Ahimsa Grove

Ahimsa Grove is a resource for vegan pagan living. It will include personal experiences and musings, recipes, shopping tips, vegan ethical and dietary considerations, and ideas for pagan practice including spells, rituals, and herbcraft.

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Ahimsa Grove: Vegan Pagan Thanksgiving Food, Family, and Gratitude


Like the Sabbat of Mabon, the secular holiday of Thanksgiving gives us a chance to sit down with loved ones and enjoy a meal. The bounty of the table is essentially an altar where the abundance in all aspects of our lives is symbolized. It may be bounty that we have, or bounty that we aspire to. Vegan Pagans add the component to this ritual of aspiring to be deeply aware of where each recipe ingredient comes from. Though we are as imperfect in this pursuit as everyone else, we seek to practice harmlessness toward others. Therefore a turkey’s body will not be at the center of our altar. We will seek to eliminate other animal-derived products, as well. Many of us will also take fair trade and other consumer issues into consideration. Is it all too overwhelming?


As one of the major food-related holidays, Thanksgiving may seem like a serious challenge to the veg or veg-curious among us. With a little advance-planning, veg celebrants can enjoy the holiday. If we are participating in a meal with omnivores, we can control our own choices if we bring some vegan items to share. Sometimes friends and family members are also open to modifying some of their own recipes if we tell them how. For instance, many of the side dishes for a Thanksgiving meal are already vegetables. Tweaking recipes to avoid animal products (usually milk or butter) is pretty easy to do. I will suggest a few easy substitutes that you can use in order to veganize some common Thanksgiving fare. Some vegans avoid processed foods entirely, but I am suggesting some of these convenience items because they are easy to find even if you are not veg. They look and taste much like animal products, so people can intuitively figure out how to use them in existing recipes.


Mashed vegetables: usually potato, squash, and turnip are mashed and served with butter. Earth Balance buttery spread is an easily obtainable replacement. Smart Balance has some varieties of margarine that are also vegan, so you can just check the labels.


If you have the margarine thing solved, you are well on your way to a veg friendly meal. But there is also the matter of milk or cream that is often added to mashed potatoes, or pearl onions. I have had great success making my own cashew cream to use in these dishes. Simply blend an equal ratio of soaked cashews and water. Start with one cup of each and adjust based on texture. If it’s too thick, add more water. If it’s too thin, add more nuts. Just take it slow. The less powerful the blender is, the more you want to take the time to soak your cashews. At least an hour would be good. If you keep them in water over night, refrigerate them. Raw cashews are best, but unsalted and roasted work too.


If you want more information on making cashew cream, just use your friendly neighborhood search engine. Recipes and tips abound. It can also be used as a base for whipped topping (use a search for recipes because I personally have not perfected this).




Green bean casserole: The good news is, green beans are a vegetable! And miracle of all miracles: the fried onion thingies that typically go on this dish are almost always vegan (just read the label of the products on your local shelf). Therefore the only obstacles are the mushroom soup and any dairy that your recipe requires. For dairy, you can try the cashew cream I mentioned, above. There are varieties of canned mushroom soup that are vegan. It is just a little challenging to avoid the ones that come premixed with cream. Some brands I have been able to find on small town grocery store shelves are marketed as mushroom gravy, not soup. Campbell’s makes a mushroom gravy that would work. These are essentially the same thing as a canned soup. Check the canned gravy selection and read labels. There are also plenty of recipes on the internet for making this casserole from scratch, without a canned soup. I have tried a few and they were surprisingly simple. You basically make a quick mushroom soup yourself out of ingredients like veg broth, onions, mushrooms, and the like. Check some recipe sites out and give it a try!




The (give thanks it isn’t a) Bird: Vegans have wide-ranging opinions about whether to buy a turkey substitute, or make one, or simply stick to veggie side dishes. But since we all know that the holidays get marketed like crazy, it is no surprise that there are several good turkey replacements. Tofurky was the game-changer, and Thanksgiving is kind of their thing. Now their products are available in many mainstream grocery stores. I remember when the tofurky was a novelty item, and we veg folks had to scour the countryside for them weeks in advance of any holiday. Anyone who like to joke that vegans are “bad hunters” has never seen the wiles and relentless determination brought to bear in this annual veg quest. But perhaps those days are over. Tofurky has hit the mainstream and several other brands are racing to catch up. I will include some product links, but you can also do a search on brands including Tofurky, Gardein, Field Roast, and Vegetarian Plus.


Some vegans do not want anything resembling turkey, but still would like an entrée. There are several recipes online or in books for holiday loaf recipes. These are often made of beans, grains, and perhaps some nuts. They also resemble the stuffing in terms of taste and texture.




Gravy: The holiday roasts mentioned above, like Tofurky, may come with gravy. Tofurky also sells the gravy as a separate side.


There are numerous vegan gravy packets available that are easy to mix on the stovetop, usually with veggie broth. As I mentioned earlier, Campbell's makes a mushroom gravy in a can that is vegan. But if you already tend to make gravy, there are plenty of vegan recipes. Basically it is the use of veg broth instead of meat. The flour or cornstarch and other seasoning will probably be very much the same. Lots of vegans have developed recipes to make our gravy savory and thick, like what we probably grew up with. The Happy Herbivore cookbooks have several good recipes, and some are included on the recipe index of author Lindsay Nixon’s website.




The Extras: Dessert, Cheese, Nog:


Dessert! Fruit Pies are an easy recipe to adapt for a vegan holiday. Mostly you are thinking of the crust. Any health food store will have vegan crusts in the freezer section (and often gluten free, etc.). You can consult one of the listed recipe sites or books to make your own pies, cakes, or cookies. Read labels, but pre-made graham cracker crusts are often vegan.


For a convenience item, the new frozen cheesecakes by Daiya are good on their own, or can be covered with a can of fruit sauce. Easy and tasty, for the win!


We know that Thanksgiving is a launching-point for Christmas. Many of the holiday foods that start to appear in November include cheese appetizers and egg nog.


For both cheese and nog, there are numerous recipes online. Some vegan cookbooks feature holiday sections, or are entirely dedicated to the holidays. Two examples are “Betty Goes Vegan,” by Dan and Annie Shannon and “Happy Herbivore Holidays and Gatherings” by Lindsay S Nixon.


Silk Nog is widely available in mainstream stores. It is even in many Walmart locations. There are several other up and coming Nog brands, including SO Delicious.


For cheese, the biggest brand in vegan premade stuff is Daiya. I mention this one because it is in more stores, but there are innumerable vegan cheeses coming out everywhere. Check for local, artisan brands. We have a local vegan who makes lovely nut based cheeses. If you cannot find anyone through the internet or a local co-op or health store, you can go online. A great artisan cheese that can be bought through the internet is made by Miyoko Schinner, who is also the author of a recipe book called “Artisan Vegan Cheese.” You can try her book out and make some cheese of your own, or head to her cheese shop through the link I will post here. I do happen to own the cookbook and have successfully made several of her recipes. It takes some advanced planning, though, because the process for several of the recipes involves fermenting your own “rejuvelac” to culture the cheeses (that are mostly either nut or tofu based). Some of her recipes can be made without the advance prep.




Beyond the Food:


Of course, there are other things going on around these major holidays beside the food (though sometimes it is hard to tell).  For one, there is time with family. People may see this as a good thing or a stressful thing, for any number of reasons. Other aspects of the holidays are gratitude, reverence, and often a spirit of giving.




If stress over veg eating is part of the family dynamic, some advance planning about how you will handle this may help. I think it is always best to keep interactions as simple and as possible, and make any statements based purely on your own experience. For instance, you could say “Eating this way just makes me feel better for several reasons.” Or “I haven’t found that (insert stereotype) is the case. At least, not in my experience. But I’ve heard that before, too.” Even is someone pushes our buttons and makes us angry, it’s always best to talk to them the way we would want to be talked to.


Family members may tease you in order to ease their own discomfort about your diet. How you deal with that is up to you, and the context of the relationship. If possible, laughing it off or making your own joke may help to keep things light. Of course, if family gatherings are too damaging or traumatic for you, you do have the right to skip them. This might be the case for a number of reasons, only one of which is dietary.


I heard a suggestion once that had nothing to do with veganism, but it works. Perhaps downloading a movie or going to a theater would be a good suggestion for your mixed-bag of family members. Then you can try to keep the focus of any “arguing” on the film, and not various hot-button issues. Some other activity besides film would work, too. The idea is basically to keep an eye out for interesting topics of conversation that steer people into the safe-zone.


If you are anxious about the questions that you might be asked about veganism, there is a really good book devoted wholly to that topic. It is by Sherry F Colb and is called, “Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger? And Other Questions People Ask Vegans.” If having this list of responses at hand will ease your anxiety, it is a great book and an informative read.


Now, for the spirit of giving. There are many ways a Vegan Pagan can give back to the community during the holidays. There are often food drives going on around this time of year. Food banks are very limited in the plant-based donations they receive. People who want to be vegan (or are lactose intolerant or etc.) often really struggle. Donations of beans, rice, vegan pasta and sauce, or nut milks might be really helpful to someone in your locale. You can also donate unprocessed fruits and vegetables (root crops or things that tend to keep longer).


The Farm Animal Sanctuary movement is growing. You might find that there is one near you that you could visit. This is a wonderful and healing activity for a family holiday. Some organizations, like Farm Sanctuary in New York and California, have a vegan “feed the turkeys” event around this time. Even if they are closed for tours by this time of the year, they also have donation drives to adopt a turkey in their program, and provide the funds for basic care. Donations to these kind of charities can also be made as holiday gifts, in someone else’s’ name.




Thanksgiving and Mabon both have a religious aspect, in terms of being grateful for what we have. Vegan Pagans can express this by creating a ritual of thanksgiving, or a simple blessing to be given at meal time. Children could help to create the blessing by listing the people or things they are grateful for. Everyone at the table could share one thing, before the meal. A “cauldron of plenty” can be used on an altar or in a visualization to express our awareness of what blessings we have. This can also be a way to collect donations for a food drive to a pantry or an animal rescue group.




So these are some of my ideas for a Vegan Thanksgiving. I often start my preparations at Mabon so that I have time to make a good donation to an organization, around the time of the secular Thanksgiving. However you choose to do this holiday (or any other), I wish you all blessings and safety and peace.




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Leslie earned her Master of Divinity Degree at Vanderbilt University and is a Wiccan Priestess, Ordained Interfaith and seeking ordination through the Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor. Her column in SageWoman, “Child of Artemis,” deals with women and our relationship with animals. Leslie considers herself a cultural worker, dealing with issues of violence and oppression as they impact humans and other species. She has worked at a rural domestic violence prevention program since 2001 and is a board member on VegME, Maine’s vegan advocacy group.  


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