According to Farm Sanctuary, 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving. Oblivious to the suffering of these animals and determined to uphold “tradition,” many Americans believe that a Thanksgiving dinner is incomplete without sliced turkey.
Sadly, the unpleasant truth is that there’s likely to be a dead bird on a dinner table near you, perhaps even your own family’s gathering. So how can you, as a vegan, celebrate the good parts of Thanksgiving–such as togetherness and gratitude–without encountering a turkey carcass?
Fortunately, there are meat-free Thanksgiving celebrations, sometimes on the holiday itself and sometimes a week or two before, sponsored by animal sanctuaries, Meetup groups, and vegetarian/vegan organizations. I attended two last month in the Washington, D.C., area. They’re held annually so mark your calendar next year to attend one of these or a similar ThanksLiving near you.
Thanksgiving WITH the Turkeys
Each year, Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary holds a vegan potluck where the turkeys are the guests of honor rather than a menu item. Poplar Spring is a nonprofit refuge that’s located in the bucolic Maryland countryside, about an hour’s drive from D.C. The staff and volunteers at Poplar Spring offer permanent sanctuary for neglected, abused, or abandoned farm animals. Every year they invite the public to meet the resident animals during a summertime farm tour, a fall open house, and a Thanksgiving potluck.
The Thanksgiving event — this year was its 22nd — begins in one of the sanctuary’s barnyards, where Terry Cummings and Dave Hoerauf, co-founders and co-directors of the sanctuary, introduce each resident turkey by name and explain how he or she came to live at the sanctuary. One of the stories (Ivan’s) involves falling off a transport truck, while another story (Perry’s) involves being left in a crate on the sanctuary’s driveway on a Thanksgiving Day several years ago.
Some of the turkeys are handsome, fully-feathered birds, while others more clearly show the rough road that they traveled before being rescued. As they’re being introduced, the male turkeys strut around the barnyard, proudly spreading their tail feathers – to the delight of both their turkey girlfriends and humans with cameras.
With the introductions finished, the birds are treated to a fruit-and veggie-based feast, and the humans line up to fill their plates at the bountiful vegan potluck. If you’re worried about sitting on the ground with your fully-laden plate, have no fear, Poplar Spring provides dozens of tables and plenty of chairs for the human guests – and even a huge tent in case of inclement weather.
While the food is certainly delicious and plentiful, the real treat of the day is roaming around the grounds to meet the animals who will live out their lives with the respect and comfort that they deserve.
The Veg Society of DC’s Annual Vegan Thanksgiving Celebration
A somewhat different kind of celebration is the buffet-style dinner that’s hosted by the Veg Society of DC (VSDC) in a fashionable D.C. hotel on Thanksgiving Day. This wonderful event certainly fits VSDC’s mission, which is to “promote the tremendous benefits of veg eating through education, community-building, and social activities.” And even though the celebration began 45 years ago as a humble potluck for a small group of folks in a church basement, it has grown into a gourmet buffet that currently attracts nearly 300 people.
This year’s event was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The Grand Ballroom was filled with 30 round tables, each featuring elegant place settings for ten, plus centerpieces adorned with miniature pumpkins and leaf-shaped confetti. One side of the room was lined with exhibitors; the other held tables filled with a wide variety of silent auction items.
The plentiful buffet included a wide variety of tasty dishes. My favorite entrée was the roasted artichoke ravioli in pomodoro sauce. The buffet also included many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes like sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows and a stuffing filled with mushrooms, onions, and currants. Desserts included apple cobbler, pumpkin mousse, and chocolate cups.
The featured speaker was Erica Meier, President of Compassion Over Killing. She delivered an inspiring and entertaining speech that focused on the recent growth of veganism. I particularly appreciated the jokes that she used at the beginning and end of her speech. At the beginning: “How many factory farmers does it take to change a lightbulb? None; they want to keep us in the dark.” And at the end: “How many vegans does it take to change a lightbulb? ‘Doesn’t matter: we’re not here to change lightbulbs, we’re here to change the world!”
Leigh Scott is a vegan chef and food blogger at www.olivethethymekitchen. Following a 25-year career as an environmental educator, she earned her culinary certificate in 2016 from the School of Natural Cookery in Colorado. Leigh has recently completed Rouxbe’s Forks Over Knives course, and she specializes in whole-food, plant-based cooking. She also serves on the boards of the Veg Society of DC and Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry. Leigh earned her VLCE certificate in 2019.