From the salad to the stuffing, here are 5 quick and easy tips for feeding a vegetarian this Thanksgiving (must-read etiquette advice also included...)
Here's a little reminder for all of the well meaning folks hosting a big, old traditional Southern Thanksgiving dinner at their houses later this week: Vegetarians don't eat turkey. I know it seems obvious, but I'm reminding you of this because I've been to many a Thanksgiving dinner where the host, who has slaved over a hot stove all day long, places a heap of stuffing on my plate with a smile. I hate asking if there are bits of turkey in it, or if it was prepared INSIDE of the beautiful bird, sacrificed in the name of tradition, but I must.
"Oh... I forgot. But there's just a LITTLE BIT in there! Can you just eat around it?" Probably not without gagging...
I know vegetarianism is a foreign concept for many people—after all, I think the most recent statistic I've seen said that only 10 percent of the U.S. population considers themselves to be true vegetarians. (Yes, I'm a proud, card-carrying member of the club... That was just a figure of speech, we don't really have cards!)
So, before you get all defensive and point out how you are opening your home out of the goodness of your heart, and Thanksgiving dinner is hard enough to prepare already so if we cared as much about living things as we say we do... we'd just eat what you're serving or find some weird vegetarian hippie commune to go to instead. I get it. It's an inconvenience. I'm honored that you invited me into your home and that you're working hard to feed everyone. I know I'm the oddball, and I really feel terrible for asking you to work harder than you already have to. So don't do anything extra if you feel that way, but please do respect my choices enough to at least LET ME KNOW which dishes you prepared with chicken stock or with bacon grease (yuck!). And could you let me know in advance if every dish you make is flavored with meat so I can bring a dish or two of my own to share?
If you do want to be accommodating to your vegetarian friends at Thanksgiving, here are a few friendly tips:
1. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock or turkey drippings. You can make stuffing, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes—all the traditional sides—without compromising flavor or increasing your workload. Promise!
2. I know marshmallows are delicious, but unless you go to a specialty health food store to buy VEGAN marshmallows, could you just leave them off the sweet potato casserole? Marshmallows are made with gelatin, which is a fancy word for processed animal skin, ligaments, tendons, and bones (YUM!).
3. Jell-O is also gelatin. If you use it to make your cranberry sauce, we can't/won't eat it. Here's a delicious alternative. So simple... and as a bonus, it's made of actual food!
4. Bacon bits might seem like a wonderful addition to salad, but we'd rather spend our time at the Thanksgiving dinner visiting with our friends and family, not picking tiny bits of pig out of our salad.
5. We already feel awkward about passing on the main course that our host worked so hard to prepare, so please don't put us on the spot and ask us to explain why we decided to be a vegetarian in front of of everyone in the middle of the dinner. It's kind of like asking the lone Jewish kid at a Christmas party what Santa is going to bring him for Christmas this year—it's uncomfortable for everyone.
Thank you. Thank you. And thank you.