A Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to Thanksgiving
Last year was my first holiday season as a brand new vegetarian. I was only 6 months into my plant-based diet when Thanksgiving rolled around. I was prepared for the interrogation that came with every family gathering, although there were a few new questions in the script that year: “How’s school?” “How’s work?” “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” “So what are you going to eat?” “Vegetarians can eat turkey, right?” “Are you still doing that weird no-meat thing?” “Are you SURE you don’t want turkey? ARE YOU SURE?”
But this year, as a seasoned vegetarian, once I get past the oh-so-enjoyable game of 20 questions, it’ll be smooth sailing. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure my fellow herbivores have an enjoyable Thanksgiving as well.
Whether you are vegan or vegetarian (or any degree of herbivore) by values or sheer choice, or even by force—such as an allergy or another dietary intolerance or restriction—the holiday season can be a bit challenging. In order to make your turkey-less turkey day the best it can be, and to not fall victim to the literal hunger games, there are a few ways you can approach the holiday.
Firstly, if you are deeply affected by seeing people consume animals and are uncomfortable being present at a meal where any meat is served you can demand that no animal flesh whatsoever be present on the Thanksgiving table.
There is also the moderate approach which would be to request that most of the dishes apart from the turkey be made vegetarian—an appeal that may elicit grumbles from your family depending on how much they like sausage in their stuffing. This request will go down easier if you offer to do as much cooking as possible or bring your own vegetarian dishes.
Being relatively new to the vegetarian game, I’m still on the receiving end of some affectionate ribbing from my meat-loving relatives, but for the most part my family has been accommodating to the point of coddling. Since I am technically a vegetarian newbie, I am still discovering all the deliciousness that comes with not eating meat; the holidays give me an excuse to experiment with new recipes.
If you’re going to someone’s house for your Thanksgiving meal, tell the host ahead of time about your diet and offer to help cook and/or bring a meatless dish or too. Don’t expect everyone to cater to your dietary choices—us herbivores are still outnumbered.
If you’re new to eating only plants, don’t be overwhelmed and don’t be afraid to stick to the traditional side dishes of mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rolls. If you do decide to become a chef for the day, give yourself time to prepare your masterpieces, experiment with flavors and products (like quinoa and tofu) and don’t panic.
Dozens of meatless options, like tofu-based turkey substitutes, are available in every major grocery chain across the country and prove to be quite popular. MorningStar Farms’ products has a large variety of options including veggie bacon, veggie burgers, buffalo wings, chik’n patties, veggie meatballs, meatless crumbles (ground beef). These products are easy to make and versatile. They’re surprisingly tasty for veggies and carnivores alike; I recently made a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with the meatless crumbles and my meat-eating roommates even helped themselves to thirds.
This is your time to experiment and be adventurous. Try mashed potato fitters, roasted carrot and red quinoa salad, fried brussels sprouts, spicy poblano cornbread stuffing, lentil and sweet potato shepherd’s pie, butternut squash lasagna, and vegan pumpkin pie. Remember, Thanksgiving is no time for portion control.
And don’t forget to show off your side dishes either. As long as you avoid excessive butter, most dinners feature a myriad of nutritious veggies. Also, it is easy and trendy to make traditionally omnivorous sides vegetarian. Leave out the bacon; sub in veggie stock or mushroom gravy; the list goes impressively on and on. Pinterest is your new best friend.
Finally, enjoy the amusing dynamic between vegetarians and non-vegetarians on a day dedicated to butchering a large bird.