A vegan Thanksgiving

(Photo by Janet Holmes)

(Photo by Janet Holmes)

Local vegans at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary pay homage to living turkeys via photography, “adopting” them with sponsorship, and cooking über-festive dishes for the Thanksgiving groaning board that contain no animal products whatsoever. In a variety of ways, these folks are going well beyond merely keeping the bird out of the oven at holiday time.

“More than 45 million turkeys are slaughtered each year,” said Michelle Alvarez, outreach manager for the sanctuary. “You can practice compassionate traditions that minimize animal suffering and still enjoy the holiday and loved ones.”

“Every animal is a soul, and has a personality and a right to live,” says Nikki Rowell. “They all have different and specific personalities, just like us. And if we all became conscious about the connection between the loving souls that we’ve gotten to know and the food that’s on our plates, I really believe that people would make different choices.”


Like the others we interviewed, Rowell is a volunteer at Sanctuary. She loves to share the stories of animals and their unique personalities, like Declan, a resident turkey that coos along with live ukulele music and is utterly devoted to his lady love, Daisy, with whom he shares a chalet at the sanctuary. “It’s one of the many love stories on the farm,” she says.

Rowell is sponsoring a turkey this year through the sanctuary and plans to do it every year hence. She has successfully encouraged her family and friends to do so as well.

In addition to volunteering at the sanctuary, Janet Holmes also cares for avian creatures at the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation center in New York City. The avid photographer has taken many personality-capturing shots of turkeys. This year she plans to cook a vegan feast for her Thanksgiving table.  She’ll be preparing roasted tomato-fennel soup, peppers stuffed with barley, mushrooms and pine nuts, and an apple crumble.

Barbara Wood has been inspired by cooking classes at the sanctuary. The instructor, chef Linda Soper-Kolton, creates imaginative and tasty dishes that include a roster of festive vegan entrees, sides and desserts appropriate for a celebratory feast. In the past Wood has made Soper-Kolton’s mini “eatloaves” with golden gravy, butternut squash lasagna and a roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberry salad. This year she plans to serve pumpkin pot pies, kale and quinoa salad with candied delicata squash, garlic and ginger green beans with shiitake “bacon” and sweet potato and cranberry crisp with whipped coconut cream from this year’s Thanksgiving-themed class.

Soper-Kolton says vegan Thanksgiving dinners can be so much more than “a plate full of side dishes.” As she writes on her blog, “This important holiday meal can be done compassionately and with as much flair, taste and satisfaction as a traditional meal.”

The key is enhancing holiday dishes with flavor and texture, offering rich centerpieces like her meatless meatloaves made with French lentils and brown rice or that pumpkin pot pie of a hearty fall veggie mélange under flaky vegan biscuits; “rich, creamy, comforting and a beautiful and festive main course for a vegan holiday meal,” she says. Starters from this year’s menu include baked almond cheese and artichoke & white bean pinwheel. Traditional sides only need a bit of tweaking to be vegan and are just as luscious as the originals; her mashed potatoes are made of organic russets/Idahos with skins, vegetable broth, creamy nutritional yeast and Earth Balance or olive oil, and her golden gravy for drizzling over them is completely vegan as well. For dessert she suggests the sweet potato cranberry crisp with coconut milk whipped cream that Wood is serving, her no-bake gingersnap pumpkin pie or chocolate mousse.

“It’s hard to imagine so much suffering over one meal,” says Rowell. “There are so many delicious alternatives out there.”

Turkey sponsorship has two tiers; the first at $25 includes a photo of your turkey and a .pdf of vegan Thanksgiving recipes; the second, $216, includes two photos, the recipes, a sanctuary membership and the option to visit the adopted bird. See casanctuary.org for more information or contact adoption and sponsorship coordinator Erin Murphy at (845) 336-8447 ext. 232 or erin@casanctuary.org. Soper-Kolton’s blog and recipes can be found at compassionatecuisine.org