Thanksgiving dinner in a climate challenged world

Try Just One New, Meat-Free Recipe at Your Table This Year

I am not a vegan. Or even a vegetarian. I’m what hipsters would call a “flexitarian” –sometimes I adopt a vegetarian diet and sometimes I don’t. Some days I’m excited to try out a new recipe for vegan okonomiyaki, while other days, I’ll enjoy a helping of chicken enchiladas. When asked about dietary requirements, I’ll explain that I “lean heavily vegetarian.” Like so many things in life, diet is on a spectrum and I trend veggie.

The reason I’ve adopted this particular diet has nothing to do with health trends or a love of animals (although those are valid reasons as well). I lean vegetarian because I take the climate crisis very seriously. The latest climate science has shown that about a quarter of the world’s emissions come from food production. More than half of food emissions come from animal products.

In fact, animal-based food production’s impact is so influential that of the eighty ranked solutions proposed in Project Drawdown by Paul Hawken, adopting a plant-rich diet was number four on the most important and impactful changes to be made (ahead of solar farms, electric vehicle adoption, LED lighting and the rest).

If you’re like me, many of the personal changes necessary to impact climate change can seem expensive or slow-to-arrive (only in the past few years was there finally an all-electric vehicle on the market that seemed just within reach of my savings goals, for example). Changing my diet was something I was capable of immediately implementing, and it cost me nothing to instantly reduce my carbon footprint. So here I am with a new flexitarian lifestyle that at first felt restrictive, but now seems oddly exciting and rewarding. Why?

Last autumn, my husband and I gathered around a Thanksgiving table with our dearest friends in a house off Fuller Park in Napa. (I didn’t know it then, but in less than a year, we would seal the deal on a small house near Southside Café at the Carneros Center.) Napa was already feeling like home, and we and our friends had decided to lay an elegant, and mostly meat-free table.

What followed was a joyful, coma-inducing smorgasbord of epic proportions with new tastes, textures and favorites to be enjoyed for years to come. (I think we lost count after we got to eighteen or so different dishes to be shared amongst the eight of us.) I realized suddenly that adopting a plant-rich diet was as exciting as traveling to a foreign country where there are delicacies and daily rituals to be sampled if I was only curious enough to discover them. I’ve sourced more new flavors, food prep methods, and main dishes since adopting this diet, and we’re going to do it all again at this year’s Thanksgiving.

Even if you don’t want to forego turkey, perhaps you can add a few of these vegan or vegetarian side dishes to your feast. It’ll be fun to freshen up your holiday with new, rich flavors, broaden your palette and test out moving closer to a rich, plant-based diet in service of our planet. Here are some tips to get started.

Consider your protein. At a holiday table, we’re often looking at a hefty portion of meat, but eliminating meat doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your protein. There’s still plenty to be had, for example, in these Persian stuffed peppers.

Honor the seasonal vegetables. That means brussels sprouts, pumpkins, squash, carrots, and more. I really love these Mediterranean-stuffed sweet potatoes, topped with chickpeas and cashew cheese (yes, I’ve discovered that cashew cheese is a thing).

Enjoy the aesthetics of a plant-rich table.  You can make a beautifully festive, Instagrammable dish that brings together eggplant and pomegranate seeds by cooking up this roasted eggplant with buttermilk sauce recipe.

Not all gravy has to be flavored with meat. This easy savory gravy is delicious even though it’s meat-and-dairy-free. Put it over some potatoes and enjoy.

Speaking of potatoes, change your potato game. I love mashed potatoes as much as anyone, but I also love the change in texture and flavor offered by crisping up some potatoes with crispy potato skillet with snap pea slaw and jalapeño sour cream.

Even with a vegetarian diet, you can still eat so much that you have to loosen a belt loop or two. These beautifully roasted heads of cauliflower are impressive to look at and can fill plate after plate as you slice them up like a cake.

And don’t forget the leftovers. Even if you don’t have a turkey, you can still enjoy those buttery, sage flavors in another manner. These thanksgiving sandwiches by Purple Carrot are divine, getting their flavors from the herbs and their chewy, snappy texture from the broccoli and brussel sprouts.

For more tips to get involved in addressing climate change, sign up for Napa Climate NOW!’s newsletter, or join us November 21st, 6:00 pm at the Lutheran Church on Elm Street at Jefferson in Napa. Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Find us at Facebook or through

Jessica Day is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at IdeaScale – a crowdsourcing software. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, is a member of Napa Climate NOW! and regularly speaks about climate action.