Artist, vegan and Augusta resident Cheryl Miller first met a turkey in 1998, while working at Farm Sanctuary in New York.
“I could not believe how sweet turkeys were,” she recalled. “They would come up and want to sit in my lap and be petted.”
This experience led her to paint a portrait of a living turkey each Thanksgiving, and in 2013, during an exhibition of her portraits at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, she created the 46 Million Turkeys project to make visible the staggering number of birds killed for the annual dinner.
“The 46 million number comes from the National Turkey Federation,” Miller said. “I wanted to demonstrate the number because people can’t imagine how big the number is. I was so surprised to get so many (submissions) because they had to be mailed in. I got soft sculpture, sculpture of coins and paper clips, a lot from local artists. What was also so surprising to me is that people from countries like Germany and England, that don’t have (wild) turkeys, sent me portraits.”
The first participant to send artwork was Tanya Janish of Baltimore who ultimately created an impressive 898,585 turkey portraits. Thousands of others have contributed a single image, many drawn during the warm-weather First Friday Art Walks in Portland where the project is a regular.
“When I ask people to do a portrait,” Miller said, “they have to look at the turkey photos I have. Most peoples’ experience with a turkey is with a headless carcass. Live turkeys are beautiful. I say, ‘Do you know they change color based on their mood?’ ”
To get close to the 46 million goal, Miller used discarded copy paper and hand-stamped 400 tiny turkey images on each sheet, eventually creating 45 million turkey portraits on reams and reams of paper. With the help of the stamped sheets, the project reached then surpassed its goal this year and, at last count, had collected 46,377,111 turkey portraits. The project continues. On Saturday, it was scheduled to be at the American Vegan Center in Philadelphia, and on Nov. 19, the project will be at Frinklepod Farm in Arundel from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I’ve reached my goal and I’m continuing because it’s great outreach and it’s become a tradition for me,” Miller said. “The whole point of the project is to make people aware of the numbers of one species being killed in one country for one holiday.”
A LESS VIOLENT THANKSGIVING
It’s no secret that vegans and vegetarians dislike conventional Thanksgiving. Because of the holiday’s history, they’re not alone. Many people with Native American heritage have long approached Thanksgiving as a day of sadness and mourning. And since at least the early 1800s, vegetarians have also been raising objections about Thanksgiving.
Originally, American Thanksgiving was not American nor tied to a fixed date but rather declared by local, colonial officials in response to the events of the day. Some of these celebrations have not stood the test of time. For instance, in 1724, before Maine gained independence, the Massachusetts governor declared a day of Thanksgiving following the massacre of Wabanaki men, women and children and the destruction of their significant Kennebec River town and its crop acreage.
In the 19th century, a replacement narrative began to take shape ignoring this violent history of colonial oppression and centering instead on a single 1621 harvest meal shared by members of the Wampanoag nation and the English immigrants known as the Pilgrims, who included my own ancestors John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. The First Thanksgiving myth developed in New England, where a meal headlined by roasted turkey was de rigueur by the mid-1800s. America’s Thanksgiving tradition is filled with fictions, which modern scholars and historians have exposed.
There is no record, for instance, of turkeys being eaten at the 1621 meal. Yet in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a fixed national holiday and the New England menu became standard nationwide. Interestingly, 1863 is also the year Maine native Ellen G. White had her vision revealing vegetarian food as the best food for humans; her campaigns for vegetarianism influenced the establishment of America’s commercial vegetarian food industry.
Today, vegans and vegetarians are doing their own work to change the troubling narrative of American Thanksgiving by reorienting it toward a harvest celebration of plant-based bounty. This removes the inherent violence of the holiday’s menu and puts the focus on the current year’s harvest, rather than a 1621 meal. It allows vegan Thanksgiving, sometimes called gentle Thanksgiving or plantsgiving, to help rewrite the story of why we show gratitude with a fall feast. I hope you’ll join me in making your Thanksgiving more vegan and less violent this year.
YOUR GUIDE TO A VEGAN THANKSGIVING
Hannaford stores have partnered with the national Plant Based Foods Association to create a Plantsgiving website at plantsgiving.org, where customers can find vegan Thanksgiving recipes and links to all the plant-based products sold by the supermarket.
Whole Foods in Portland is selling more than 20 vegan prepared dishes for Thanksgiving. Some of the dishes, such as cremini mushroom roast, coconut sweet potato casserole and jalapeño cornbread dressing, were created by vegan celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli. Other prepared vegan dishes include mushroom gravy, mac and cheese, and pumpkin pie. Orders must be placed 48 hours before pickup.
Frinklepod Farm in Arundel is taking vegan dessert preorders for sweet cranberry cornbread, apple-blueberry crumble, ginger molasses cookies and chocolate pumpkin bites.
Wild Oats Cafe & Bakery in Brunswick is offering preorders on a number of vegan and vegetarian prepared dishes, including vegan Anadama bread, mushroom gravy, Maine maple–mustard Brussels sprouts, peanut butter mousse pie, apple-cranberry coffee cake and carrot cake. Vegetarian dishes include butternut squash risotto and sweet potato casserole. The ordering deadline is Nov. 19.
Little Lad’s factory store in Corinth will be open Sunday through Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving selling vegan pies in flavors such as pumpkin with vanilla creme, lemon creme, apple, apple-cranberry, blueberry and strawberry-rhubarb. Some of the pies are sweetened with fruit juice, others with organic sugar. Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough and Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport are also selling Little Lad’s Thanksgiving pies.
Rosemont Market stores are offering two vegan and five vegetarian prepared dishes for Thanksgiving. They include vegan wild rice stuffed squash, vegetarian pot pie and lentil loaf.
Baristas + Bites, based in Portland and available through goldbelly.com, is selling pumpkin spice whoopie pies and carrot cake whoopie pies.
S+P Social in Newcastle is offering vegan holiday preorders of both sweet and savory items until Nov. 15 with pickup Nov. 22-23.
“Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner & Pies,” by vegan recipe developer and owner of Peanut’s Bake Shop Audrey Dunham provides a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide to creating the ultimate vegan Thanksgiving. The book comes with hosting tips (don’t drink alcohol while cooking; make extras so guests can take home leftovers), a seven-day hosting plan for the week leading up to Thanksgiving, an hourly plan for Thanksgiving day and make-ahead guidelines for all the recipes.
The book serves up a huge feast of veganized Thanksgiving classics, including two roasts (one gluten-free), mushroom Wellington, stuffed whole cauliflower, mac and cheese (stovetop and baked), sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, three types of stuffing, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, cornbread, pumpkin pie, apple pie and pecan pie. Published just before the holiday last year and featuring color photos of the recipes, the hardcover sells for $18.99.
Gatherings 4 Main Street in Dexter hosts its annual free vegan Thanksgiving lunch at noon on Nov. 16. This year’s meal includes BBQ meatballs, mac and cheese, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, squash, dinner rolls and pies.
Vegans who need solidarity before heading out to face a conventional Thanksgiving can find it at the V-Learning Community’s virtual dinner gathering the night before Thanksgiving (6-7 p.m. Nov. 23), where participants can share resources, recipes and moral support. To participate join the V-Learning Meetup group at meetup.com/V-Learning-Community.
Avery Yale Kamila’s pumpkin seed croquette recipe, first published in the Portland Press Herald in 2009 and a reader favorite ever since, can be found here.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer in Portland. She can be reached at
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