The gathering of 52 English colonists and 90 Wampanoag Indians in 1621 marked the beginning of what we call Thanksgiving today. Enduring a year of starvation and disease, for the Christians it was a time to praise God for the abundance of the harvest. For the Native Americans, it was a time to praise the Earth for the same.
For me, 400 years later, not much is different. Community, gratitude and seasonal crops dominate my thoughts, though I have to work hard to drown out the constant talk of baked turkeys, roasted turkeys, leftover turkeys and turkey pot pies.
I've been celebrating a vegetarian Thanksgiving for 23 years and a vegan one for 16, and deciding what to serve each year is the most difficult part; not because of the lack of options but precisely because there are so many.
When people think of a vegan Thanksgiving, I think they envision something lacking because we're all taught that a proper main dish comprises some type of animal flesh. But really I think what matters most is having a beautiful centerpiece on the table and a focal point on the plate, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is through things that can be stuffed, such as winter squash, little pumpkins, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms or corn husks.
Even before I stopped eating animals, for me, Thanksgiving dinner was always all about the side dishes, and there's no dearth on our table: mashed potatoes, rutabagas, mushroom gravy, bread stuffing, cranberry walnut relish, fresh corn, green beans, roasted vegetables, cornbread, homemade biscuits and green salad. Dessert options range from pies, cakes, cobblers, cookies and crisps. With just a few switcheraoos -- vegetable broth and plant-based milks and butters -- our Thanksgiving feast is as traditional as it is beautiful.
Despite murmurings that it's not a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey, the truth is we all shape our traditions out of our values, but we don't have to choose one over the other. We can enjoy food-based rituals where nothing need be sacrificed - not taste, familiarity, a sense of community or an animal.
With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.