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Celebrate World Vegan Month Meat-Free This Thanksgiving



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November is World Vegan Month and what better way to celebrate than on Thanksgiving, a day dedicated to gratitude and good food.

For many people the holiday goes hand-in-hand with the tradition of serving meat-based meals, but a growing number of people are preferring a plant-based diet.

According to Vegan News in 2020, “A new study has revealed that the number of Americans following plant-based diets is up nearly 9.6 million over the last 15 years. This is a 300% increase and nearly 3% of the population in the United States.”

Vegan is a term typically used to describe a person that does not eat anything derived from an animal, including — but not limited to — meat, dairy, eggs, honey, or gelatin.

It can also be considered a lifestyle choice and impact other areas of a person’s daily life. Someone who considers themselves vegan may also choose not to wear material made from animals, such as leather or fur. They may also become an activist for causes regarding animal rights, and environmental justice, as well as health and wellness.

Vegans differ from vegetarians who conventionally do continue to consume animal products, just not meat.

As with all labels, not every person can be defined by a specific category and their journey may ebb and flow with some becoming a vegetarian then vegan or vice versa in life.

However, regardless of what someone identifies as, everyone seeks to be accepted, understood, and included — especially when it comes to holidays where people come together to make happy memories.

Knowing the complexities of Thanksgiving for those that do not consume the traditional cuisine, The Newtown Bee called upon three local individuals to give their perspective on the holiday, their advice for others, and some delicious recipes to try.

Jason Edwards

Newtown High School (NHS) teacher Jason Edwards has been a vegan since March 1, 2020, after being inspired by a friend.

“I’d thought about what I could do to get and stay healthier in general. I had also been sick a good portion of the winter of 2019-20, and my weight crept up to the heaviest I’ve ever been. I work out daily and run regularly, and I thought changing my diet would help me lose weight and regain control of some long-standing (albeit relatively minor) health concerns,” Edwards said. “The best news is, going vegan absolutely has changed my overall health for the better!”

He attributes being vegan with helping him lose more than 40 pounds and regaining roughly 9 pounds of muscle.

While he has not had the opportunity to experience many Thanksgivings as a vegan yet, he has received unwavering positivity from the people in his life on a regular basis.

“My friends and family respect my veganism, and they support me remaining consistent with it for sure,” Edwards said. “I prepare for gatherings with friends and family like I always did before. I try to be mindful not to overindulge, and now being vegan helps with that, as there’s typically fewer options for me to binge on anywhere.”

He added, “I may eat a snack ahead of time and talk with hosts about what I may have there. Friends always try to provide [for] me, even though I never want to be any trouble for someone hosting me. It’s my choice to be vegan; I shouldn’t impose any sort of obligation on anyone else to oblige me.”

For those that may be going into Thanksgiving surrounded by others with differing opinions about veganism, Edwards suggests having an open dialogue if possible.

“I’d suggest people stay true to themselves, be honest about reasons if you’re comfortable sharing, and enjoy yourself. If someone questions your motivations, it can lead to a productive discussion about why,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to broadcast or preach about being vegan, but I’m happy to talk about it with anyone who asks.”

Some of his favorite places to shop at for great vegan meals and ingredients are Trader Joe’s and Common Bond Market in Shelton. He recommends others check out their selection, because not only has he found food to satisfy him there, but his friends are even trying it out in their lives.

“My friends look out for vegan options now, and have started to incorporate some of these into their routines for themselves and their children’s diets,” Edwards shared.

See below for Jason Edwards’s Spaghetti Squash recipe.

Kate Shirk

Newtown resident and NHS student Kate Shirk has been a vegan for three years after learning about veganism through members of her family.

“I decided to make the change once I did my own research and started really looking into what I was putting in my body,” Kate explained. “Personally, veganism is about justice and morality, for the lives of the animals and people involved. It’s simply not necessary to consume animals, so in my eyes there’s no logical justification for the obscene cruelty and violence of animal agriculture.”

She added, “As an athlete, the health aspect of veganism is really important to me, too. In all aspects of health, my body definitely feels its best on a plant-based diet. For other athletes and people concerned about their health, I recommend the documentary The Game Changers on Netflix for more information.”

Kate is also vegan because of its impact on the environment.

“Being vegan saves an incredible amount of water, energy, grain, and square feet of forest. I recommend the documentary Cowspiracy, which covers this in depth,” she said. “Additionally, animal agriculture industries, especially slaughterhouses, prey on and exploit underprivileged minorities, so it’s a human rights issue, as well.”

In Kate’s experience, Thanksgiving can be a challenging time for a variety of reasons.

“From a moral perspective, I tend to struggle with the idea of people I love laughing and having fun around something that causes so much pain, to me and countless others involved in the process of animal agriculture (non-human animals included),” she said.

Kate later followed up by saying, “Not only might vegans in particular have issues with the absurd amount of death surrounding the holiday (namely, the 46 million turkeys killed in America for the one day alone), but the founding of the holiday itself is incredibly problematic … I believe the combination of a focus on food and action of coming together makes Thanksgiving the perfect opportunity to have honest discussions about both of these issues, which aren’t typically addressed at the forefront of family conversation.”

Her advice for those considering having these discussions would be to educate yourself and present the facts in a calm and logical manner.

“I’ve found once you’re able to find a common ground, such as issues you both are concerned about, you can easily connect with others and show them that their beliefs likely aren’t all that different from your own,” she said.

Fortunately, Kate has found solace during Thanksgiving by having similar minded people by her side to support her and her beliefs.

“I’m lucky to have a family with some other vegans so there’s always food to eat, but it can be pretty daunting if you’re alone. The good news is, cooking vegan is definitely easier than most people think,” she said.

Kate recommends bringing a vegan dish to Thanksgiving as an opportunity to educate people on “how simple or familiar” vegan food can be. She also advises people talk to the host ahead of time to discuss possible ingredient substitutions or omissions to make them vegan.

“It’s really easy to make substitutions for lots of popular Thanksgiving side dishes with all the products that are out now,” Kate said. “Many dishes can be made vegan simply by substituting milk and butter for vegan brands. My favorites are Silk for milk, Earth Balance or Miyoko’s for butter, and Follow Your Heart or Field Roast Chao for cheese.”

She added, “This works for just about any vegetable dish, including mashed potatoes, and most brands of cranberry sauce are already vegan. Many Pillsbury dough products are also ‘accidentally’ vegan, including many of their biscuit, puff pastry, pie crust, and crescent roll variations (just make sure to check the ingredients, as not all Pillsbury products are vegan).”

While those are simple changes, Kate admits that entrees are sometimes harder to find equivalent substitutions for.

“While there are certainly vegan turkey substitutes out there, I’d recommend shifting the focus away from the poor bird for more culinary freedom,” she said.

Currently, Kate’s favorite holiday dinner is the Vegan Wellington with lentils, mushrooms, walnuts, and veggies from Vegan Richa, veganricha.com.

“We usually add some Dijon mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, parsley, and sage to the filling,” she noted.

As for a good gravy, she enjoys the Easy Vegan Gravy from Nora Cooks, noracooks.com/easy-vegan-gravy.

Kate said, “We usually add some dried thyme, sage, and some Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend from Trader Joe’s. If you’re looking for a recipe for something else vegan for Thanksgiving or in general, Nora Cooks has some great recipes.”

Harmony Verna

Newtown resident Harmony Verna is a writer and longtime vegetarian who enjoys vegan dishes. She originally pursued the path of being plant-based because of her love of all animals.

“I remember the exact day the switch flipped,” Verna recalled. “I was sitting down to a steak dinner and this voice inside me said with no uncertainty, ‘You’re all done.’ Suddenly, meat looked ‘dead’ to me, and I knew I didn’t want it in my body. And just like that, I was done and never looked back.”

In her life, not eating meat has allowed her to feel physically lighter and saves her money at the grocery store.

While Verna acknowledges this is right for her, she never wants others to feel like she is pushing her views onto them.

“We all have to make these choices for ourselves,” Verna said.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, she says she is fortunate to have only received encouragement and acceptance for her dietary choices.

“The only aspect of my Thanksgiving that has changed is that I don’t eat turkey or gravy,” Verna said. “I can still indulge (too much!) in all the side dishes and desserts, so the festivities don’t seem different at all.”

For those vegans/vegetarians trying to navigate the holiday by finding food they can eat, she advises being the one to bring the food you love — whether it falls into the context of conventional Thanksgiving food or not.

“If you love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and they make you feel happy and grateful, then that sounds like a perfect Thanksgiving addition to your menu,” Verna said.

She also notes that for more traditional Thanksgiving dishes, people can try “adding nuts or seeds to Brussel sprouts, salads, or other vegetable dishes; hearty soups with lentils or beans, and roasted dishes that are very filling like potatoes, onions, and carrots.”

Most of all, it is important to be respectful to all and remember what the day is supposed to be about.

“Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for the food we eat, the people we share it with, and the bounty this Earth gives us every day,” Verna said. “If someone questions or opposes a dietary or lifestyle choice, it’s probably time to find new people to spend the holiday with.”

Whether or not the humans in your life are supportive of your choice to be vegan or vegetarian, a sure way to make the holiday more cheerful is to be kind to the animals.

Verna shared, “Thanksgiving is the season for giving back; I like to leave out extra seeds and berries for the wild turkeys that visit our yard. They have given so much to us, it seems only fitting to give something back to them.”

See below for Harmony Verna’s French Green Lentil Soup recipe.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Harmony Verna’s French Green Lentil Soup

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion chopped fine

3 carrots peeled and chopped medium

3 garlic cloves minced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp thyme

14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved

1 cup French green lentils (lentils du Puy)

1 tsp salt

ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup white wine

4 cups vegetable stock

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Instructions: Heat the oil in a large stockpot and add the onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and drained tomatoes (reserve the liquid for later) and cook for about two minutes. Stir in lentils, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cover, reduce heat to low, and sweat the vegetables for about eight minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high, and add the wine. Simmer for one minute then add the veggie stock, juice from canned tomatoes, and one cup of water. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and reduce heat to low, simmering for about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and add the balsamic vinegar. With an immersion blender, blend a small batch of soup so there is a mix of pureed and whole vegetables. Great served alongside stuffing, mashed potatoes, bread, sweet potatoes, or other favorite side dish.

Jason Edwards’ Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash

Olive oil or preferred oil

Diced vegetables (Optional)

Meat alternative such as cooked Beyond Meat meatballs, chipotle seitan, or jackfruit (Optional)

Marinara sauce

Instructions: Split the squash in two halves and remove the seed (like scooping a pumpkin), slather with olive or grape-seed or dill oil. Prepare it in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. Throw in some grilled, diced veggies, and chipotle seitan or jackfruit, and sauce.

—Harmony Verna photo
—Jason Edwards photo
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