Sure, Thanksgiving is a time to, you know, “give thanks.” But it's also a time to take thanks, in the form of free food. America's most gluttonous holiday offers eaters the opportunity to cram their faces with seasonal favorites like stuffing, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce in the shape of a can. If you play your cards right, you could be enjoying it all without paying a dime. And no, we're not just talking about crashing your ex-girlfriend's parents' dinner party and hoping no one notices.

At the Venice Beach location of Café Gratitude, the aggressively happy West Coast vegan chain, diners can spend their Thanksgiving Day indulging in semitraditional plates of garlic mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, raw stuffing and seasonal roasted vegetables. There's no turkey on the menu, of course, but the pumpkin pie will be flowing like wine.

The Café Gratitude festivities kick off at 11 a.m. and span four hours, with volunteers helping core staff to seat patrons, plate food, bus tables and everything in between, all as part of a tradition of giving that dates back a decade with the San Francisco–based company. Diners are under no obligation to pay a thing, but there will be some donation buckets available for local charities, if the giving spirit moves you. Otherwise, try to find your chi as you wait in line for what is always a popular event — or just show up early enough to grab a seat before the crowds form; there are no reservations for the afternoon meal.

If you'd prefer a little chuckle with your cluck, get to the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard. Owner Jamie Masada has been dishing out free Thanksgiving meals — turkey and all — for 34 years, with a host of celebrity comedians dropping in to scoop food for anyone who's hungry. Afterward, with bellies full and minds clouded by gravy, those same comedians take to the stage for a gratis stand-up comedy show for anyone still hanging around. It's a thoughtful, fun way to bring together the less fortunate, the lonely and anyone in the neighborhood just looking to get out of the house for a little while. In lieu of reservations or tickets, Masada and the Laugh Factory team run scheduled meal times every two hours, beginning at 1 p.m. and running until 7 p.m., and all truly are welcome.

In Santa Monica, the annual Westside Thanksgiving is a yearly opportunity for community members to donate their time, unwanted household items and clothing — all while chowing down for free. This year, the always popular event is taking over St. Anne's Catholic Church with an outdoor celebration of all things fall. There will be games and activities to keep the kids interested, dry-goods distribution lines for those in need and lots of open space to spread a blanket, enjoy the cool weather and partake in a Thanksgiving feast.

Of course, Westside Thanksgiving does come with a caveat: It's a community affair. That means the entire project, which has been in operation since the early '80s, is crowd-sourced. So it's best to bring something to donate, volunteer your time or stock up on foodstuffs to drop off when you arrive. You may not pay directly out of pocket, but the small cost of chipping in with your neighbors is certainly worth it.

No matter where you end up, try to give at least a little thanks that you live in a city overflowing with such culinary bounty.

Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Farley Elliott writes about food, drink and entertainment at

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