Vegan students plan for Turkey Day without the turkey | The Avenue

After a semester of ramen noodle packages and Chipotle runs, a home-cooked meal is sometimes all college students look forward to.

But for vegans and vegetarians, Thanksgiving looks a little different: Turkeys are traded for tofu, mac and cheese is replaced with vegan alternatives and mashed potatoes are made with plant-based milk. 

Vegans and vegetarians often encounter dinner-time challenges when home for the holidays, as their families whip up the traditional Thanksgiving dishes full of butter, meat and cheese. The plant-based lifestyle may often leave vegans feeling teased, awkward and hungry.  

For Christina Speros, a 19-year-old nutritional sciences sophomore at UF, being vegan means dealing with teasing from her family and navigating family meals. As a nutrition major, she feels passionate about veganism, fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.

She has been vegan for over a year and a half, but with an Italian mom and a Greek dad, her family’s Mediterranean background means their diets heavily consist of meat and cheese. 

Speros’ cousin is also vegan, so they plan their meals for Thanksgiving together, she said. This year, she is hoping to make vegan candied yams and a pumpkin cheesecake, along with other dishes. 

As much as she faces a hard time from her family for being vegan, Speros’ family always ends up fighting over her vegan chocolate chips cookies.

“I say it’s always in the desserts that get them,” she said. 

Marlee Anctil, a 19-year-old political science sophomore, is planning for her first Thanksgiving as a vegan, which she said will consist of a lot of the food she eats on a regular day.

“It’s going to probably be like a normal dinner and not really Thanksgiving just because it’s kind of hard.”

Anctil has been vegetarian for five years but made the transition to veganism in March. When she first transitioned into becoming a vegetarian, her family, especially her grandparents, who are from Mexico, didn’t react well to the news. 

“They were upset,” she said. “They didn’t want to have to accommodate special meals for me.”

This Thanksgiving, she said her family has accommodated some of their recipes so she can share some of the same dishes with everyone else. 

“I am afraid that it’s not going to be as good as Thanksgivings prior, especially because my parents make some really amazing non-vegan meals,” Anctil said.

Rain Meekins, a 19-year-old UF construction management sophomore, said his transition to becoming a vegan was gradual. He said he became a vegan due to his environmental and animal agriculture concerns. 

Meekins said his family is supportive of his diet but has faced criticism from his brother. 

“My brother always nags,” Meekins said. “They were just concerned if I am getting my nutritional needs.”

For Thanksgiving, he makes a lentil-based meatloaf and sticks to eating a lot of vegetables. He also says his family substitutes non-vegan items for vegan alternatives for him.  

“For mashed potatoes, a lot of the time they’ll use dairy-based butter,” he said. “I’ll be like, ‘Hey, I can have some too as long as you use this vegan butter that tastes the same.’”

He said sticking to small changes and making dairy-and meat-free swaps in the kitchen can help.  

“You can still enjoy Thanksgiving just as much,” he said. “You can still be vegan and enjoy the same types of foods in the same way. Thanksgiving is still Thanksgiving.”

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