A MEATLESS MENU: Vegetarian Thanksgiving repasts welcome innovative and traditional fare, including cornbread, stuffing and spinach lasagna. (Photos: Lauren Buchholz)
Ah, the stigma of a vegetarian Thanksgiving.
For many people, the idea of a turkey-less Turkey Day is one of the most unthinkable paradoxes to crop up this side of a tree-free Christmas. The revered bird has held a spot at the center of most family tables since the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, and its popularity has only grown in America over the past 400 years: last year, nearly 700 million pounds of turkey were consumed over the holiday.
For those who have opted not to include meat in their diets, the prominence of turkey can make going against the Thanksgiving grain a burden -- particularly if family get-togethers find vegetarians and their more carnivorous relatives at the same table. Yet with a little creativity and perseverance, the challenge of replacing this central fare with a plant- and eco-friendly substitute can yield some delicious results, and provide plenty of opportunities for the establishment of a new tradition. For those who are heading into their first meat-free Thanksgiving (or for old hands who are looking to spice up the holiday with a little change), here are some suggestions for making the most out of your meal:
Idea #1: Share the veggie love
No matter where you may find yourself this Thanksgiving, chances are there are one or two turkey-free holiday get-togethers transpiring nearby. Social networking sites like Meetup.com are excellent starting points for locating vegetarian-friendly groups and events in your area. While it may be difficult to find a meatless meal alternative taking place on the third Thursday itself, many groups -- such as Colorado Vegans in Boulder -- host pre-Thanksgiving ("Thanksliving") events to give members and visitors the chance to celebrate the holiday with at least one fully turkey-free dinner. As a bonus, attending these earlier meetings is a great way to try out and collect a variety of dishes, thereby enhancing your own vegetarian menu for the holiday and beyond.
It's tempting to try replacing real Thanksgiving birds with soy ones, particularly for first-time vegetarians. Keep in mind, though, that there are many more options than simply reverting to the fake drumstick alternative. Use the hours (and the oven space) that would normally be taken up tending to a turkey dinner to create your favorite homemade vegetarian specialties for the holiday, or be bold and try something new. Last year, Chow.com posted a list of ten outstanding vegetarian alternatives to the traditional turkey feast, and a little web-surfing will reveal myriad more. Don't forget the rest of the menu, either: unlike the turkey, many typical Thanksgiving dishes are vegetarian-friendly, while small substitutions allow other staples to maintain a place at the table. Gravy lovers, for example, can find solace in the made-from-scratch recipe for vegetarian gravy on Allrecipes.com. There are even solutions for those seeking a giblets replacement for their sauce: Tofurky offers a giblet and gravy concoction for vegetarians who are particularly fond of tradition.
Idea #3: Let someone else do the cooking
The idea of eating out on Thanksgiving might raise nearly as many eyebrows as the notion of going meatless. Nevertheless, many restaurants have begun catering to those traveling away from home and relatives for the holiday, pulling out the stops to create special menus for the occasion. While many of these offer traditional fare, a few Colorado venues -- such as Telluride's Cosmopolitan -- are also providing vegetarian options. Not to be outdone, certain vegetarian restaurants of the Rocky Mountain region will be hosting their own alternative holiday meals. (To locate those closest to you and find out their Thanksgiving schedules, check out Vegetarian Restaurants.net's state-by-state listings.) It may be a bit pricier than eating at home, but you get to forswear preparation and clean-up -- and the meals may be just the inspiration you need for creating your own vegetarian Thanksgiving tradition.
Whether or not you'll be celebrating a vegetarian Thanksgiving this week, it's fun to watch turkeys themselves enjoying the holiday! Check out the birds (and their animal brethren) celebrating the spirit of "Thanksliving" with this video from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary:
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