There is no shortage of food holidays; you can find a reason to celebrate and indulge in virtually any craving if you’re looking at the right calendar. National Banana Bread Day, National Bean Day, National Pizza Party Day (which is separate from National Pizza Day); you name it, there’s an unofficial and somewhat frivolous holiday for it. However, National Doughnut Day is different. It was not merely made up by a group of doughnut aficionados,  nor is it a clever marketing ploy initiated by a certain national doughnut chain. National Doughnut Day has a documented historical significance to it, and we have the Salvation Army volunteers stationed in France during WWI to thank for our free vegan doughnuts on the first Friday of June.

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Doughnuts in the trenches

During WWI, over 250 American Salvation Army volunteers served near the front lines in France. Their role involved manning the service huts to offer food, writing supplies and stamps, and clothing mending to the soldiers—all in an attempt to rouse some semblance of comfort and keep morale high. Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance are credited with the idea of making doughnuts for the soldiers during a particularly stormy few weeks. Using the limited ingredients available to them (flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon, and canned milk) the volunteers began cranking out doughnuts, cutting them out by hand and frying them in pans or even soldier’s helmets, as the story goes. The ritual became so popular that the women who made and served the doughnuts became known as Doughnut Lassies or Doughnut Girls, and the soldiers who came home were nicknamed Doughboys.

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A front line tradition

In 1938, to honor and commemorate the Doughnut Lassies’ selfless work, the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army declared the first Friday of June National Doughnut Day. When WWII struck soon after, the tradition continued and women volunteers on the front lines continued to serve sweet fried dough to the soldiers. In 1944, a reporter from LIFE Magazine photographed and featured Lassies stationed in England, capturing the soldier’s phrase, “Doughnuts will win the war!” Decades later, the Lassies again offered this small sweet comfort to the troops in Vietnam.

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Veganizing the doughnut

The emergence of the vegan doughnut came much later. While plant-based companies were hard at work veganizing milk, cheese, and ice cream, the humble vegan doughnut was a rare (if not impossible) find. There is no official record as to who created the first vegan doughnut (credit is more than likely due to an innovative vegan home baker), but in the early 2000s, independent vegan bakeries began to take on the challenge, beginning with the cake doughnut. In 2005, Erin McKenna opened Babycakes NYC (now Erin McKenna’s Bakery), providing New Yorkers—and later Orlando tourists and Los Angelinos—their first taste of a moist, decadent, allergen-friendly vegan cake doughnut. Across the country, Josh Levine started a vegan doughnut wholesale business under the name Pepples Donuts (now Donut Farm) in 2006 and opened his first location in the San Francisco Ferry Building in 2010. The popularity of cake doughnuts continued to percolate throughout the nation’s bakeries, both vegan and not, but raised vegan doughnuts proved to be trickier to master. While independent vegan bloggers may have developed recipes for these fluffy and filled sweet treats, they didn’t make a noticeable appearance in storefronts until the 2010’s—the one exception being Vegan Treats, an award-winning Bethlehem, PA vegan bakery that has been in operation since 1998. Notable pioneers of the vegan raised doughnut include New York City’s Dun-Well Doughnuts in 2011, Los Angeles’ Donut Friend in 2013, and The Donuttery in Huntington Beach, CA in 2015. Today, one can find an abundance of vegan doughnuts, from simple glazed to artisanal creme brulee, in both vegan and non-vegan bakeries across the country. Of course, while Whole Foods and Voodoo Doughnuts have jumped on the vegan bandwagon, we’re still waiting on Dunkin’ to get with the program.

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How to celebrate National Doughnut Day

Honor the Doughnut Lassies by getting yourself a vegan doughnut (or a baker’s dozen—it’s a holiday, after all). In the spirit of food holidays, your local vegan doughnut shop or pop-up is sure to have a special deal, so be sure to follow them religiously on Instagram to get the details. Larger stores and chains can also be expected to offer one-day-only deals such as buy-one-get-one-free, free donut with the purchase of a coffee, or even free doughnuts for the first customers. Each bakery has something unique to offer, so again, stay tuned to social media during these final days leading up to Friday, June 7. While National Doughnut Day hasn’t reached day-off-of-work status, we think it is completely justifiable to be a little late to the office—as long as you’re picking up a box of doughnuts to share.

Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.

Photo credit: Donut Friend

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