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No animals were harmed in the making of this meal: At The Breakroom Cafe on 13th Street and Harrison, the classic Thanksgiving meal is done vegetarian style. Pictured: vegetarian mash potatoes and gravy, greens, cranberry sauce, faux turkey and stuffing.

Oakland vegetarians and vegans celebrate Thanksgiving meat-free

on November 20, 2012

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.”


  1. Tim Anderson on November 21, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Great article. Check out this Vegan Thanksgiving video from Oakland’s own Colleen Patrick-Goudreau!

  2. Lucy on November 23, 2012 at 3:55 am

    Dear Titania and Aaron. I have just discovered your website. Firstly I would like to say that you are doing a very good thing with this website. I really like the idea of journalism that is done for a local community. I studied journalism and have been developing a similar project with my friends in Toronto where I live. I am also a vegan and I am happy that Toronto has some really nice places to go out for a meal and coffee too. I also went for a Thanksgiving day for a meal to one of Toronto vegan coffee shops . It was such a nice place where I met a lot of people from various Toronto neighbourhoods who came there for a vegan meal. I think food has always been a good way to gather people and to build a community. At that vegan coffee shop I met people with whom we agreed on reconnecting our neighbourhoods and exchanging news about events one would normally have difficulty to find information about. Local restaurants and coffee shops have great potential that can yet be discovered. I wish you a lot of success and nice stories with your project! Thank you your post. Lucy

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