No meat or dairy? No problem for these vegans planning soup-to-nuts holiday feasts.

Inviting a vegan to Thanksgiving means inviting change to the table. And when vegans host Thanksgiving, change is everywhere as this traditional holiday morphs into a plant-based affair.

Erin Dillon of Freeport will be heading across town this Thanksgiving to celebrate with her parents and her sister, who lives in Boston. This will be her sixth Thanksgiving as a vegan eating with her non-vegan family.

“I bring vegan versions of dishes that people may not know could be vegan,” Dillon said. “You won’t catch me arriving with a kale salad. I try to prepare heartier fare like gravy or pie. One year, I pulled out the big guns by making a vegan pumpkin cheesecake.”

The gravy recipe she prefers comes from cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz and uses lentils, miso and seasonal herbs.

Dillon’s parents swap in vegetable oil for butter when making side dishes and leave the bacon off the Brussels sprouts. But does her family eat her vegan dishes?


“At past Thanksgivings, people have been skeptical of, but willing to try, vegan dishes,” said Dillon, who when we spoke was still deciding whether to bring a seitan roast or a lentil loaf.

A month ago, Betsy Harding of South Portland not only knew she would be making a lentil loaf wrapped in pastry dough for this year’s feast, she was already testing her recipe for the dinner she and her husband will host for 10 family members.

Harding describes her Thanksgiving spread as New England-style with “turnip and all your roots and your squash.” In addition to a vegan centerpiece dish, Harding will serve a store-bought vegan roast.

The owner of Organic Roots, a vegan salon and spa, Harding is a longtime vegetarian who with her husband went vegan four years ago, as did their Thanksgivings. A veganized version of the twice-baked potatoes she’s eaten at Thanksgiving since she was a child is always on the table, and her dessert menu this year consists of pumpkin pie, cashew cheesecake and vegan ice cream.

“It’s wonderful to show people it can all be done this way,” Harding said. “You can make a pumpkin pie without eggs. The meal is not light. I’m still serving cheesecake and pie and ice cream. Part of having this dinner is like with my business – I’m here to educate.”

Harding’s guest list spans three generations, and their feelings about the all-vegan feast range; some are fully supportive, others want turkey.


“They’re getting used to the vegan thing,” Harding said. “It’s more exciting doing it as vegan because it adds a more kind, thankful flair.”

While Harding and her husband are rapidly becoming veteran vegan Thanksgiving hosts, Marie Coyle of Portland will host her first vegan Thanksgiving this year. Coyle’s menu, to be served in her downtown studio apartment, is all-vegan and the four friends attending include vegans, vegetarians and omnivores.

She describes her menu plan as “traditional dishes made in less traditional ways.”

For instance, here’s how Coyle makes her mashed potatoes: she leaves the skins on the potatoes, boils and mashes them and then mixes in vegetable broth, almond milk, Dijon mustard and hummus. Another veg touch: She adds chopped kale and scallions.

“I’ll also be making savory tofu baked with sage and rosemary,” Coyle said, “as well as a curried lentil stew made with dried cranberries.”

Coyle said she is excited to host – and enjoy – an all-vegan Thanksgiving meal.


This year, Betsy Harding of South Portland will make this vegan lentil loaf wrapped in pastry dough for her Thanksgiving centerpiece dish.

This year, Betsy Harding of South Portland will make this vegan lentil loaf wrapped in pastry dough for her Thanksgiving centerpiece dish.

“I want to experience the nostalgia of a more traditional holiday meal without compromising the choices I’ve made about how I want to live and eat,” she said. There is plenty of gratitude, togetherness and food at the vegan Thanksgiving Mary-Anne LaMarre and her husband host in Oakland, but that is where the holiday’s traditional trappings end. Rather than a harvest meal, LaMarre and her family buy vegan take-out from all their favorite Waterville restaurants and enjoy it smorgasbord style. This year’s menu includes vegetable sushi, Thai food, Indian dishes and wood-fired pizza.

“We lay out this buffet, gather around and feast, tell stories and play games,” LaMarre said. “The only rule is that everything is vegan. We keep the oven going all day long, and it’s a constant rotation. Everyone gets their favorite.”

Because many restaurants are closed Thanksgiving day, the take-out is picked up Wednesday and reheated on Thanksgiving. A few homemade dishes make it into the rotation, too, such as lasagna, vegan buffalo dip and the desserts – including vegan chocolate caramel clusters –that LaMarre’s daughter Mary Kate brings.

LaMarre and her family used to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the Senator Inn in Augusta. But the hotel doesn’t offer a vegan menu, so after the family went vegan four years ago, it was no longer an option.

“We don’t cook because that pulls us apart from being together,” LaMarre said. “The theme of gratitude has not changed since we have transitioned to veganism. If anything, we are more acutely aware of our blessings.”

Kathy Freston, whose cookbook “The Book of Veganish” hit bookstores this fall, said by sharing vegan dishes, vegans and the vegan-inclined get our friends and family to eat more plant-based fare during Thanksgiving than they otherwise would. She expects the trend to accelerate as the vegetable-loving millennial generation gets older.


“They’re creating new family traditions, blending their parents’ old ways with the dishes they’ve discovered and love,” Freston said. “And the children of these millennials are likely to keep pushing away from the old, embracing the modified holiday.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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