October 28, 2011
By Trista Cornelius
It's that time of year—one holiday, family event, or friend gathering after another from now until February. When I first became vegan, I thought I'd miss customary dishes at the family table. I thought I'd feel awkward at parties. I wondered how to navigate traditions that involved meat and dairy. Luckily, my family and friends accepted my new lifestyle with grace and curiosity, and now I look back and see how new traditions evolved alongside the old. You can make plant-based replicas of your omnivore friends' traditional dishes, or you can make the holiday your own. I've done both.
After my first Thanksgiving of salad and bread, I realized how much I missed the gluttony of the holiday, piling my plate a few times, then lying stuffed on the sofa unable to move for a few hours. So, our Snoopy Thanksgiving was born. You remember the old Charlie Brown cartoon, right? Where Snoopy makes Thanksgiving dinner for everyone - piles of toast, bowls of popcorn, and jellybeans.
The day after Thanksgiving, we pile our dining room table full of anything and everything vegan-festive - Tofurky and Field Roast, potatoes and stuffing, roasted vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. A small hodgepodge of friends and family for whom the traditional Thanksgiving day is not festive enough for one reason or another join us for our day-after holiday, where everyone comes as they are, eats as much as they like, and flops on the furniture or the floor for as long as they want.
At other times, I have no desire to replicate the animal-based original. The first time I brought lentil pate as an alternate to clam dip to a party, a half-dozen people requested the recipe, and more demanded I bring it back the following year. For birthdays, mini vanilla cupcakes or thick, flaky shortbread cookies replace egg-based cake and butter cream frosting.
My maternal grandmother made German Chocolate Cake nearly every year for my birthday, and my mom has carried on the tradition ever since my grandmother passed away. Not wanting to say anything to my mom about the egg and dairy in the cake the first year I became vegan, I arrived to the party ready to eat animal-based cake in deference to heritage and tradition. The cake, more moist and rich than ever before, left me speechless until my mom smiled and explained—coconut milk and dark chocolate! Through her own resourcefulness, she'd adapted an old family recipe and not only replicated it, but made it even better.
If you've recently cut animal products from your life, I hope the upcoming months provide you opportunities to explore plant-based look-alikes as well as new, heartfelt traditions and connections with those who join you on your journey, even if only for one day.