Each Thanksgiving, 675 million pounds of turkey is eaten in the United States (that's 45 million turkeys!). Packed with protein and low calories, our native bird, especially when certified organic or humane, is a healthy main attraction indeed. But wait -- what about those pesky vegetarians coming to dine?

Enter the Tofurky, a soy-and-wheat gluten bird. This vegan bird (well, log), with turkey seasoning, packs a helluva protein punch -- with 26 grams per serving vs. 32 for turkey, five vs. nine grams of total fat and zero saturated fat compared with turkey's three grams. And, the classic eponymous roast made in Oregon by Turtle Island Foods also uses certified organic soybeans for the whole tofu and tempeh that go into "the little brown wheel that could," as our Mom dubbed it. Created in 1980, the Tofurky has gained massive popularity in recent years, boasting an increase of 40 percent in sales and total revenue of $11 million dollars in 2007. But what are numbers without the personal touches? Fan sites like Mike Rubel's, with photo albums, speak to the cult-like passion folks have for Tofurky.

My own family has been doing the Tofurky thing, accompanied by a real bird for my little brother, since my older sister became a vegetarian ten years back. We have so many fond Tofurky family memories, like the first year my mom cooked the faux bird with margarine when the recipe called for oil, rendering it too hard to eat and only acceptable for use as soccer ball, which we did. 

To what, precisely, does Tofurkey owe its magic? One can't be sure, except to say that it has a meat-like texture, and even shears at a 45-degree angle. Other delicious non-meat "roasts" (although the word "Tofurky" is 57 percent of the fun/cachet) include the Celebration Roast, with acorn squash/mushroom stuffing from the Field Roast Grain Meat Company, which got top taste test ratings recently on Chowhound. And there's also the Match Foods Stuffed Holiday Roast.

If you don't have vegetarians among your holiday guests (although you never know, your freshman niece coming from college might have switched over to Team Veggie), you can still eat a Tofurky! But if you must have real flesh, go with an organic, humane certified bird that ate a green diet and got to stretch its limbs outdoors. Also, you can sign the Humane Society's Petition for Poultry urging Congress to add poultry to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act so that all turkeys will transition for life on the farm to dinner on your table, in a more humane way.

Story by Margaret Teich. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008