Updated Nov 25, 2021 - Economy

America's most vegan Thanksgiving ever

A vegan "turkey" Thanksgiving meal. Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Vegan bakers and chefs across the country are facing unprecedented demand as households prepare to cater to a growing number of vegans, vegetarians and "flexitarians" at Thanksgiving this year.

Why it matters: With the continued rise of plant-based meat sales and more meat-eaters opting for alternative meat products, this year's Thanksgiving is set to be America's most vegan-friendly yet.

The big picture: Whole Foods told Axios that its surveys show more than half of Americans (58%) have hosted guests who follow a special diet in the last year. And more than half of Americans (56%) say offering vegan options at holiday gatherings is important.

  • Demand was so strong last year for Whole Foods’ Vegan Meal for 2 — with items like cremini mushroom roast with mushroom gravy, miso-creamed greens and coconut sweet potato casserole — that the chain is again offering it nationwide.
  • And for home cooks, the alternative meat section at supermarkets has grown in recent years as manufacturers try to bring meat-eaters into the fold, as Axios' Erica Pandey has reported.

State of play: Axios Local reached out to shops, chefs and producers across the country to see how this vegan-friendly shift is resonating in their communities.

In D.C., Doron Petersan, the owner of vegan bakery Sticky Fingers and vegan restaurant Fare Well, says her locations have gotten twice as many orders for Thanksgiving meals in 2021 than in 2020 — all while supply chain issues make it tough to keep up with the holiday rush.

  • "It’s not the normal holiday crazy, which is fun — we look forward to it. It’s exhausting but it’s also fun to have this level of energy," she told Axios. "But this year it’s compounded with terror. We don’t know if we can get ingredients from day to day."
  • Swapping out ingredients is harder for vegan restaurants, Petersan adds, because options are limited and changes can significantly alter the final product.

In Minneapolis, The Herbivorous Butcher increased production of its vegan "turkey roasts" to more than 1,000 this year to meet growing demand, co-owner Kale Walch told Axios. The shop, which ships across the country, sold out of its "turkey-free feast" meal packages by early November.

  • "Every year it gets a little bit crazier. ... We sell more every year and we find ways to work around our tiny kitchen to make more," Walch said of the roasts.
  • Customers also "went crazy" for vegan versions of classic sides, such as mashed potatoes and gravy.

In Chicago, Joanne Lee Molinaro's "Korean Vegan Cookbook" has dominated foodie conversations and bestseller lists this fall.

  • When Molinaro first suggested that her wider family — who are not vegan — try to do a plant-based Thanksgiving a few years ago, she got some pushback. But they agreed to give it a shot.
  • "And everyone contributed, just like we always do. And it was absolutely effing BRILLIANT!! In fact, it was so good, we decided to do it again for Christmas just a month later," Molinaro wrote on social media.

The bottom line: Even with the shift in tastes, some things always remain the same. The last-minute problems that can plague traditional Thanksgiving dinners still hit vegan-forward ones, too.

  • "Anyone know of a store that still has the Tofurky roast?" Melissa Morky wrote on the Austin Vegans Facebook group. "It's been out of stock everywhere we have looked so far."

Axios' Ben Montgomery edited this report, while Monica Eng, Paige Hopkins, Asher Price and Torey Van Oot contributed.

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