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?

MBTA recommends taking the commuter rail to Malden to get from North Station to Brookline Village

Click on it to view the full-size image. It was apparently more interested in showing me how it can draw a cracked-out Prince symbol on the map than, uh, giving me a remotely normal route.

I'm so nerdy that I dressed as a sociological experiment for Halloween

I'd planned for months to dress as "a girl" for Halloween. I don't remember exactly how I arrived at this decision, but I remember it was something I came up with while talking with a coworker a while back and thought it would be fun. It was. And much more informative and educational than I'd really imagined.

When I bought the clothes and accessories, I purposely tried to put together a "normal" high-femme outfit. I didn't want to look like I was in drag or look overly theatrical. The idea was that it wouldn't look like a costume to strangers. I think I succeeded in this aspect. Part of the fun was that I tried to have the outfit be made entirely out of things I would never wear. Pearl earrings, knockoff Tiffany necklace, filigree headband, fake nails, makeup beyond lip stuff, boucle skirt, pantyhose, and leopard print flats. The black t-shirt is something I'd wear (and do...) as is the black cardigan (which is usually worn over shirts with band logos or similar on them). Oh, and the sequinned purse is something I already had, which I do carry. You have to look closely, but it actually has Hello Kitty on it. It's usually an ironic accessory when I carry it normally, but it blended in with the outfit quite well.

What really intrigued me was the reactions from people who do know me and have seen me every day for years. Most of them realized immediately that it was a Halloween costume and thought it was creative and fun. A couple people didn't immediately realize why I was doing this, but immediately got it when I or someone else explained it, and thought it was clever.

A few people just really didn't get it, which is where the "educational" part comes in. I had several people at work ask me if I had court or something to go to. Someone actually said, "oh, I figured you needed to look professional for something." This remark was a bit weird, and pretty revealing on, well, societal attitudes. Despite the trainings I've done in my workplace on gender, in which I've used myself as an example quite frequently when discussing the gender continuum, there are still people who think nothing of the idea of me wearing fake nails for the first time in my life, pantyhose, makeup, and a little purse in order to look "professional." Why wouldn't they assume that my professional attire would be more androgynous? Like, similarly gendered to my normal clothing, just a little snazzier? (Which is pretty much what my professional wardrobe amounts to; androgynous blazers, sweaters, clogs, etc.) Similarly, I got several really nice compliments from coworkers who said I looked really good as a girl, but with acknowledgement that it's just so not who I am. A few others though made comments along the lines of looking "a lot better" with my girl outfit on, and said they've always wondered why I "don't bother with makeup." Hmm, maybe I'll put a little more emphasis in my trainings on how offensive it is to put identities into a hierarchy and to decide how other people ought to identify.

I didn't actually anticipate getting any different reactions from strangers, because I wasn't presenting any differently than a lot of people do. Yet there were some marked differences. I usually notice that police officers and construction workers in particular will say hi to me when I walk past. It's frequently in a somewhat "interested" way, but not disrespectful. I usually greet them back in a "this-is-just-a-greeting-and-nothing-more-ok-bye" manner, and all is well. But when I walked around in my Halloween costume, a group of construction workers actually talked about my boobs and my legs as if I wasn't right there a few feet from them. And I'd always thought this sort of thing was infrequent, or just an urban legend. So at lunch, I walked past several of the other neighborhood construction sites, and at about half of them, I got either blunt "compliments" ("you look real nice!") or the same talking-about-me-as-if-I'm-not-there. Dayum. I'd somehow thought we, as a species, were slightly more advanced than to make such blatantly objectifying comments on the street like that. It frustrates me, because apparently I present as less assertive or weaker or something when I'm doing the femme thing. I definitely believe that women who want to identify this way should be free to do so and should be respected just the same, and it's upsetting that this isn't necessarily the case. It kind of makes me question, well, who exactly has the power on the female gender continuum? If some people think we're "supposed to" wear makeup and present as femme when going somewhere where we need to look nice, then this is apparently the ticket to power with these folks, yet it's the ticket to objectification and not being viewed as having rights by others. Is it a matter of choosing with whom we want to have power, rather than pursuing mastery and competence in a more general sense? And if so, how do I feel that the way I feel most comfortable in the world is the one that seems to garner the respect of a particular construction crew that feels it's appropriate to say really lewd things to people who don't present the way I usually do?

I went to the library after work and sat down to read for a bit. I had three males walk by and greet me. One sat down at the table across from me and tried to talk to me, and the other two stood there and loitered and tried to talk to me. This struck me as strange, not because I've not had strangers approach me and try to talk to me, but because I was sitting so they couldn't see what I was reading, and I otherwise presented in, well, a really boring manner. I wasn't sending anything out. My outfit wasn't even an interesting or colorful high-femme outfit, and I didn't have on interesting jewelry or anything that most high-femme women probably would at any given time. I just looked flat-out boring and nondesrcipt. I don't mind at all when people notice something I'm reading, or a t-shirt I've made, or want to know what brand of purple hair dye I use, or want to read the buttons on my bag. This strikes me as pretty normal human interaction, that someone notices someone who looks like someone they'd want to get to know. But what was I sending out? Nothing, other than being female, and apparently "pretty." Judging from earlier construction worker interactions, possibly that I was not particular assertive and therefore was safe to make objectifying comments about? The "conversations" these guys tried to have with me were so desperate and lacking in substance that they were creepy, too. "Hi, how you doin'?" "You look nice." "Where are you from?" "Are you reading a book?" (Yes, one of them seriously said that. I thought for a second about saying "no" to see what would happen.) One of them left after I muttered "hi..." and engrossed myself in my book. The other two actually persisted to the point that I flat-out said I was busy and didn't want to talk.

Ew. And here, I would have thought that my typical presentation would attract a lot more attention than the high-femme presentation, just because I tend to have clothing and possessions that are somewhat of conversation pieces. I never would have thought that a boring outfit would lead to people coming over and talking to me. I guess the biggest thing I came out of this with is that, damn, is there anyone who it's safe and comfortable to be in this world? It seems like all identities have upsides and downsides that I'd never have imagined.