An alternative Thanksgiving celebration is growing in popularity in Maine: the Gentle Thanksgiving. This year, at least three all-vegan, Gentle Thanksgivings are taking place on farms across the state in the lead-up to Thanksgiving day.

These public dinners serve the season’s classic foods, with ingredients made exclusively from plants. And they’ve been drawing packed houses.

Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks held its seventh annual Gentle Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. As of Nov. 1, the event was sold out. Attendees paid $100 for a meal that included gourmet food from chef Brian Beaupain; music from harpist Amy Kercsmar and flutist Melissa Riesgo; and a chance to visit with the turkey flock and other rescued farm animals, many of which come from the state of Maine’s cruelty cases.

“Many people have never had the opportunity to interact with farmed animals in a setting like ours,” said Peace Ridge development director Melissa Andrews. “It’s a place where animals are treated as fellow living beings just as deserving of respect and care as our beloved dogs and cats. Nothing is expected or taken from our rescued animals in exchange for their care here.”

Andrews said the event is the sanctuary’s largest fundraiser, and the menu included vegan holiday roasts, butternut squash lasagna, vegan sausage stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Guests line up at last year’s Gentle Thanksgiving potluck hosted by Graze in Peace in Durham. This year’s event takes place Nov. 17. Photo courtesy of Graze in Peace

Next Sunday, Nov. 17, the Graze in Peace farm animal sanctuary in Durham will host its own Gentle Thanksgiving dinner at noon. The event is a potluck with a suggested donation of $10 and takes place in the sanctuary’s yurt, which can accommodate 75. Graze in Peace hosted its first Gentle Thanksgiving last fall.

“Last year’s event was a really fun, casual community-building event,” said Graze in Peace founder and president Deborah Schwink. “Everyone brought delicious dishes including a few different plant-based roasts, squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, wild rice, sweet potatoes with vegan marshmallows and pumpkin and apple pies. There were other nontraditional dishes as well, including lasagna and a Gentle Thanksgiving sheet cake.”

Schwink said this year’s Gentle Thanksgiving will be especially poignant, since the sanctuary recently lost Homer, a rescued turkey who succumbed to a severe foot infection despite extensive veterinary care and a week in the hospital.

“We just spent thousands trying to save one turkey this past month when so many will be taken in the next month without even a thought for their life,” Schwink said.

Frinklepod Farm in Arundel began hosting monthly vegan brunches in its on-farm cafe in September and will host a Gentle Thanksgiving brunch on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 11 a.m. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $10 for kids. The farm can seat 30 people and may do two seatings if there is demand for it, said farmer and chef Flora Brown.

“As a farm, we focus on local ingredients,” said Brown, who farms with her husband, Noah Wentworth. “We’re really emphasizing local, seasonal, organic and vegan all at the same time. All the food is organic. Much of it from Frinklepod. Organic farming is a much kinder and gentler way to farm.”

Chef Alex Pine, who teaches regularly at the Frinklepod Cooking School, will join Brown in the kitchen and make a buffet menu featuring seitan Wellington and pumpkin seed croquettes, using a recipe I developed and published in the Portland Press Herald more than a decade ago.

The menu will include other traditional dishes, such as mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, the last served with scoops of Maine-made Sticky Sweet ice cream.

“Gentle to me is a really nice word instead of using the word vegan or vegetarian over and over again,” said Brown. “I think it also might intrigue people to look into it.”

Across the country, many animal sanctuaries host Gentle Thanksgivings. The event originated at The Gentle Barn, which operates farm animal sanctuaries in Tennessee, Missouri and California. Courtney Eklund, events coordinator for The Gentle Barn, confirmed that the sanctuary “coined the name” in 2000.

Each Gentle Barn farm hosts its 20th annual Gentle Thanksgiving this month.

Gentle Thanksgivings first began popping up in Maine more than a decade ago when the Maine Vegan Meetup held Gentle Thanksgiving potlucks in Portland at Urban Farm Fermentory. The group no longer hosts these events.

“The Gentle part of Thanksgiving is about coming together in a way that does no harm to other beings, particularly turkeys, who are so grossly exploited, especially at this time of year,” said Schwink.

In addition to more of these events taking place in Maine, there’s evidence the custom of eating turkeys at Thanksgiving could be waning. The National Turkey Federation, an American trade group, estimates 44 million turkeys were eaten on Thanksgiving in 2017, which is down from the 46 million estimated to have been killed and eaten on Thanksgiving in 2013.

The turkeys and I will be grateful should this trend continue.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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