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Thanksgiving: A Vegetarian Survival Guide

By John DiGilio in Food on Nov 23, 2010 6:20PM

Ah Thanksgiving, that day of over-indulgent days - a holiday celebrated by the consumption of copious amounts of roasted, baked, fried, and boiled foods. For many, the centerpiece of this feast is the turkey. However, not everyone looks forward to celebrating with a drumstick. For vegetarians and vegans, Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday to digest. If you are of the veggie variety, so-called "Turkey Day" does not have to be an occasion to dread. A little pre-holiday planning and prep is all it takes to make it through the day with a full tummy and a clear conscience.

Many of our vegetarian friends have developed their own Thanksgiving traditions over the years. Sadly, they are not very festive. Some of our friends spend the day holed up at home, avoiding the pressure and disapproval of the carnivores. Others grudgingly sit at familial tables picking from among the few vegetable side dishes squeezed in among the meat entrees. It doesn't have to be this way! Here are a few tips for which we veggie types can all give thanks:

Try Some Tofu on the Table

If stuffing a little bird meat in your mouth isn't your thing, you have some tasty alternatives. A loaf of seitan is easily and inexpensively made at home. All you need is some wheat gluten flour, spices, and veggie broth. Sliced and served with a vegetarian gravy, it is a delicious change from the traditional gobbler. Excellent seitan recipes are can be found at VegWeb and The leftovers last for days and are just as versatile as turkey.

If making a meat alternative from scratch is not appealing, head to your local grocery store. Pre-made meatless Thanksgiving entrees are now commonly available. Tofurky has become an annual fixture on many vegetarian tables. A combination of tofu, vital wheat gluten, and spices, it is available in a special holiday feast package that includes veggie gravy, wild rice stuffing, dumplings, and even dessert. Just in time for the holidays, Gardein has released its Savory Stuffed Turkey entree. A breaded roll of vegetable proteins and grains, it is stuffed with celery, onions, cranberries, and bread crumbs. It too comes complete with vegetarian gravy. Just pop either of these in the oven and heat.

BYOV (Bring Your Own Veggies)

Celebrating Thanksgiving at the homes of family and friends need not be torturous. The key is to plan ahead and mind your manners. Even on one of the biggest meat-eating days of the year, vegetarians and vegans can be gracious - and satisfied - guests. Find out in advance what your hosts are serving and plan accordingly. This could, of course, mean making a complete meal out of side dishes. However, if your hosts are amenable, why not bring a dish or two of your own? You may even win over some new converts.

It is important to use proper etiquette when bringing your own food to someone else's Thanksgiving dinner party. Regardless of dietary preferences, no one wants to offend the host. The online Etipedia from the manners experts at the Emily Post Institute offers the following advice:

Offer to contribute to the meal - but don't dictate the menu. Your best bet is to make your offer open-ended and follow your host's direction. If you or your "party" have special dietary needs, it is very gracious to offer to bring a dish that meets those needs. "Grace is a vegetarian - I'd love to bring a delicious tofu dish if that's OK with you.

Give Thanks . . . for Restaurants

Finally, the easiest way to enjoy a vegetarian Thanksgiving is to let someone else do all the work. As vegetable-based diets become more popular, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are sprouting up everywhere. Most are sympathetic to their veggie clientele when it comes to the holidays and offer special menus. Think of it as a non-traditional Thanksgiving with all the fixins.

Here in Chicago, vegetarians looking to dine out this holiday have several options. The venerable and popular Chicago Diner in Lakeview is celebrating its 28th Annual Vegan Thanksgiving. Dine in or carry out, they are offering a number of meat-free main courses, sides, and desserts. The "beefy wellington" sounds particularly promising. In Roscoe Village, Victory's Banner is also serving up a complete Thanksgiving dinner without meat. The "root vegetable risottto with parsnips, carrots, and turnips" has a tasty ring to it. Both restaurants require reservations to dine in on Thursday.

Remember, It's a Holiday!

Whether cooking in or dining out, vegetarians can and should enjoy Thanksgiving just as much as their omnivorous counterparts. The important thing is that we not lose sight of the holiday's true meaning. After all, Thanksgiving is not just a day to eat until the buttons on our pants pop. It is about coming together with loved ones to celebrate the closing of another year and to give thanks for all of the good things we have enjoyed throughout. Meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, this feeling of gratitude is something we can all share.