This year start a new holiday tradition: One that serves all living beings

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We have a Thanksgiving tradition in my family. Once the table is set, and the meal is prepared, we rush to our seats, most of us starving, having chosen not to eat much since the night before in order to leave more room for the decadent food we are about to enjoy. But before the food is served and the forks are raised, we take a moment to share what we are thankful for. I suppose, this is my family’s way of saying grace. It is a tradition my mother started when my brother and I were very young, and it was just the three of us sitting around a small table that overflowed with my mother’s efforts to maintain a sense of normalcy in spite of my parents divorce. And for the most part, it worked. My brother and I would rush through our gratitude: “I’m thankful for you guys, and Dad, Grammy and Pop, and you know my friends, and stuff.”

But my mother was much more eloquent in her focus and delivery. “I’m thankful for each of you. I’m thankful for our home. I’m thankful for our good health. And,” she still always ends with this one, “I’m thankful for this bountiful blessing which we are about to receive.”

So many of our patterns of thought and behavior are wrapped up in the traditions of our youth. Our family, heritage, and culture impact not only the decisions that lead to our physical actions, but also and perhaps even more so, our emotions. This is why many people have such a hard time breaking some traditions, or straying from what has for so long been considered by those people closest to them, as normal; even if they have discovered that the tradition or behavior no longer serves them or those around them.

When my mother gave thanks for our bountiful blessing it stirred something within me. How, I wondered, could I be grateful for the blessing of our meal when it required the death of another? Why was our traditional meal, the one we had been raised on and become comfortable with, more important than the life of the bird who ended up as the centerpiece on our table? Didn’t that bird have a family of its own? And if not a family (thanks to factory farming), certainly a will to live? Rather than giving thanks, I felt like mourning. Holidays were suddenly overshadowed by the grim reality of what I had come to see as unnecessary suffering and death, all in the name of gratitude and celebration. It didn’t make sense to me. How could we be so disconnected from our emotions that an entire holiday season, supposedly based on the premise of gratitude, peace, joy, goodwill and kindness to others, requires extinguishing the lives of billions of living, breathing beings?

I do, however, understand that most people are simply continuing a beloved family tradition that has been passed down through generations. I also understand that change can be difficult, and that choosing not to conform can leave us feeling isolated and alien, even around those we were once closest with.

Personally, I no longer sit with my family — and the turkey or pig, or cow who has been sacrificed for their meal. My practice instead, is to celebrate with my loved ones either before or after the meal has been served. It is the solution that works best for me. It allows me to enjoy the company of my loved ones without compromising myself. And honoring ourselves and all beings is, I believe, the best tradition anyone could begin.

To help make this change a little easier for you, we have included some delicious, vegan holiday recipes. This year you can start a new tradition — one that serves all living beings. Happy Holidays!

Recipes courtesy JerseyCityVegan.com:

Stuffed Mushrooms

½ cup Italian –style dried breadcrumbs
½ cup Parmela parmesan cheese (or your favorite vegan parmesan substitute)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
28 large (2 ½-inch-diameter) white mushrooms, stemmed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Stir the breadcrumbs, Parmela parmesan cheese, garlic, parsley, mint, salt and pepper, to taste, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium bowl to blend.

Drizzle a heavy large baking sheet with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, to coat. Spoon the filling into the mushroom cavities and arrange on the baking sheets, cavity side up. Drizzle remaining oil over the filling in each mushroom. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is heated through and golden on top, about 25 minutes. Serve.

Coconut Sweet Potato Mash

3 pounds sweet potatoes, (about 6 medium)
1 ½ cup “lite” coconut milk
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on High until tender all the way to the center, 10 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place in a baking dish and bake at 425 degrees F until tender all the way to center, about 1 hour.)

When cool enough to handle, peel off and discard skin. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large bowl (or a pot on the stove) and mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Add coconut milk, ginger and salt; stir well. Serve warm.

Green Bean Casserole

1 ½ pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 Tbsp vegan butter, divided
8 oz mixed wild mushrooms, chopped
2 large, or 4 smaller shallots
1 -2 garlic cloves, minced
½ (or enough for 1 cup of water) vegetable bouillon cube
¼ c. Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 c. non-diary milk (unsweetened)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups fried onion pieces

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

Set up a steamer basket and steam the green beans until they are cooked through. Set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp vegan butter over medium heat in a medium sized, deep skillet.
Caramelize the shallots, garlic and mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Remove from pan and set aside.
Melt the remaining 3 tbsp butter and the bouillon cube in the same pan you used for the mushrooms. Whisk in the flour to make a roux. Slowly whisk in the non-dairy milk, and continue to stir avoid lumps. Cook the sauce until it thickens.
Add the mixture and beans to the sauce, stir. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart or 8x11 casserole dish, and sprinkle the fried onion pieces over the top.
Bake for 15 minutes and serve.

Cranberry Seitan

4 tablespoons olive oil
16oz seitan (about two packages store bought chunks)
½ cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F

Place seitan in a 9x13 baking dish. Add olive oil, using just enough to coat the seitan. Sprinkle on herbs, salt, pepper, and add dried cranberries.

Bake until seitan has lightly browned, about 25 minutes.

Tofu Cutlets

2 packages extra firm tofu
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tamari (or other soy sauce)
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F

Mix dried herbs together (for dried rosemary it helps to crush using mortar and pestle or the bottom of a glass).

Drain and press water for firm tofu. Cut into ½ inch slices. Lightly coat a baking sheet with some of the olive oil, place tofu slices on sheet. Using a basting brush, baste tofu with tamari and then with the remaining olive oil. Evenly sprinkle dried herb mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes, then flip slices and bake for another 15 minutes, then flip slices and bake for another 15 minutes until tofu is golden. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cinnamon Pumpkin Pie

One 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin
¾ cup silken tofu
2/3 cup natural granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix
One 9-inch good-quality natural piecrust

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Combine the pumpkin in a food processor with the remaining ingredients, except crust. Process until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the rust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the crust is golden. Let the pie cool to room temperature. Cut and serve.

Erica Settino | Twitter | Facebook | Website
New York Erica is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, Karuna For Animals: Compassion In Action, Inc. A long time vegetarian turned passionate vegan, she works tirelessly to educate others on the countless benefits of adopting a vegan diet. She currently holds a BS in Psychology with a concentration in Animal Behavior and an MFA in Creative Writing. Along with her work in animal advocacy, Erica works as an editorial assistant, freelance writer, certified and registered yoga instructor, nutritional counselor and health coach. She lives with her veg husband and their four rescued animal companions.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/sergemelki

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