It was December 1st, 2008.
It was the day I became a vegetarian.*
Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but cutting out meat is a pretty major dietary change to make. I remember that Thanksgiving that happened just few days prior — the idea of cutting out meat had been something on my mind for months as I participated in my college’s animal welfare group and researched candidates’ stances of animal rights. Coupled with the health benefits I was reading about and the realization that I was never a big fan of meat to begin with, the choice seemed obvious. It was a matter of buckling down and following through.
And I waited until after Thanksgiving, because between my semester of all writing-intensive classes and not knowing what to do for a turkey-oriented holiday, I just didn’t want to deal. But I was only delaying the inevitable: holidays centered around food are stressful when you start to veer off the norm. But eventually, I did have to deal, but you know what? I’ve learned a lot about dealing with Thanksgiving on a no-meat diet.
*For full disclosure purposes: I am technically on a pescetarian diet now, but pretty much all of below still applies!
2009, or make a twist on what you know you love
By the time early November rolled around, I was researching recipes right and left. What would I eat if I wasn’t going to eat turkey?!?! This was my first proper Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, so I had to do it Right, whatever that meant.
Now, if you’re a newbie vegetarian with the holidays approaching, it’s likely someone has told you about tofurky.
Tofurky is a turkey replacement made from yep, you guessed it, tofu. Even though I was at the beginning stages of tofu experimentation with moderate success, bringing tofu to Thanksgiving dinner just seemed…weird. I agonized and agonized over what a vegetarian was to eat that was meatless but still felt like Thanksgiving. Finally, the week of said holiday, I decided upon acorn squash with stuffing inside. For me, it was perfect – you can make stuffing without putting it inside the turkey or imbuing it with chicken stock. And acorn squash was a suggestion of my mother’s, especially since acorn squash has been favorite of mine since I was 4.
So if it is your first Thanksgiving, that’s exactly what I suggest — take what you know that you love that you can tweak into a veg-friendly recipe. It will make the holiday that much easier.
2010, or sometimes you have to suck it up and just eat the sides
Thanksgiving of 2010 was a weird one. My family converged upon the Tulsa, OK area to attend my late grandfather’s memorial. I actually partook in 2 Thanksgiving dinners that week — 1 at the lake house my mother’s family took over for a few days and 1 at my grandmother’s house with my dad’s side of the family. I don’t remember much of the first dinner, but that might be because staying at a lake house with my uncles meant continuously flowing wine.
What I do remember is the 2nd dinner at my grandmother’s house. While the rest of my mom’s family jetted back home after the memorial service, we piled into the cars and took the turnpike into Oklahoma City (Fun Fact: I remember riding in the car down the I-44 turnpike from Tulsa to OKC and thinking “I could never live in Oklahoma.”). We made it just in time for Thanksgiving dinner of standard fare — turkey, rolls, stuffing of the chicken stock variety, green beans with bacon, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, etc. Re-read that sentence and pick out the non-veg friendly items.
Only saw 2? Yep. A dinner of rolls and sweet potatoes it was. Not super ideal in terms of you still need protein when gorging yourself for the holiday, but when you’re in a situation where you’re already exhausted from staying with family all week, mourning the loss of your grandfather, and showing up to dinner right on time, sometimes Thanksgiving means just sucking it up.
(I ended up taking a nap afterwards and then Mom woke me up to see Harry Potter, so Thanksgiving 2010 wasn’t all bad.)
2011, or a lesson in manners
In 2011, I was in the post-grad school funk of applying for job after job to no avail. I didn’t want to think much about what to bring to dinner at my aunt’s house, so I opted for chicken stock-free stuffing and acorn squash, my good ol’ tried and true from 2 years prior.
Turns out when you bring something that doesn’t quite resemble traditional Thanksgiving food, you might get wrinkled noses and comments of “What is…. that?!” I raised my eyebrows right back at someone who managed to make it to adulthood without ever seeing an acorn squash (Remember that it was one of my favorites when I was 4. 4!) My cousin chimed in with “ew, yeah, what is that?!”. Sure, I’m sure you, Nerdship, all know what acorn squash is but when it’s not the norm, the ignorant just assume it’s weird. This lesson is actually twofold:
- If you’re going to bring something “different,” prepare to ignore the rudeness of comments and politely explain what your dish is. It also helps to bring enough to share to show ‘em that it’s not weird.
- If you’re the person looking at something “different,” mind your manners and don’t be obnoxious. Certainly you can inquire, but there is a much nicer way than “Ew, what is that?!”
2012, or sometimes your family members will surprise you
Ah, 2012. Remember my comment that two years prior I decided I would never live in Oklahoma? Never say never, Nerdship.
So here I was, 3 months into living in Oklahoma with the memory of my last Thanksgiving in Oklahoma where either dinner involved being an excess of something, whether it was red wine or carbs. My Christmas plans involved flying back to North Carolina, so Oklahoma for Thanksgiving it was. It was decided that my aunt, cousin, grandmother, and I would take a jaunt down to Marlow to have dinner with cousins I had not seen since I was a small child.
My contribution was going to be a mushroom and quinoa stuffing with extra mushrooms to make sure there was some amount of protein involved in my dinner. To my surprise, I arrived at our hosts’ house in Marlow to be greeted warmly with a set-aside dish of stuffing purposely made sans chicken stock.
It was one of the nicest gestures that anyone who isn’t my mother, let alone someone I barely knew, has ever done that I almost cried.
No “Ew, what is that?” nor a “How can you not eat meat? It’s sooooo good!” Just a simple gesture of taking the time to prepare a dish slightly differently. You’ll be surprised that people will surprise you.
And to my delight, they enjoyed my mushroom and quinoa stuffing as well! It always helps to bring your goodies to share.
2013, or you’ve done this for so long that it’s not even a concern
I can’t even remember what I ate last year because I didn’t worry about it. Sure, I remember that my parents took pity on me and flew me home for the holiday after my first major Ordeal as a newbie manager, but vegetarian-izing things? Nah. The drill’s been established, and now I don’t worry about my share of dinner or what people say / think. It took 5 years, but that’s ok. All things in due time.
If you’re new to vegetarianism or thinking about it, take heart that the holidays don’t have to be this trying time of worrying about what you’re going to eat. You will find something you can eat. Relax, enjoy the holiday, and let those turkey-eaters gobble away. And maybe try the tofurky. Drowning it in cranberry sauce actually makes it taste…reasonably ok.