For many people, Thanksgiving really changes once they know what turkeys endure to get onto the dinner table and/or learn how the story of pilgrims feasting peacefully with Native Americans was a beautiful fiction. A holiday that once seemed all about affirming life and peace seems like just the opposite. And once you have kids—what to do then? Some parents choose to scrap it altogether, but some use it as an opportunity to start new family traditions and learning opportunities based on their own values. This week I was touched by Alicia Silverstone’s video about her own Thanksgiving tradition with her son, which involves a feast of veggies and celebrating turkeys and adopting one.
I asked several of the contributors to my cookbook, The Vegucated Family Table, to let me know how they bring joy and meaning to the holiday. I was blown away by their creativity and the thoughtfulness of their responses.
Leinana Two Moons, author of Baconish, has two kids with her husband, vegan Native American photographer Anthony Two Moons. She says, “I love Thanksgiving food, but for obvious reasons it is a problematic holiday. That’s why I really love celebrating Thanksliving – not just for the turkeys and animals but also to celebrate Indigenous people and their (still living) culture, and just in general to focus on togetherness and gratitude.
A different kind of Turkey Day
There are endless ideas for how to bring turkeys to the table figuratively, either as honored guests or with art projects and media. Before adopting a turkey through a farm animal sanctuary, Rachel Filtz of Kind Cooking with Kids lets her son reads the turkeys’ bios on the website to pick out his favorite one. She says, “We usually hang up the picture so we can talk about him/her and be reminded every day of why we don’t eat turkeys. This year I will also have my son write a letter to the turkey we adopt.” Leinana Two Moons enjoys reading Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving with her kids “because it has a fun vegan angle, and we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.” Cookbook author Annie Shannon has begun a tradition of watching the animated feature Free Birds around this time of year. “Is it a great movie? Nope,” She says, “but it has a nice message about time traveling turkeys who don’t want people to farm and eat them anymore.”
Vegan Fam in Cow Town podcaster Amy Bradley celebrates in the presence of a real live turkey, first at a Friendsgiving celebration the weekend before Thanksgiving at a micro-sanctuary her friends own, where they shower the resident handsome turkey, Apollo, with treats and love. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, she brings Apollo to her table. She describes an annual scene with her husband “imitating the gobble and everyone trying to top it.” Then, she says, “we make a turkey craft of some sort, depending on the age of the kids, and sometimes dine in our pj’s.” Unsurprisingly, 2020 will likely be a pj year.
What’s on the table
Rachel Filtz always includes her son Jake “in helping prepare kid-friendly, vegan recipes that he can participate in—sort of like a little cooking class.” Before Covid she taught vegan cooking classes to kids, and would have used the holiday as an opportunity to teach her classes/neighborhood kids how to prepare delicious vegan dishes. This year the sole student will be her son. “We will do apple crisps, jam tarts, mini pumpkin pies, and stuffing balls. We also always do a vegetable turkey plate, which is super fun!”
On the holiday, Annie opts for the traditional vegan route. “One of our traditions is the Tofurky. We might play around with the other holiday roasts around Thanksgiving, but we always make two Tofurky brand Tofurkys – so we can have leftovers – for the actual Thanksgiving meal. Maybe it’s brand loyalty or playing it safe, but we don’t play around with anything else for the big night.”
Leinana is making more of a concerted effort this year to decolonize the holiday. “Focusing first on the food, I’m planning to incorporate as many indigenous ingredients as I can, to celebrate the abundance of these native and vegan ingredients like squash, beans, corn, maple, pumpkin, and wild rice. Chanterelles, morels, and cranberries are also native to North America!”
An opportunity to learn about Native culture and history
“Something else that I recommend incorporating into your Thanksgiving tradition,” Leinana explains, “is a land acknowledgement. Before your meal, you can acknowledge the native lands where you grew up, where you currently live, and/or where you are enjoying your meal that day. This map is an easy reference to look up native lands. And lastly, it’s important to talk to your kids about the real history of how Indigenous people have been treated in our country, and actively dispel the “happy Pilgrims and Indians” myth of Thanksgiving. This is a great list of books for children about Thanksgiving, written from a Native perspective.”
Annie agrees with Leinana and explains, “It’s a great time to teach kids that not all Native Americans wore feather headdresses or lived in teepees. The Wampanoag – the ones who helped the pilgrims – didn’t do either of those things. If this holiday is really about the pilgrims being thankful that the Native Americans helped them survive the winter than we should really spend a little time talking about Native Americans are more than just figures in the pilgrims’ story. They have their own stories and aren’t only important in our country because they helped white people thrive, you know?”
A chance to help in the community
Natalie Freed of My Source Life loves doing community service projects through her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe. “This year,” she says, “girls are writing Thanksgiving cards to seniors in addition to their tradition of putting together Thanksgiving Bags for her local food bank. “The food bank gives us a list of items that they would like, and we take a shopping trip as a group and gather items for around a dozen bags. The physical action of shopping and picking out the items rather than just donating money makes it feel like more of a gift from one person to another.” She suggests “reaching out to homeless shelters, food banks, or senior centers to see if they are running programs like this or would be receptive to an offer of your own Thanksgiving Bag donations.”
There are so many ways to start kind new traditions for your children. Who knows what traditions that you start with your family now will become woven into not only your kids’ memories but into future generations as well! Happy Thanksliving!
Marisa Miller Wolfson is the creator of the Vegucated documentary and co-author of The Vegucated Family Table: Irresistible Vegan Recipes and Proven Tips for Feeding Plant-Powered Babies, Toddlers, and Kids. You can see many of the guest contributors quoted here testing out new recipes on their kids in this new short video. Marisa lives in New York City with her husband, two kids, and two rescued goldfish.