If you’re like 97 percent of the country, chances are that your main meal this Thursday will include turkey—or beef, pork, ham, chicken, fish or some other kind of meat.
For the remaining 3 percent of Americans, there won’t be any meat on the Thanksgiving dinner plate—they’re vegetarian (according to a 2008 study published by the Vegetarian Times). Maybe they’ll have spinach soufflé, four-cheese lasagna, cream of mushroom soup and pumpkin pie à la mode.
But, for 0.5 percent of the country, even these vegetarian delicacies will be out, because this group is vegan. (Or perhaps meat- and lactose-intolerant.)
Those poor vegans, consigned to a life of barley and turnips, dandelion greens and fungi, all washed down with lashings of hot patchouli tea and a chaser of wheatgrass. Right?
Wrong. Vegans do, on occasion, eat a little oddly (particularly when they all get together), but for the most part, they’re pretty normal. I should know—I’ve been vegan for about 10 years.
And Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals of the year.
It’s a menu that’s pretty easy to veganize. There’s no turkey on my plate, of course, but not too much else is different. Foods made with butter can be made with soy butter or non-hydrogenated margarine. Leave out the marshmallows (usually made with gelatin) and honey (many vegans believe honey production exploits bees, although it’s something of an inner-vegan debate) from the yams, and make the pumpkin pie with tofu instead of eggs and with an oil-based crust. (Sorry, Julia Child.)
Like turkeys, Tofurkys come in different sizes. The smallest, which feeds about four people, is a good size for many Thanksgiving dinner hosts expecting the odd vegan or two, because it doesn’t take up too much space in the oven. Cooking for vegans and non-vegans is easy: About an hour or so before the turkey is done cooking, put the Tofurky in the oven, and dinner will be ready for everyone at the same time. There's even Tofurky gravy.
Preparing the Tofurky (which comes pre-filled with wild rice stuffing) is surprisingly simple. Instead of wrestling with a slimy carcass (not to mention the giblets), just peel off a plastic wrapper, plop the smooth ball of animal-free protein into a small cooking pan, fill the pan up about half-way with water or vegetable broth, tent some foil over it, and stick it in the oven at about 350 degrees for about an hour.
Forget about the meat timer and how it may or may not pop up—there’s no risk of undercooked animal flesh with a Tofurky.
But Tofurky isn’t the only vegan option out there. Whole Foods generally offers a vegan roast as one of its many prepared foods. If you’ve just got one vegan coming to dinner, pick up a couple of slices and heat them up in the microwave just before everyone sits down to eat. Other alternatives include vegetarian baked beans, soy sausages and a quinoa pilaf. (Quinoa is a high-protein grain from South America.)
Or, simply ask your vegan guests to bring something to share with everybody. (And be sure to try what they bring—you may be pleasantly surprised.)
Because, the main event at the Thanksgiving meal isn’t really the magnificent mound of steaming protein at the center of the table—it’s the people—funny eating habits and all—sitting around the table that really count.