Vegan Dilemma: Those Big Occasion Family Meals…(e.g: Thanksgiving!)

I’m vegan and British, and Thanksgiving is not something I am used to really. But my family and I have been here in Canada now for over 6 yrs, and we haven’t really embraced the whole occasion to date. For one thing, we don’t have family over here… secondly, we don’t have many vegan/veggie friends to invite over, and I guess thirdly, we don’t have any cultural or traditional / emotional bonds to Thanksgiving really.

The closest thing we would have in the UK, would be the Harvest Festival, where schoolchildren might have an assembly, and might take non-perishable items (i.e. cans of food) to old people’s homes. It was harvest time and a time to be grateful for what we had and marking the end of Summer and preparing for Winter. This happened around Autum/Fall around the same time as Canadian Thanksgiving, which is usually in mid October… Whereas the USA celebrate in mid-late Nov, I believe.

And while I am writing this, I am also thinking of the many different cultures, customs, traditions and occasions where we might also come together as a family and with friends, to share and enjoy a large well-prepared meal. It is definitely not restricted to Thanksgiving, that is for sure.

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Now, I have seen many posts on my social media feed with people who DO have family and are invited over for a meal this time of year, and who often find their family are not exactly embracing their veganism/food/ethical choices at this time…. Tradition, huh? It can be wonderful for preserving cultural practice and keeping bonds and ties tight, but if you are new to being vegan, or if it is relatively new news for your family… well, this can be tricky territory to navigate, relying on patience, good communications, tact, diplomacy… and sometimes even just the ability to rise above a tricky situation or conversation, purely to keep the peace! Sounds like the start of a war? Well, it doesn’t have to be! ๐Ÿ™‚

Family and tradition are not easy things to break… So what do you do if you’re invited to yours/someone else’s (even harder!) family get-together, and you’re the only vegan in the room?

Well, you should definitely be open: thank them for the invite, tactfully remind them (if nec.) of the things you do not eat, especially remembering things that tend to happen, like butter on veg and in mashed potatoes and meat stock in gravy, etc. The best thing might be for you to offer to bring some veganized offerings yourself. This way, there are some things you CAN be sure to eat. And bring enough for others to share/try, if you can. Things like mashed potatoes could be something you could offer to be in charge of for the whole table – these are easy to create and just use a vegan butter/marg you find tasty already… Add a pinch of salt, maybe even a small splash of vegan milk substitute to get that extra creaminess? Just make sure to get all the lumps out – vegan or not – that is the number one rule for mash! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Ooh and on the topic of potatoes: Sometimes people may roast potatoes next to meat in the oven… Making your own is pretty easy – and even easier if you have an air fryer, I recently found! I either steam or microwave potatoes until getting soft-ish, then dip in a little oil laced with rosemary/thyme, salt pepper, etc. and then pop in the air fryer to crisp up! If you are interested to know more about the air fryer, I have another earlier post on that topic (not an affiliate btw! Just love it!).

If you want a main ‘centre-piece’ food, you could go ahead and make something yourself… Years ago it was always the humble ‘lentil/nut roast’ but these days, with soooo many options and vegan cookbooks out there, there are countless things you could make! And of course, there are always those alternatives available in the store: Tofurky Roasts, etc. Here in Victoria, we are spoiled for choice – we have so many great options really. We even have The Very Good Butchers vegan plant based peeps based here, who sell a monster of a roast at that/this time of year, if you really want to go all out! My faves are Shepherd’s Pie, or any Pie actually (lentils and beans and veg with home-made crust = yum!).

So my advice with the “I’m invited to Thanksgiving dinner but am the only vegan” thing would be to explain what you can’t/won’t eat, (politely of course!) and ask if you can bring some offerings yourself.

Ooh, that reminds me:… Gravy! Now, some of the vegan gravy I have had here in Canada has tasted quite different to the kind I was used to in the UK… So this might not suit everyone, but here is my go-to recipe for vegan gravy. It’s quite a quick process and I can throw it on in a small pan, whilst cooking/prepping other food:

Vegan Brown (British-style) Gravy:

Ingredients:

  • Approx. 2 – 4 Chestnut mushrooms\
  • Veg stock
  • Herbs (Rosemary / Thyme are nice to add)
  • Soy sauce
  • Cornflour
  • Water

Method:

  1. Slice up the mushrooms (chunky-ish) and add to small saucepan
  2. Add a small amount of oil – olive oil maybe – but only enough to allow the mushrooms to sweat but not fry
  3. Turn the heat to medium and leave the mushrooms sweating for a while before turning/shaking the pan – this allows the mushrooms to start creating that lovely flavour – you should start to smell the aroma across the kitchen.
  4. If you are steaming your veg at the same time, this would be a good time to add a few slices of carrot and/or one or two pieces of any other veg – doesn’t have to be fully cooked.
  5. Add a few splashes of Soy sauce – this adds the brown colour you want and usually means you don’t need to add any salt, as the soy sauce is often salty enough… stir.
  6. Boil the water and add some veg stock (half cube or a teaspoon maybe) and stir well
  7. Sprinkle (use a fine sieve if nec.) cornflour carefully into pan – try not to drop a dollop or you will end up with lumpy pieces: You want to sprinkle it on – lightly but liberally – as this is what will thicken your gravy and give it some “oomph”! Keep stirring.
  8. Pour the watered stock into the pan slowly, again stirring to avoid lumps from the cornflour.
  9. Now you can turn the heat down and let it marinade for a while… I usually set it to lowest setting and then leave it for at least 10 more mins
  10. And then strain the gravy and discard the veggies (unless you have other ideas for them – ‘though they can taste a little too salty, IMO). If you leave the gravy to sit, it can develop a film/skin on top, but you can usually stir that in, or remove if thick. And it is all ready to pour into your gravy boat (or measuring jug if stuck!)! ๐Ÿ™‚

So ten steps there, but in reality, it is very easy to make and as I said: you can do this alongside steaming your veg or prepping your potatoes, etc.

BTW: I always use my Vegetable Steamer for the veggies: It retains more nutrients and is better than boiling or roasting veg, IMO – and once you have chopped and peeled: in it all goes, whilst you get on with something else! I will do a post on the joys of Steamers shortly (or if you are reading this a while after posting: I will add the link here).

OK – so whether you are joining family for a meal, making a vegan one yourself (maybe for the first time) or simply ignoring the whole occasion – I hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable time, however it looks. ๐Ÿ™‚

HAPPY TOFU AND VEGGIES DAY! ๐Ÿ™‚

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