It’s that time of year again — the gobble-‘til-you-wobble Thanksgiving Day. For many, it’s time for Butterball turkey, Cornish hen or pheasant, but for others, like myself, a vegetarian, well, it’s not.
As a “foodie,” I don’t particularly enjoy this time of year because most Thanksgiving Day entrees are meat-based. I find myself constantly checking labels for ingredients to avoid a meat or gelatin mishap. I stand in solidarity with my fellow vegetarians (and vegans, too) who must plow through Thanksgiving Day, eating primarily vegetables, fruits and nuts to the delight or dismay of family members.
According to PETA, gelatin is a protein that comes from boiling animal skin, tendons, ligaments or bones in water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs. Gelatin is used as a thickener in everyday food items, such as puddings, candies, marshmallows, cakes, ice cream and yogurts. A vegetarian or vegan alternative to animal-derived gelatin is plant gelatin. “Agar agar” is sometimes labelled as gelatin but it is derived from seaweed.
For vegetarians and vegans, this time of year may be dreadful, but have no fear: there are are a lot of options.
Below is Mosaic’s guide to surviving Thanksgiving Day as a vegetarian or vegan and, most importantly, avoiding the awkward misfortune of accidentally consuming meat.
Check the labels on everything: Always check the labels on pies, cakes and cookies. While these treats may be delicious, they often have gelatin in them.
Avoid prepared greens: Never eat greens this time of year, unless, of course, they were made with you in mind. Most dishes have either a meat-based sauce, or are cooked with chicken, ham or beef.
Bring your own dish: The best way to avoid a mishap is to cook your own food! Bring a tofu turkey, yams or greens.
Inform family and friends — beforehand: Always tell your friends and family that you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. This way, you can avoid showing up at the dinner table and watching everyone else eat, while you’re stuck with some lettuce and a potato.
Request your sweet potatoes with only butter: Yams typically have a marshmallow fluff mixed in which most likely contains animal-derived gelatin. In order to avoid consuming something derived from animal skin, tendons, ligaments or bones, just put butter on yams or, even better, cinnamon butter.
Leave the radical “Save the Animals” T-shirt at home: Do not wear a “Save the Animals” T-shirt or bring mugs with catchy plant-loving statements. Doing this will prevent wide-eyed stares, embarrassment and hurt feelings among turkey-gobbling friends and family.
Avoid meat-related food conversations: Talk about dessert, the weather or unknown midterm grades to avoid having awkward conversations about whether vegetables have feelings.
Bring your own condiments: Vegan cheese such as Daiya, Tofutti and Green Vie can keep dishes dairy-free. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! It’s Vegan! is a great alternative to real butter. For baked goods, apple butter or almond butter are great alternatives to sweeteners and food additives.
Have a non-traditional Thanksgiving Day: Have a potluck with friends and family — bring tacos, pizza, french fries, potatoes! It’s okay to forego traditional Thanksgiving Day food because, at the end of the day, it’s all about giving thanks with the people you love, not eating turkey, ham, stuffing or gravy.
Use soy, almond or coconut milk: These milk alternatives will enhance your dishes’ flavor and keep the calorie and fat content relatively low. A great alternative for mac and “cheese” and sweet dishes.
Cheese it up!: If you’re a vegan who’s sick of eating only vegetables, try adding “cheese” into the equation. Vegan cheese on potatoes, broccoli or spinach really spices up vegetable dishes.
Make a meatless “meat dish”: Prepare cauliflower wings, tofu scramble or a tofurkey.
To reflect on the joy of others at Thanksgiving check out albertandfriends.org. Albert (a turkey rescued in 2016) embodies Thanksgiving is a way that vegetarians and vegans can truly embrace. Thanksgiving Day is a time to take stock of all the people that bring you joy and make you grateful.
Mosaic wishes you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving break, despite whatever lands on your plate Thanksgiving Day.
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