With the holiday season approaching, many of us understandably feel apprehensive about the impending stuffed turkeys, pork roasts, and everything-doused-in-butter dishes that appear on our families’ tables. It is the first year I am navigating these holidays as a vegan, so my friends in Vegetarian Club hosted a veg-friendly Thanksgiving potluck to ensure that we all got a meal we could truly be grateful for. The idea was to counter many of the animal-product heavy dinners hosted by our families and share some easy vegan dishes we could make to contribute to the Thanksgiving dinner table. It was a great success!
To provide a bit more context, I am a student at Penn State University, where there is a lovely Vegetarian Club on campus. We have dinner potlucks at least once a month that serve as opportunities to chat about being vegan or vegetarian in college. Conversation topics range from navigating the dining halls to sharing recipes and scouting out awesome grocery store deals. These dinner potlucks are well attended and everyone looks forward to them, in no small part due to some of the incredible cooks we have in the club! By sharing the details of our Thanksgiving potluck with you, we hope that you’ll feel empowered to make a change at your dinner table this year. If we can do it, you can too!
Our potluck had about twenty people in attendance. Dishes ranged from store-bought Oreos to homemade stuffing using mom’s special recipe. We didn’t miss anything in between; we had vegan turkey roast, vegan gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, loaves of bread, hummus, apple crisp, apple cider, three different pies, green bean casserole, and macaroni and “cheese”. I am always so impressed by the dishes that members manage to put together with limited budgets, equipment, and time. Two girls brought a “dorm pie” that consisted of a store-bought piecrust stuffed to the brim with thin apple slices, oats, and raisins. We popped it in my oven when they arrived and it was a great contribution to the dessert table (I even used leftovers the next day on top of a smoothie)! It was so simple, yet so tasty and effective.
I was interested in knowing if others found the experience to be as meaningful as I did, so I asked the members in attendance to share their thoughts. One said, “[F]or a lot of people who don’t necessarily have vegan-friendly families, [the potluck] is kind of like a family environment. This is very similar to the energy that my vegan-friendly family has around the holidays.” When I asked him if his family hosted a vegan Thanksgiving, he said, “About half of it is [vegan-friendly].”
Knowing that several of the members in Vegetarian Club decided to go vegan in college, I was curious to see if anyone was able to convince their families to have a vegan Thanksgiving back home. It turns out, one did: our club president. When I asked her whether it was challenging to make the switch, she said, “Not really. My dad is already vegetarian and my family is very health conscious. We live in California where eating and shopping vegan is very easy. The only challenge was convincing my extended family.” Unfortunately, she seemed to be the exception; no one else had a vegan Thanksgiving to look forward to. “This is it. I bring my own food,” one girl said.
Despite the lack of support at home, the inspiration felt by members was tangible. People unanimously agreed that seeing so many vegan dishes made by their peers helped them feel more confident about preparing their own to contribute to the Thanksgiving dinner table at home.
“[The potlucks] inspire me to cook, to be honest,” a member said.
“I don’t know if I could’ve done that Tofurky, though…it looked complicated,” lamented the girl next to her.
“No, honestly, it just comes like that and you just put the gravy on. It’s not that hard. Just put [the gravy] on and put it in the oven,” reassured another.
Such camaraderie exemplifies the importance of having a community to fall back on for support and encouragement. To conclude, I asked the group if they anticipated encountering any hostility at the dinner table because of the way they choose to eat. Six members all chimed in at once, with various affirmations.
“Every year,” one member sighed.
“I’ll definitely get some stares,” another added.
In short, if you are vegan, vegetarian, or have a loved one that prefers not to eat animal products, consider preparing veg-friendly dishes to share this Thanksgiving. It’s a time to celebrate inclusivity and compassion towards others (including animals!). The food is so delicious that no one will even notice that it’s vegan…our potluck is proof!
Alana Fiero is a Media Studies student at Penn State University who enjoys cooking and writing in her spare time.