rē•spin Your Thanksgiving Menu to Be More Sustainable

Flexitarian eating is the new kind of holiday flex…

By: Jessica Ourisman
rē•spin Your Thanksgiving Menu to Be More Sustainable

One thing we have learned with time is that the real “flex” is living more sustainably, embracing wellness for self, for others, for animals, and for the planet. After dabbling in the plant-forward “flexitarian” diet, vegan-leanings have become more popular than ever. But in making these planet-friendly shifts, the holidays — times of tradition and gathering — put new habits to the test… and what about those at the dinner table that are not so keen on making changes? Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to cut back on those foods that contribute to factory farming and animal suffering. Even without going fully vegan, simply by adapting your side dishes and desserts, you are practicing harm-reduction… But in time you might choose to pass up the turkey altogether. 

Michelle Cehn, the founder of World of Vegan, knows firsthand that the holidays are especially difficult for new plant-based eaters — as well as for their friends and family. When she was just eight years old, she decided (to the surprise of her parents) to stop eating her animal friends. This heart-led life choice at such a young age went on to become her life passion, and part of her decades-long journey to becoming a leader in the world of vegan living. The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, which she co-wrote with Tony Okamoto, is one of the many ways she impacts the lives of plant-based newcomers and seasoned vegans alike. Below, she shares some insights on eating vegan during the holiday season — and shares some of her favorite Thanksgiving recipes (that are good enough for the meat-eaters at the table).

Eating Plant-Based During the Holidays

“The holidays are notoriously the most difficult time for new vegans. I see it as an initiation period that we all go through,” Cehn tells rē•spin. “How committed are you to this plant-based diet thing? You’ll find out when you sit down at the Thanksgiving table for the first time, unable to eat 90% of the fragrant food, steaming and sizzling in front of you.” She goes on to describe some of what to expect — from meat-eating family members trying to tempt you, to asking you (about a million times) whether you’re getting enough protein in your new diet. But she is adamant that all it takes is a bit of preparation to pull off the holidays seamlessly.

“Eating plant-based is no sacrifice if you invite the infinite foods available from the plant kingdom into your kitchen. Sharing meals and food with friends and family can remain central to your life when you learn how to cook in a way that will win the hearts and palates of even the most skeptical meat-lovers in your life,” she says. Take, for instance, her uncle, who discovered a roasted squash recipe that they now look forward to all year long. In her family, they’ve adapted recipes, adopted new traditions, and found new dishes to enjoy, in order to make their holiday celebration plant-based. “It’s been a slow but beautiful journey of transformation at our dinner table,” she says.

What is a Friendly Vegan? 

Before we dive into some of her best-loved recipes, it’s important to understand Cehn’s philosophy surrounding the food we nourish ourselves with. “Food is so core to life — it’s a necessary daily event around which we gather, connect, bond with our families, build friendships, share stories, learn, and nourish and fuel our bodies,” she says. “Food traditionally brings people together and breaks down barriers, but when you eat differently from those around you, it can sometimes do the opposite. I work to help people who choose to eat in alignment with their values to feel the same level of joy and connection through food that they did before — if not more.”

She goes on to explain that this is why she and co-author Okamoto wrote their cookbook in the first place — to ensure that the central role that the breaking of (dairy-free) bread would not be diminished, especially during the holidays, of which food is a focal point. First things first, she wants you to understand what it means to be a friendly vegan. “To be a friendly vegan is to live in alignment with your own values while also radiating friendliness, compassion, and approachability,” she says. “Whether you’re a longtime herbivore or a self-proclaimed carnivore — or just curious about trying some plant-based meals here and there — you’re welcome at our table.”

This attitude of inclusivity is absolutely one that we can get behind… and all it takes is a single interaction with Cehn to realize that she truly embodies the spirit of friendliness and compassion to all. Unlike the stigma associated with angry or judgmental vegans of years past, her dietary inclinations and wellness values never come at the cost of alienating others. In fact, she points out empathically that your changing diet is not just a struggle for you, but also for the friends and family around you. “Changing traditions often come with some growing pains,” she says. “I still remember the first time my family took turkey off the menu at Thanksgiving. I’d been advocating for this for years, but the simple act of taking turkey off the menu led some family friends who had been coming to our Thanksgiving dinner for years to find other plans.” Hence the inspiration behind her career of sharing vegan recipes that are good enough for all, while making the plant-based transition easier for others. 

Here are some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes from The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, and be sure to check out the World of Vegan community’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes, too.

Mashed Potatoes

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds russet potatoes (4-5 large potatoes), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 medium cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup unsweetened, plain, plant-based milk (Note: We recommend Three Trees Almond Milk)
  • ¼ cup vegan butter (Note: We recommend Miyokos)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Method of Preparation:

  1. Place the potatoes and whole garlic cloves in a large pot and completely submerge them in cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then boil for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender.
  2. Drain the potatoes and garlic in a colander and return them to the pot. Add the plant-based milk, vegan butter, salt, and pepper.
  3. Mash the potatoes and garlic with a potato masher or a large and sturdy fork until they reach your desired consistency.

Stuffing

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce loaf of French bread
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or equivalent amount of vegetable bouillon water
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal
  • ½ cup vegan butter, plus additional for greasing the dish
  • 3 medium ribs celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored and finely diced
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

Method of Preparation:

  1. Cut the bread loaf into small, bite-sized cubes, spread the bread cubes across a large baking sheet, and leave them out overnight or for at least 12 hours. 
  2. The next day, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes to fully dry out the bread. Grease a 9X13 inch baking dish with vegan butter and transfer them to the prepared dish. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the broth and flaxseed meal. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  5. In a medium pan over medium-high heat, melt the vegan butter. Add the celery, onion, and apple, and sauté, mixing occasionally, for 5 minutes or until tender.
  6. Pour the sautéed veggie mixture and the vegetable broth mixture evenly over the bread in the baking dish, and sprinkle evenly with the parsley and poultry seasoning. Using your hands, mix to evenly coat.
  7. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. 

Pumpkin Chocolate Pie

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vegan semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin purée (without added spice)
  • 1 ½ cups silken (or “soft”) tofu, drained
  • 1 ½ tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 prepared vegan piecrust
  • Vegan whipped cream (optional)

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate chips for 30 seconds. Mix with a fork until smooth. If it remains lumpy, microwave for 20-second intervals, mixing in between.
  3. In a blender, combine the pumpkin purée, tofu, brown sugar, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Add the melted chocolate and blend on high until completely smooth.
  4. Pour the pie filling into the prepared pie crust and bake for 30 minutes. The filling will not be fully set yet — this is normal. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan.
  5. Transfer the cooled pie to the refrigerator and let it set overnight or for at least 8 hours. Top with vegan whipped cream, if using.

Pumpkin Spice Latte 

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk, sweetened
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon canned pure pumpkin purée, without added spices
  • 1 ½ tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, plus an optional dash for sprinkling
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup strong, freshly brewed coffee
  • Vegan whipped cream (optional)

Method of Preparation:

  1. In a small pot over medium heat, combine the soy milk, pumpkin purée, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt, and whisk vigorously. Turn the heat off as soon as the mixture starts to boil.
  2. In your favorite mug, combine the hot coffee and the milk mixture. Top with vegan whipped cream and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice.

Here are some recommended items for your Thanksgiving feast.

Our Place Perfect Pot Steam, $165

Our Place Everyday Chef’s Knife, $70

Brightland The Mini Whisk, $9

Art of Tea White Ceramic Mug, $32

Johnny Was Light Dreamer Printed Apron, $78

Bragg Nutritional Yeast, $6.99

Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Butter, $6.49

Bulletproof Original Medium Roast Coffee, $14.99

 

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