Tips and Traditions for an Animal-Friendly Thanksgiving

Tips and Traditions for an Animal-Friendly Thanksgiving

updated 11/17/2023

Whether you’re a seasoned plant-based pro or new to a vegan lifestyle, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, it can be a holiday that is both nostalgic and full of tradition while also a potential source of anxiety when it comes time to gather around the dinner table. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, our team is sharing our tips, tales, treats, and traditions that make this holiday abundant with gratitude for both animals and those we know and hold dear.

For compassionate people who care about animals, Thanksgiving can be a depressing holiday because of how closely the day is aligned with consuming the flesh from turkeys. Thanksgiving is a scary time to be a turkey. Statistics show that in the United States, over 46 million turkeys are slaughtered to be put on Thanksgiving tables alone out of the approximately 270 million who are killed annually. Dairy, eggs, meat-based broths, and other animal products like gelatin are also common ingredients in Thanksgiving dishes, so no matter if you’ve been vegan for years or this is your first plant-based holiday, it can be hard to find something animal-friendly at the table. 

Just one of the 270 million turkeys who wanted their lives, but were brutally killed in only one year in the United States alone.

“Gratefully, my family does a vegan Thanksgiving without argument. I am lucky to not be an isolated vegan at our holiday meals. I have other vegans (as well as vegetarians) in my family. There hasn't been a dead bird on my family's Thanksgiving table in many years. Even my dad, who is not vegan or vegetarian, is perfectly fine eating a vegan ‘turkey’ and he thinks it's delicious,” says Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner. “I always make a really easy and delectable pumpkin pie that uses tofu instead of eggs. It feels wonderful to enjoy the holidays with the people I love in a space that does not contain the body of a sentient being who wanted to live.”

With so many vegan options readily available at your local market, it’s easier than ever to serve an animal-friendly meal without compromising the traditional flavors and dishes that make Thanksgiving feel so familiar. From our favorite plant-based roasts to shopping lists and recipes, we have taken some of the research out of your holiday meal prep and shopping. 

Plant-based roasts, like the one above, make excellent compassionate alternatives to serving meat at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be all about the food, either. This holiday is a great time to lean into what you and your friends and family have in common and find activities to share, guaranteed to make memories. 

“My family loves board games, so we always set up tournaments that last almost all Thanksgiving weekend,” shares Erin Dobrzyn, Farmed Animals Campaigner. “While we don’t all observe a plant-based lifestyle, we do all love to laugh and spend quality time together, so I try to make an effort to create as many opportunities for us to share our common interests as we can! Sometimes this looks like rapid-fire rounds of Uno on the back porch, days-long Monopoly marathons, or a few (very competitive) rounds of trivia.”

If you want to stretch your legs and enjoy the crisp autumn air before other festivities start, many communities offer opportunities to not only express gratitude for your health, but to enjoy the area you live in as well. It’s also a great time to support local plant-based restaurants near you.

Thanksgiving can be a great day to get out and enjoy nature.

“My sister and I are the only vegans in the family, and every Thanksgiving we treat ourselves to takeout from our favorite veg-friendly restaurant. But this holiday isn’t really about the food for us,” says Katie Nolan, General Campaigner. “Every year my family participates in a different turkey trot. Some years we race a 5k and other years we just go out for a stroll. One year we even jumped in the ocean! For us, Thanksgiving is really about spending quality time together and getting outside.”

While those you love and want to spend the holiday with may not follow a plant-based lifestyle similar to your own, always know that there is an animal-friendly community ready to welcome you to the table, whether in-person or virtually. 

“Since Thanksgiving is focused on food, I choose to celebrate the holiday with my vegan community. I feel more aligned with my values and connected to others by getting involved locally. Plus, I receive the side benefit of preventing conflicts with family members who choose to eat other animals,” says Lisa Levinson, Campaigns Director.

In Defense of Animals hosts an online support group on Thanksgiving Day which is a great place to find community over the holiday.

“Every Thanksgiving we offer a confidential online support group for animal activists to express our feelings about the holiday in the company of others who value the rights and wellbeing of animals. Join us on Thanksgiving and on the fourth Thursday of every month,” states Levinson. 

You can register for free to join us live on Thanksgiving from 5 to 6 p.m. PT and receive event reminders here

If you’re local to Los Angeles, you can join a plant-based, picnic potluck tradition, held for the past 30 years, at Rancho Park on Thanksgiving Day. The event starts with an opening circle with readings, music, a land acknowledgment, and a meal blessing.

Annual Vegan Potluck Picnic at Rancho Park Los Angeles, on Thanksgiving Day 2021

You can learn more about the event, share your potluck recipe, arrange a carpool, and access event location details on the Facebook event page

No matter where you spend Thanksgiving or who you share a meal with, you can have a beautiful holiday that honors both tradition and animals. Everyone at In Defense of Animals wishes you a safe and compassionate Thanksgiving!

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