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More Than One Turkey at the Table – Holiday Challenges

So Aunt Linda is hosting the holiday dinner again this year and you’ve decided to accept her invitation… 

You are usually able to endure these family gatherings for the most part. Sure, there are the usual awkward dynamics — uncomfortable political debates, over-imbibing of adult beverages, dysfunctional passive aggressiveness. But there are pleasant moments too — shared laughter and stories about the past. This year though you can’t help but experience some dread because this year brings the first holiday dinner you’ll spend with your extended family (and/or friends) as a vegan…

What to Bring to a Holiday Gathering

Even if you don’t consider yourself a galloping gourmet cook, consider offering to bring a standard dish — like green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy or pie — after veganizing it at home. This way, you:

  1. Platter of variety of vegetablesknow there will be something there you can eat; and
  2. have an opportunity to show how tasty food can be without any animal-derived ingredients

You may also wish to bring your own stash; I’ve often brought my own veg turkey roast and gravy to heat up at the final destination. Yes, I’ve usually had to share oven or stove real estate with meat counterparts, but that’s okay — just try to be as quick and non-intrusive as possible.

How to Sidestep the Bird

Here are some suggestions on how to handle the fact that there is a turkey being passed around the table:

  • Just pass that dead bird along and try not to think about it too much;
  • Avoid the stuffing if it was cooked inside the turkey or if it contains chicken broth or pork sausage;
  • Pass on the gravy if it contains turkey drippings and/or organs;
  • Load up on whatever else you can so your plate is not empty and no one can accuse you of, well, eating like a bird.

Mainly Vegan's veganized dish ideas and safe standards for a holiday gathering with non-vegansMaybe you won’t even have to face the whole bird dilemma if your aunt is the type of host who is sensitive to the issue and decides to set it somewhere else for those consuming it to dish up / serve themselves away from the dinner table. Or perhaps your aunt will opt to prepare a breast vs. the whole bird. Or even better — your aunt wants to try a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal and appreciates your input and assistance.

How to Answer Questions

It never fails; when you pass on the turkey, someone will undoubtedly wonder why. And when you tell them why, they’ll want to know more (but probably not too much more). And then you get to choose the best way to explain why without launching into the gory details at the dinner table and running the risk of spoiling Aunt Linda’s holiday gathering:

“I’m trying a new meat-free diet and I really like it.
I’d be happy to tell you more about it after dinner.”

How to Handle Antagonistic Behavior from Other Turkeys at the Table

Turkey neck / gizzards / drumsticks waved in the face, guilt trips, awkward silences, cajoling and pressure to have just one little ole’ slice of turkey, you name it and most veg*ns have experienced it over the years at holiday gatherings.

Feast at the holiday dinner tableImmature? Absolutely. Inconsiderate and inappropriate? You betcha. Unbelievable? Umm…not really. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen at your holiday table, but if it does you can take the strong stance: “Please respect my decision not to eat dead animal flesh.” Or just try to laugh it off, ignore it, change the subject, ask a question, leave the room or whatever seems appropriate based on the circumstances. But let’s just say that if I had a dime for every time I’ve had to tiptoe around someone else’s feelings and tried to make them feel comfortable about my decision not to eat meat, well, I’d have a whole lot of dimes.

Family preparing salad togetherHowever, it does get easier for everyone over time. Navigating the holiday dinner table as a vegan often requires a healthy dose of patience, tolerance, compassion and compromise. Who knows? Maybe you can invite Aunt Linda and Uncle Bob over to your place for Thanksgiving next year…

No matter what happens or how others react or behave, try to enjoy the gathering and the people there — and not to allow the dead bird on the table to ruin the chance to spend some quality time with your family and / or friends.


I've been spending time in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. My mother taught me how to cook when I was just a kid, and I've always found it to be very therapeutic. I've also been writing journal entries, short stories, articles, and other documentation for eons. And the only regret I've had since moving to a plant-based diet in 2002 is that I didn't discover it sooner...

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