Happy “Turkey-Free” Day

Thanksgiving Features

By Elisha Fieldstadt

More than 45 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving each year, according to PETA, the animal rights group. It also reports that Tom Savage of Oregon State University says turkeys are “smart animals with personality and character and a keen awareness of their surroundings.”

Meat-centered holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a nightmare for a vegetarian whose conscience is stung by these findings. Still, vegetarians can at least make a nice plate of side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes and then finish the night off with as many helpings of pie à la mode that they desire.

It’s harder for a vegan — one who abstains from all animal products, including milk and eggs. For vegans, the Thanksgiving table becomes a battlefield of inedible but enticing landmines.

While ethical vegans undoubtedly choose to make a great sacrifice on Thanksgiving, it is not any more difficult to be vegan on Thanksgiving than it is during the rest of the year. Vegans want to help other vegans succeed in their animal-product-free lives, and the vegan community of New York is very dedicated to supporting one another by opening vegan businesses, hosting vegan events and blogging to make people aware of vegan goings-on.

As a result of this community effort, opportunities for a vegan meal on Thanksgiving are actually greater than on any other given day of the year.

This year, for example at the Woodstock Animal Farm Sanctuary’s Thanksliving dinner, in Woodstock, N.Y., you could eat among the turkeys instead of eating the turkeys. Guests were free to take tours of the grounds and visit with the animals for a powerful reminder of their natures.

The program coordinator, Elana Kirshenbaum, says that attendees “rave about” the event, and she has seen some of the same people return year after year. At $100 to $150, 250 seats have sold out every year since they first held the event six years ago, Kirshenbaum says.

This year was no different, and Kirshenbaum says they maxed out at 260 guests, which is great for them since it is their “largest annual fundraiser.” The Woodstock website page, recapping the event, says “We folk at the farm, along with our rescued farm animal friends, are deeply grateful for and touched by the enthusiasm of our supporters and volunteers who enable us to continue the critical work of rescue and education.”

Terry Hope Romero, the author of four best-selling vegan cookbooks, was this year’s master chef and the Woodstock website said “people couldn’t get enough of the Cornbread Sofrito Stuffing with Veggie Chorizo.”

Still, for some people, paying $100 for a ticket would have meant Christmas shopping at the dollar store. Luckily, a catering company called Vérité hosted a vegan meal at the Gramercy School House in Manhattan. At $15 apiece, tickets are less than that gourmet pie you might have felt obligated to bring to a friend’s house.

A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute and founder of Vérité Catering, Daphne Cheng did all the cooking. She said this was her first year hosting such an event and she was excited to feature dishes like roasted seitan (a meat substitute made of wheat protein) with cornbread stuffing and a gluten-free baked macaroni and cheese with shitake “bacon” crumbles, for those who have celiac disease and are vegan.

Cheng had hoped to fill 90 seats and a week later, the Facebook page for the event announced that it had sold out. “The event went well, but not perfectly as this was our first event of this size,” Cheng says. “We will definitely be doing it again next year.”

For some, dining with people they do not know on such a family-centered holiday is not their slice of pie. Last year, Tomer Versano, a manager at Terri Vegetarian Cafe in the Flatiron district of Manhattan felt the same way. He and the owner of Terri, Craig Cochran, spent four days preparing the meal and as a result, had plenty of vegan food to impress their vegan and non-vegan guests.

This was his first vegan Thanksgiving, because Versano recently moved to New York from Tel Aviv. As a result, he says he is used to traditions that conflict with his vegan lifestyle because of holidays that include “tons of dairy during Shavuot, fish head on Rosh Hashanah, and chicken leg and eggs for Passover.”

Still, he said the craziness around Thanksgiving was kind of a shock to him and he wanted to show his omnivore friends that “a vegan meal is always cheaper and of course, healthier than an omnivore meal.”

This year, Versano says, he did not have time to cook but still had a group of people over and served a “Tofurky,” with some roast corn and sweet potatoes. Everything was “delicious and simple,” he says, and he was able to prove to his friends not only that vegan food can be delicious to eat but also easy to make.

Here’s a vegan pecan pie you can make in under an hour and serve at any holidays.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ½ teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer powder (can be found at Whole Foods), mixed with 6 tablespoons of water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons melted Earth Balance butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups raw pecan halves
  • 1 nine-inch frozen pie crust

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Beat the egg replacer with the water to mix.
  3. Add the sugar to the egg mixture, stir in the corn syrup, then add the melted butter, vanilla and salt.
  4. Fold the pecans into the mixture.
  5. Pour the mixture into the pie crust.
  6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes and remove from the oven when the filling puffs up a bit

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