “tradition” is that we enjoy spending the day cooking loads of food (sometimes starting the day before to get desserts out of the way). A new tradition that we want to introduce once Hattie is old enough is finding a project to help people in our local community. Thanksgiving concerns giving thanks for our comforts, but it is also concerns sharing and helping others. We will try to find some kind of service project to give back to our community, whether it be serving a meal, helping build a house, or providing books for children.

Finally, one tradition that my wife and I started a number of years ago is adopting a turkey. When October rolls around we participate in the “Adopt a Turkey” program from Farm Sanctuary. We have always enjoyed choosing a turkey (or two) to sponsor and helping to give him or her a better life. This year we sponsored Jackie; she was Hattie’s choice. As Hattie grows up I hope we can not only include her in this but also visit Farm Sanctuary and show her that she has helped to provide a better life for them.

Posted in Family Life, Holidays & Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Jonathan is currently enjoying the joyful exhaustion of fatherhood. He teaches at Burlington College developing courses and lecturing in the humanities. In his spare time he enjoys reading, listening to music, trying to watch a T.V. show or two, and trail running and hiking. Jonathan lives with his wife, Katie, and daughter, Hattie, in Jeffersonville, Vermont.