Each family has their eccentricities, and mine has many. After moving away from home, I have grown to accept the things that I will never be fond of (my father’s socks with sandals, my mother’s not-so-subtle attempts to marry me off, the hours it takes for my brother to tie his shoes) and appreciate many of the things that make us unique – the pedestrian 13 mile-runs that we used to complete on Sunday mornings when I was a teen, the fact that Europe was my version of Disney World as a kid, my father’s coffee snobbery, my mother’s liking for letter-writing, my brother’s unbreakable commitment to watch a full-length film every Wednesday night, and, of course, our family’s vegan Thanksgiving tradition.
Our holiday ritual has been years in the making, and it continues to evolve as each of us bring a unique and developing perspective to the table. Growing up, I had a strong aversion to eating meat. All I could think of each time I sat down to the table was the animals that could have been living happily on a farm or in the wild had a human hand not intervened. I finally pulled the trigger and declared myself vegetarian on Thanksgiving when I was 9 years old. My mother, horrified at the notion that her growing daughter would not get the nutrients she needed, stubbornly debated my decision until I finally caved at the bribe for new jeans if I promised to eat a leftover turkey sandwich.
My efforts were foiled, but my cause was all but forgotten. 5 years later, I made a new friend who offered me hope. Not only had she been vegetarian for several years, but she had sisters who had been so as well – and none of them had grown leaves for feet or attained the skin pigment of a carrot. This was all the convincing I needed to reframe my argument to my mother. At this rebellious stage in my life, I finally felt that I no longer needed her permission to redefine my friends, my wardrobe, my after-school activities, my life plans, my morals, nor my diet. Yet her reluctant approval was an undeniable catalyst for my cause. A few days after my second self-proclamation as a vegetarian, we celebrated a Thanksgiving relatively free of bribery and coercion to return to my omnivorous ways.
After several years of cooking vegetarian meals for my family without a single case of fatal food poisoning, things began to shift. My mother’s sense of nutritionism began keying into research that speculated the health benefits of a plant-based diet, my brother’s burgeoning environmental activism caused meat to sour in his gut, and veganism fell into my lap as a way that I could restrict my eating even more in a socially acceptable way. Despite Brexit, my father continued to claim his European appreciation for high-quality prosciutto and coq au vin in addition to Cornish pasty and blood pudding, but that’s another story.
My father put up a good fight, but eventually was outnumbered in his vote against a vegan Thanksgiving. Thus, we hosted our first vegan Thanksgiving when I was in college. This year just happened to be the same year that I had invited a Brazilian exchange student from my lab to join in our family’s festivities. I can only imagine the shock he must have felt after all of his days of nostalgia for Brazilian steakhouses to be welcomed into a dinner of cardboard and twigs. But at least it wasn’t the year that I snuck pumpkin spice in every dish.
After several years of my on-and-off relationship with veganism, I had finally “retired” from competitive running, and I wanted desperately to let go of every trace of restrictive eating. I finally learned to release the pervasive need to continuously measure and monitor my every ingredient ingested – a habit that I acquired from the years of my eating disorder. Instead of measuring out my life in coffee spoons, I have returned eating in a way that feels more intuitive and that I inherently understood as a child. I still have a strong aversion to animal flesh, but, after so many years of deprivation, I accept and welcome my cravings for Parisian boulangerie-style quiche au chèvre et miel and Indian ghee-drizzled lachha paratha. Desserts, on the other hand, are another story. I bake exclusively vegan because I find it to be much richer, tastier, and more wholesome.
Vegan Thanksgiving is of course the other bit of veganism that has stuck. Every year that I come home for the holidays, I have the joy of being lectured by my little brother the activist on how my choice to be vegetarian rather than vegan is “only for practical reasons”. I remind him that if we were a truly moral family, we would not be buying produce that was picked by exploited and impoverished migrant farm laborers who are starved of their human rights nor would we be celebrating a holiday that honors the colonization at the root of our country’s foundation. But that’s yet another story.
Our Thanksgiving ritual will continue to evolve as our own belief systems are challenged, reshaped, and restructured (except perhaps for my father, who will perhaps claim to be eternally European). Yet for now, we are thankful that we can set our different philosophies toward food aside for enough time to enjoy this year’s vegan spread: champagne, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, olive oil roasted-brussel sprouts, creamy pumpkin mac ’n cheese by Rainbow Plant Life (RECIPE HERE), Pillsbury crescent rolls stuffed with dark chocolate (who knew they were vegan?!) and a tiny tofurkey (actually, that wasn’t vegan this year because my dad mistakenly bought one made with egg whites).
Our main course was chased with a dessert of pecan brownie pie by Pie and Tacos (RECIPE HERE) and a classic pumpkin pie (RECIPE BELOW) with coconut whipped cream.
Finally, as a post-Thanksgiving pre-birthday treat for my mother, we washed down our meals the next day with the world's easiest vegan cinnamon rolls by Minimalist Baker (RECIPE HERE).
Growing up, our pumpkin pie was always made from the recipe on the back of Libby’s can pumpkin, and it may have been the first to be veganized. Here’s the recipe that has endured through the years:
Classic vegan pumpkin pie recipe
1.25 cup flour (+ 1/4 cup for rolling)
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flaxseed + 4 tablespoons water)
1 can (15 oz.) 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
Vegan whipped cream (I used So Delicious Coconut Whipped Cream)
To make the crust, mix together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix water and olive oil into the flour mixture and knead with your hands until it becomes a firm, glutinous ball. If more liquid is needed, add water and olive oil in small increments in a 1:1 ratio.
Dust a cutting board and rolling pin with a light layer of flour. Place the dough ball on the cutting board, and roll beginning at the middle. Roll the ball out evenly until it becomes a thin, flat circle. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with olive oil and place the dough circle into the pan. Press the edges of the dough into the pan with a fork.
To make the filling, make a “flax egg” by mixing flaxseed and water with a fork in a mixing cup. Set aside for 2 minutes, or until the “egg” has gelatinized.
In a small mixing bowl, blend together pumpkin, sugar, syrup, vanilla, spices, salt, and non-dairy milk until evenly combined.
Evenly pour the filling mixture into the pie crust.
Place the pie onto a cookie sheet and bake at 475° F in the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the top begins to solidify. Make sure the pie is removed before the crust begins to brown.
Cool at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Serve with vegan whipped cream at your vegan thanksgiving. Enjoy!