Americans ate 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving in 2017, according to an article from CNBC. Those who practice vegetarianism, veganism or other plant-based diets, however, forgo the classic main dish.
Plant-based eating is nothing new. People have practiced vegetarian diets, or abstained from certain kinds of meat, for thousands of years based on cultural and religious reasons. In the last few decades, however, the number of people transitioning to plant-based diets has been on the rise. More and more people are giving up meat not for cultural or religious reasons, but because of concern for animal welfare and the environment.
In 2018, Izy Dobbins became a vegetarian after cutting down on meat when she started college, she said. Dobbins, a senior advertising major from Savannah, said the primary reason she made the switch was the impact eating meat has on the environment.
“My first semester of freshman year I took a class where we had a unit on sustainability and we talked a lot about the impact of our diets on sustainability and how meat is such a great personal contributor to climate change,” Dobbins said. “And I thought, well, I don’t eat that much meat anyway I might as well just not eat it at all.”
Abby Winograd, a junior international affairs major from Miami, Florida, decided to become a vegetarian when she was 10 because of her love for animals. Then, when she was 18, she decided to make the switch to veganism out of environmental concerns involving the meat and dairy industries. Her family has also made the switch to a more plant-based diet over the last decade, now only occasionally having eggs or dairy, she said.
After making big lifestyle changes, the holidays can be difficult. Diana Richtman, a senior women’s studies and English double major, has been a vegetarian for almost five years, she said. During her first holiday season after going vegetarian, she missed some of the foods she used to enjoy, like her family’s stuffing, she said. In addition to missing some of her favorite foods, some of her family members didn’t understand her new diet.
“I have tofurkey every year and I don’t go a year without [my immediate family] commenting on that,” Richtman said. “I think my extended family— because they see me less—they’re very curious about what I’m eating, not necessarily in a bad way but when you’re just trying to have a meal it could be a little frustrating to have someone asking you what you’re eating.”
Dobbins has experienced similar sentiments from her family, she said, not necessarily during Thanksgiving, but during other holidays like Christmas and the Fourth of July. Her grandparents will still sometimes ask her if she’s eating meat again, she said. Even though Winograd’s family is mostly plant-based, she’s faced challenges when it comes to her diet as well. When she’d go to a friend’s house for Shabbat or other Jewish holidays, there wasn’t always food she was able to eat there, she said.
While the holidays can pose some problems for vegans and vegetarians, the season can bring joy as well. Richtman’s sister recently went vegan, and the two have been sharing recipes they’re excited to try together. Last year, Winograd got to host her family for a vegan Thanksgiving at her apartment in Athens, she said.
“For the first time, my family came to Athens and I hosted them in my apartment, and we all did a big vegan Thanksgiving,” Winograd said. “That rocked and it brought a lot more meaning to it for me, because I wasn’t just miserable.”
Even though lots of holiday foods include meat or animal-based ingredients, there are many holiday foods vegans and vegetarians get to enjoy. Dobbins said she enjoys making stews, soups and chilis. She said these recipes can easily be made into vegetarian dishes, while still including protein and fiber. For her family’s vegan Thanksgiving, Winograd made vegan mac and cheese using ingredients like cashews, garlic, nutritional yeast and Panko breadcrumbs, she said. Even though Richtman misses her family’s stuffing, she said she still gets to enjoy her mom’s brown sugar and cinnamon sweet potatoes.
Entering into your first holiday season after going vegan, vegetarian or plant-based can be intimidating. Richtman’s advice? Don’t take things too seriously. If you’re planning on bringing a dish to a gathering, aim to make it something everyone will enjoy even if it is vegetarian or vegan, she said. Dobbins said going easy on yourself during the holidays can also be helpful. If you’re new to your plant-based diet, allowing yourself to have a few animal products will make the transition easier, she said.
“During the holidays I would say if you’re someone who’s trying to cut down on meat, only eat the best meat,” Dobbins said. “Instead of eating meat for every meal, like when you’re at home making a turkey sandwich, make that lunch something vegetarian. And then when it’s fancy dinner time and you’re getting a steak or ribs, or you’re getting the juicy ham, enjoy that because that’s the good stuff.”
Winograd also shared Dobbins’ sentiment that when transitioning to a plant-based diet, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Everyone is at a different step in the process of having a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based lifestyle, she said.
“You can’t make fun of or look down on other people that are in the process of becoming vegan and might be breaking it sometimes or enjoying the food they grew up eating,” Winograd said. “We’re all on this journey of making the world better.”