Preparing a Plant-Based Thanksgiving

By Rachel Sarnoff

Vegan Thanksgiving. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But that might be until you learn the truth about turkey: Most conventional birds have been inbred to the point that they can’t even reproduce naturally. And many are stuffed full of chemical fat-inducing hormones and pesticides—even before you stuff them.

The idea of giving up the bird comes with backers. Doctors say we should reduce meat consumption for optimal health. Scientists recently recommended halving meat consumption to reduce environmental impact. And vegans point out that giving up animal products positively contributes to the fight against global warming: Livestock and poultry production tipped the scales in 2009, claiming responsibility for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Just reducing your meat consumption can really make a difference in your health and the health of the planet. Luckily, many traditional Thanksgiving dishes can be made vegan, with very little effort.

To make a dish vegan, simply remove all animal product from the recipe (butter, cheese, milk, meat) and replace them with vegetable-based products (olive oil, margarine, nut-based milk, soy-based meat alternatives). At our Thanksgiving table, we love sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil, onions and garlic, mashed potatoes made with organic margarine, green beans with hummus, and brussel sprouts braised with vegetable broth.

And then there’s the main course. Can’t give up the roast but want to give the holiday a vegan whirl? Look for a “turkey” made from GMO-free soy. If your guests demand tradition, consider a turkey that’s organic, free-range and mates naturally—what I like to refer to as a sexy bird.

Our family’s had a lot of practice with both. My husband and I both have had long-range stints with vegetarianism, during which we baffled Depression-era grandparents who couldn’t understand why we’d pass up a square meal with at least a triangle’s worth of red meat. Today, we live a semi-vegetarian life to the chagrin of my Nebraska-born father, who tolerates the grilled tofu that I often serve up—although he’d probably rather have chicken.

My aunt and uncle were the touchstones for planning our holiday meal. They’ve been pescatarian for more than 40 years. Until recently, they lived “off the grid” in a house perched on top of a ridge in the mountains above Santa Rosa. The water was from a well; kitchen run-off fed the garden. Everything they did was about being conscious of their impact on the environment, even down to their decision not to eat meat.

I remember the first holiday we spent with them as a family, when my son was barely toddling. The side dishes were organic, many of them from the garden, and the centerpiece was a wild-caught salmon. Although we smiled and nodded when my aunt and uncle talked about factory farming and buying locally and the dangers of pesticide-laden tomatoes, we were happy to go back to our convenient city existence, mere blocks away from a Costco where we could buy food in bulk.

What a difference a decade or so can make. My family table is filled with organic, locally-sourced and primarily vegetarian foods. There are no gray-water system or solar panels at my house—yet. But we’re doing everything we can to minimize our dependence on the grid. And with every decision we make, we try to remain aware of our impact.

Quietly, consistently, my relatives inspired many of these changes in the way we live. And they did it without judgment: They offered information, they answered questions, but they never pointed fingers—they never criticized me for living in my life a different, less sustainable way. They simply lived by example and waited for the world to come around.

Hopefully, it’s starting to.


rachel-lincoln-sarnoff-500-squareAbout The Author

Better known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children magazine—before she had three of her own. Rachel was featured in Los Angeles and Lucky magazines and appeared on “The Today Show” and “CNN Headline News,” among others, to share advice about healthier living with less judgement. The author of The Big List of Things That Suck and partner at Give + Take swap shop in Los Angeles, Rachel also publishes, where “you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to raise healthy kids.” Follow her and at


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