eeka's guide to including vegetarians in Thanksgiving

I felt compelled to write something about vegetarianism and Thanksgiving this year, particularly after I came across an article (in either BostonNow or the Metro -- not sure) explaining how to make a vegetarian-inclusive Thanksgiving meal. The article said, I kid you not, that if you have vegetarians coming over, you need to make sure they get protein, so you should put almonds in your green beans and top your potatoes with tofu. Yes, it really said this. Also, it said to make sure you have a big green salad, because you can't go wrong with that.

Yes, yes you can! Did they actually talk to any vegetarians about this? And with that, I bring you my guide:

1. Vegetarians eat more than vegetables
Sure, I like salad, but I'm not too big into the misconception that vegetarians eat leafy green vegetables as the staple of our diet. When I've gone to someone's house who didn't know I'm vegetarian, I'm fine eating salad and bread or whatever for that one meal, but this really isn't a nutritionally sound meal. Plus, it might likely suck, depending on the people's skills in terms of choosing bread and salad. Squishy white rolls and iceberg? Not so much. And yeah, it's especially lame when someone knows there's a vegetarian coming over, but they think that vegetarians eat green vegetables as meals. I've actually had the experience, more than once, of going over to someone's house who's made something that's vegetarian, like pasta, then they hand me a plate of salad or broccoli and say they made me a special meal because they know I'm vegetarian. Which means I only eat vegetables, apparently! If you're having vegetarians over, remember that they eat grains, legumes, fruit, and pretty much anything that's not meat. They may or may not eat dairy, eggs, or honey -- be sure to ask. But most vegetarians will definitely want something other than green vegetables. The easiest way to be inclusive of everyone is probably to do something other than traditional Thanksgiving food. Try cooking up a Thai- or Indian- or Latin-themed buffet, and let people put together their own plate. If you're doing traditional Thanksgiving fare, it should be pretty easy to offer vegetarians everything but the turkey, as long as you:

2. Keep animal ingredients out of otherwise-vegetarian dishes
This is by far the easiest way to make sure there's plenty for vegetarian and non-vegetarian folks to eat. If you're making stuffing, make it from scratch (or make sure your mix doesn't contain chicken fat or anything), and use veggie buillion or soymilk or some other liquid instead of broth containing meat. Roast it outside of the bird, or at least roast some of it out of the bird. Make mashed potatoes and other vegetable dishes without meat broth as well. If you're looking to make everything egg-free and dairy-free, use soymilk instead of dairy milk, use dairy-free margarine, and look on for recipes like vegan pumpkin pie. Sure, I have my mixed feelings about PETA, but they do have some great recipes. I've brought many pumpkin pies to nonvegans, and no one's ever been disappointed.

3. Steer clear of the "weird" stuff
Hey, I'm hardly a picky eater, but the idea of dumping tofu on top of mashed potatoes just sounds like a waste of potatoes and tofu. Really, who the hell eats potatoes topped with tofu? Since when is tofu a topping? Potatoes are already vegetarian. Why does some columnist need to put tofu on them in hopes of earning some vegetarian street cred? In my experience, most vegetarians eat pretty much what most people do, but without the meat (or dairy, or eggs, or honey, depending). Most vegetarians don't eat hunks of raw tofu or anything like that. As for the protein issue, anything you serve that isn't just green vegetables is going to be basically balanced. The multigrain rolls I buy have 12 grams of protein. A potato has 4 or 5 grams. Desserts with some sort of pastry are going to have 4 or 5. Pasta has about 8. It adds up quickly, and really, it's just one meal out of someone's whole week. I wouldn't stress about trying to speculate what the person's particular protein needs are and how you can help them achieve them. That's kind of creepy, really. I'd focus more on making sure what you're serving has some calories to it (see "iceberg lettuce is not a meal," op cit) and that you're offering a variety of regular-old foods that most people would find appetizing. If you're open to foods that branch out from the "traditional" fare a little bit, try cooking a pasta dish, or make a Mexican dip for an appetizer. Don't worry about trying to provide a "turkey alternative."

4. Save the pitying/teasing/interrogating comments
There seems to be an additional list of annoying-to-vegetarians comments that pop up around Thanksgiving in addition to the usual bunch. Please, don't be that person who makes these. I'll respond to them here to save anyone having to make them. "Oh my god, Thanksgiving has to be so hard for you! What, with nothing to eat and everything!" Actually, with the exception of people who only want to offer me salad, and the few people who need to dump turkey fat into every dish, it's one of the easier traditional holiday fares. There's usually plenty of side dishes, appetizer trays, desserts, and of course, alcoholic beverages. Plus, keep in mind that I'm choosing to accept invitations to gatherings where people are doing traditional fare. Thanksgiving isn't mandated or anything. "I feel so bad for you that you can't eat any of this delicious turkey!" I appreciate the thought, I think, but if I had any desire to eat turkey, wouldn't I just eat turkey? Please think a little before saying things like this. "[random incessant comments about who I plan to eat turkey with, did I get my turkey, how much turkey I ate, turkey day, etc.]" As with any holiday, I like to encourage people to remember that not everyone celebrates it the same way you do, or at all. Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for many Indigenous Americans. I like to keep this in mind. I personally find it to be a bittersweet day because of the animal suffering and environmental harm that come from many people's choices of how to celebrate it. (During most years, Thanksgiving season is when the most pounds of animal corpses are sold in the United States). "Why are you a vegetarian?" I don't go around asking people why they aren't vegetarians. Why do people insist on asking this question? The people who ask aren't usually people who really want to hear why. Can I just eat my iceberg lettuce in peace?


SwirlyGrrl said...

I used to make a pumpkin-peanut soup for my vegan niece and nephew to enjoy at thanksgiving. They liked it, but so did everybody else as it is a hearty and seasonally appropriate brew.


1 qt vegetable stock or boullion
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 can pumpkin
1 sweet potato, nuked and smooshed
1 small or 1/2 onion diced
2 tblsp margerine

melt the margerine and saute the onions. Add pumpkin and sweet potato and broth. Smoosh well. Stir in peanut butter.

Add other spices as desired to taste.

Heat until bubbly and then reduce to very low heat to warm and serve.

Lacto ovo veggie folks might enjoy some sour cream on top. Chives make a nice garnish.

eeka said...

Ooh, great recipe. Thanks!

(This is what I mean by stuff that's vegan but is normal stuff that most people would like!)

Molly said...

It's amazing how many people just can't conceptualize a meal without meat, never mind a whole life without it. I do think it's an addiction; I had a hard time kicking the habit when I moved here, as you know.

My mother still tells me regularly how she's been scoping out vegetarian restaurants for when we visit. Because, you know, if the entire place isn't vegetarian, we just can't eat there. What.