It’s almost time for the holiday that induces the most ambivalence in people. For some, Thanksgiving is a long-awaited day of feast and festivities, of family reunions and well-fed bellies. For others, it’s a dreaded day of hard work, overindulgence, and family frustrations. Whether you love Thanksgiving or not, being vegetarian or vegan adds extra challenges. How will you deal with sitting at the table when there is a turkey on it? What if you are the only one not eating it? Will there be anything for you to eat? If you are hosting, will your guests be alright with not having turkey on the day they probably refer to as “turkey day?” Many people have set expectations of what should be served at a Thanksgiving dinner and don’t like to see long-held traditions change. The good news is there is no reason you can’t not only survive the day but actually enjoy it.

Here are some tips for having a successful plant-based Thanksgiving:

1. Talk to Your Host

If you are attending dinner at someone else’s house, you need to talk to your host about your wants and needs. It wouldn’t be fair to just show up and expect there to be vegan food for you to eat. Even if your host knows you don’t eat meat, that doesn’t mean he or she knows what is and isn’t vegan. Let your host know which ingredients are off-limits to you and offer suggestions on how to make a recipe vegan-friendly. For instance, could they use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth in the stuffing or gravy? Suggest using almond milk in the mashed potatoes instead of dairy milk and coconut oil instead of butter. Share a few of your favorite recipes. If the host doesn’t want to make entirely vegan dishes, perhaps he or she would be willing to make a smaller portion for you or put aside some of a dish before the non-vegan ingredients get into it. If so, offer to get the ingredients you need for the host so she doesn’t have to search for them in the grocery store. Remember how hard it was to shop for vegan ingredients in the beginning of your vegan journey? Don’t expect your host to do that on top of all his other grocery shopping.  If your host is a relative or close friend, offer to show up early and help make the vegan dishes; the extra hands would probably be appreciated. As long as it doesn’t seem like you are just presenting a list of demands to your host, he will probably be quite willing to accommodate some or all of your needs.

2. Bring a Few Dishes

If your host isn’t up for changing the menu, offer to bring a few dishes of your own. Most people don’t show up to someone’s home empty-handed anyway and who wouldn’t appreciate a few extra dishes to go around the table? Ask your host what types of dishes she would like you to bring. You don’t have to cook a huge entrée for everyone but whatever you do bring, make sure you bring enough for other people to try. Guests may ask to try our food whether it’s because they are curious about plant-based food or interested in a healthier choice. It’s a golden opportunity to show our meat-eating friends that we aren’t being deprived one bit. On the other hand, you don’t have to tell anyone your dishes are vegan. Let people taste them with no expectations and remark how delicious everything is. Then you can let them know which dishes are plant-based and watch their looks of surprise.

There can never be enough side dishes at Thanksgiving. Bring some Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples and Bourbon or a bowl of Orange-Infused Cranberry Sauce. Show everyone how amazing Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Maple-Mustard Glaze are or bring a big, beautiful salad like this Apple, Cranberry, Arugula and Fennel Salad with an Apple Honee Vinaigrette.

Another dish no one ever complains about having too much of is dessert. Thanksgiving is a day we expect to indulge and everyone loves getting a doggy bag to take home with them. Either bring a store-bought dessert or make something yourself. No one in their right mind would pass up this Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, Apple Pumpkin Pie Tart, Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Maple Mousse Pie, or this No-Bake Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Pie. For more recipes and ideas, see 7 Delicious Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving without the Turkey. 

3. BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverages)

When it comes to the question of “is it vegan?” many people don’t even think about the drinks. Not all beer and wine is vegan, even if it’s organic. The safest route is to bring a few bottles of a brand you know and love. Besides the booze, you might want to bring your own soft drinks if you want to avoid all the syrups, sodium, and artificial sweeteners. Amp up the festivities by sharing a glass of  Vegan Egg Nog or an Almond Sugar Cookie Hot Toddy. Check out Nogs, Toddys and Other Holiday Drinks…Vegan Style for more ideas.

4. Remember it’s a Dinner, Not a Protest

You were invited to Thanksgiving dinner because your friends and family love you and want to enjoy your company. The dinner table is not the place to be judgmental or preachy. Don’t talk about the horrors of factory farming or remark about the dead corpse on the table. Don’t try to make the other guests feel guilty or uncomfortable. Unless you were raised vegan from birth, you were once in the same seat as they are in now. You would not have wanted to be attacked during dinner. Sure, if someone asks you about why you are vegan, tell them! Let them know simply your reasons for choosing to be cruelty-free. If they want to know more, they will ask you and after dinner, you can explain your position to them over some Pear and Apple Cobbler.  Remember, you can’t change anyone’s mind if they avoid you or tune you out (or never invite you again). People are more likely to listen to what you have to say when you express it with kindness and respect.

5. Don’t Take the Bait

There may always be that one person who has to make jokes or poke fun at the people not eating the turkey. Those jokes are just an outward manifestation of their own discomfort. Whether we are not eating animal products for the animals, the environment or our health, we are setting an example of taking direct action to make improvements and that casts a light on those who are not. If we don’t eat turkey because we are compassionate, it is like an unspoken accusation that those who do eat turkey are not compassionate people. The best way to handle this is to not take the bait, don’t get offended by the jokes or get into arguments. Understand that this is that person’s issue, not yours. Ignore the comments or just smile and move on to talk with someone else. If someone insists on arguing, simply tell them that you would love to discuss this further at another time but right now, you just want to enjoy being with your family and friends. Only an idiot would keep arguing after that.

6. Host Your Own Dinner

In the end, the most we can do when we attend someone else’s dinner is try to make the best of it. That’s why it’s a great idea to host your own Thanksgiving dinner; then you can set the rules. It can be a completely vegan event and a prime opportunity to demonstrate all the plant-based food options out there. You can decide to furnish all the food and drinks yourself or you can set up a list of acceptable dishes and brands that others may contribute. You might even share your favorite vegan Thanksgiving recipes with your guests and get everyone doing some vegan cooking. If you don’t want to cook, consider having dinner at a vegan restaurant or having it catered.

If your guest list includes non-veg people, don’t turn the entire dinner into a vegan symposium. The point of the dinner is to get together with friends and family and enjoy each other’s company. The food is just one part of it. Don’t make it the entire focus. A good host wants her guests to feel comfortable and have a good time. Eat, drink and be merry.

7. The Most Important Thing

To me, the most important thing to remember is to show confidence, pride and happiness in your decision to be veg. If you don’t show pride, then no one will respect your choice. If you apologize for being compassionate or healthy, people will agree with you that you have something to apologize for. If you make being vegan seem difficult or inconvenient, then that is what people will think it is. If you are afraid to admit to people that you are vegan, then you are sending the message that it’s something to be ashamed of. People who are not vegan don’t know what it is like to be vegan. The only information they have is what vegans give to them. It is important to show people that being vegan is something to be proud of, that it’s easy and rewarding, that you eat lots of incredibly delicious and satisfying food and that you are dedicated and firm in your convictions. In my experience, once someone learns how deep my convictions are, they show respect for my beliefs. Once they taste my food, the only thing they have left to say is to ask for the recipe.

Whether you are a guest at someone else’s home or hosting your own dinner party, try to relax and not stress out too much. This is just one meal out of the year and you are not going to be on trial. Remember the purpose of the day which is to give thanks for all your blessings and spend time with your loved ones. The rest is all vegan gravy.

Lead Image Source: Rhea Parsons