Four people eat in The Breakroom Cafe, on the edge of Chinatown near Lake Merritt, shortly after it opens on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The vegetarian-turned-vegan restaurant, which isn’t usually open on weekends, is serving a special vegan Thanksgiving dinner. Proceeds are being donated to an animal rescue organization in the San Joaquin Valley. On the menu: mashed potatoes, gravy, faux turkey, stuffing, greens, butternut squash soup and cranberry sauce.
Breakroom’s vegan Thanksgiving—served almost a week before Thanksgiving day—is just one of the ways that Oakland vegetarians and vegans are twisting the meat-filled holiday to fit their lives. Some meat-free Oaklanders will be eating veggie “meat” on Thursday, others will focus on traditionally vegetarian side dishes, and others are just looking forward to sitting down with friends and family, no matter what’s on the table.
“A rainbow on the table” is how Breakroom customer Tiana Trutma describes her Thanksgiving meal. She’s planning to have mushrooms sautéed with walnuts, vegan gouda and provolone cheese and blackberry pie. “We don’t follow what’s considered a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Trutma, who became a vegetarian ten years ago. “It’s only traditional because of consumer marketing.”
Behind the Breakroom’s counter, Minna Moily said the café is “a really good place for people that have to do the celebration with their family, but can’t eat the food.” Moily gave up meat after developing an interest in animal rights, and said that her body agrees with the meatless diet. This year she’s planning on doing a “Thanksveganing” with friends. “You don’t have to have turkey to be thankful,” she said.
On Saturday, Andrea Turner was eating Southern-fried tofu at Souley Vegan, the meatless soul food restaurant in downtown Oakland. Turner, who has been a vegetarian for 40 years, said she was sampling other vegetarian dishes before cooking her own Thanksgiving meal. Turner plans to have Tofurkey on Thursday, with a stuffing of roasted chestnuts, garlic, onions and Brussels sprouts. “You can always have a meal, a vegetarian meal,” Turner said.
Souley Vegan, which will close on Thanksgiving day, had a line out the door on Saturday. Owner Tamearra Dyson says that the week before Thanksgiving, she sees a lot of vegans and vegetarians who can’t eat the main course at their family celebrations. At Souley Vegan, Dyson’s menu includes vegan chicken-fried steak, yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked macaroni and vegan cheese and cranberry sauce. “We’re definitely going against the grain,” Dyson said.
Dyson said she has fond memories of her childhood Thanksgivings in Oakland, when her mother would wake up at 4 AM to prepare food. Everything except the turkey was vegetarian.
At Layonna Vegetarian Health Food Market in Chinatown, this weekend Tina Chang was buying yellow beans and vegetarian sharkfin with her aunt. Chang, who is Chinese-American, said that Thanksgiving isn’t a big holiday for her, but that she enjoys spending the day with family. Usually, she cooks a hot pot, like she does for Chinese New Year. Thursday’s stew will feature cabbage, carrots, soy sauce and vegetarian meatballs. Chang will be having a guest over on Thanksgiving day. He isn’t vegetarian, but Chang says he doesn’t mind eating the meatless hot pot.
Back at the Breakroom, Philip Christy was having the Breakroom’s “really good” vegan Thanksgiving meal with his girlfriend Angela Robles. Both members of the couple are vegan. Robles said that Christy comes to The Breakroom twice every week. Christy plans to eat Tofurkey at his Thanksgiving meal this year, which will be mostly vegan. “It’s not about the turkey, right?” he said. “It’s about giving thanks.”