The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'A new tradition': Students setting the table with more plant-based Thanksgiving meals

DTH Photo Illustration. For students and families that don't eat meat, they turn to other foods for their Thanksgiving Day meals and desserts.

For Jessica Stevens, having a vegan Thanksgiving is nothing new. 

She has been vegan for five years and was a vegetarian for six years prior. Stevens’ immediate family is all vegan, in support of Stevens' father, who went vegan after struggling with health issues. 

While some families may gather around a turkey this Thanksgiving, others will be devouring tofu turkeys, vegetables and dairy-free macaroni and cheese. Each celebrating table will be lined with its own unique dishes, and tables that have gone meatless are no exception.

Stevens said that when her family first became vegan, their Thanksgivings felt slightly different. 

“My grandparents would come over, and they would be disappointed because some of our traditional dishes were different,” Stevens said.

After years of research and practice with vegan recipes like green bean casserole, her family has come to accept and appreciate their Thanksgiving feast. 

According to a 2019 study, American plant-based meat substitutes sales increased by 34 percent between 2017 and 2019, and this is no different when it comes to Americans shopping for Thanksgiving meals. Tofurkey, a tofu turkey alternative, struggled with meeting their increased demand last holiday season. With many Americans turning to meatless or otherwise plant-based diets, Thanksgiving may look different today than in decades past.

Like Stevens, first-year student Jewell Caputa has learned how to adapt these traditional foods to fit her vegetarian diet. 

Caputa has been vegetarian for nearly five years and chose to cut meat out of her diet after learning of its consequences on environmental sustainability. While her family was initially surprised by this choice, they had no problems with it, especially when Caputa took to participating in the meal-planning and cooking.

Caputa’s current Thanksgiving table looks different now than it has in the past – including a small turkey.

“My family all still eats meat, but they definitely have downsized the turkey they get,” Caputa said. “Now, they get one that could probably feed two people.”

She and her family have added more vegetarian side dishes, which Caputa helps cook, to their table.

“Honestly, this has impacted our tradition positively, because I’m in the kitchen more with my family,” she said. “It’s become more of a tradition for my sister and I to make a pumpkin pie.”

Sophomore Megan Wagner, who has been vegan for two years and was a pescatarian for a year and a half prior, also cooks over the holiday, though she differs from Caputa in that she prepares meals for herself alone. 

“I don’t try to replace traditional Thanksgiving foods, and I just eat whatever I’m in the mood for,” she said.

Though her family was initially doubtful of her diet, they have become more understanding over the years due to the dishes she cooks.

“I once made cookies and my grandfather ate about half of them before realizing they were vegan,” Wagner said.

Jenny Cochand differs from others in that her family's Thanksgivings have been accommodating for as long as she can remember. 

“My mom is a pescatarian, and I’ve really eaten that way my whole life, but I officially started my senior year of high school,” Cochand said.

When Cochand was younger, she remembers celebrating with her great aunt, who had a separate stuffing for non-meat eaters, along with other sides. 

“As I got older, my mom started hosting Thanksgiving, and she’d have a turkey leg or breast for my sisters, but then she’d cook salmon,” she said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

For others, beginning new traditions is an important aspect of Thanksgiving. Last year, UNC graduate Ruchi Jalavancha’s family had a vegetarian Indian-American meal, combining traditional American dishes such as macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes with Indian foods like curry and sambhar, a lentil stew. 

Jalavancha did not begin a vegetarian diet until January, but said that this meal reassured her that she could still enjoy great foods without eating meat.

With every unique Thanksgiving table, Jalavancha and others look forward to the future of meatless holidays. 

“We’ve started a new tradition,” Jalavancha said. “This definitely made me excited for the future, when my fiancé and I can do this one day with both of our families and kids.”