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Vegetarian Thanksgiving:
Yesterday and Today


Vegetarians have a different perspective on American culinary culture than their meat-eating friends. For example, Thanksgiving for meat-abstainers is not synonymous with turkey on the table. What is Thanksgiving to a vegetarian? That depends upon the vegetarian; however, for some the holiday means bringing an entrée – perhaps a stuffed squash, lentil loaf, vegan lasagna, Unturkey, or Tofurkey – to the family dinner table. Other vegetarians remember the turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, but as friends and not as a leg, wishbone, or white meat. As friends of turkeys, vegetarians might adopt one, either literally or by sending a donation to a sanctuary that cares for the feathered flocks.

     What do vegetarians have in common with other Americans on Thanksgiving?  Thankfulness that we live in a free country, and that we have food to eat, comes to mind.

     This holiday vegetarians across America may participate in one of the hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners held by grassroots organizations. Sharing a meal with other vegetarians, usually a multi-course meal prepared by volunteers and served in a church basment on the Sunday before the holiday, is a tradition in America that dates to at least as early as the 19th Century.

     For not a few vegetarians, feasting on the actual day of Thanksgiving takes special effort. People who don’t eat turkey might have a problem finding something festive to eat if dining at a restaurant. On a typical day, many restaurants offer at least one vegetarian entrée on the menu; however, for Thanksgiving Day most chefs have yet to meet the challenge of a meat-free feast. A huge demand exists, however, because a significant percentage of restaurant patrons – vegetarians or not -- would order a delicious and nutritious ‘veggie’ entrée if it was offered. Think of all the people on diets, or who have allergies, or who just want to try something different to eat this holiday season. Accommodating chefs might provide a simple pasta & cheese dish, and for vegans a Portabella mushroom for the holiday entrée. Yet American chefs are so talented and creative that surely they can do so much more to please their non-meat-eating patrons. Just like other Americans, a large percentage of vegetarians would like to indulge and eat a gourmet meal to celebrate the holiday. This is difficult when even side dishes contain chicken stock.


     Foods from the plant kingdom are economical and nutritious, and what is more, vegetables, grains or legumes are the perfect foundation for a chef to build creative and delicious entrée and side dishes. Therefore, chefs:  how about preparing a chestnut or other nut-based loaf with a luscious sauce, or an out-of-the-ordinary potpie, and or a bean or vegetable-based pate’ wrapped in pastry? Make these dishes vegan style (no animal ingredients), and just might multiply the number of patrons who will try your creations. Prepared entirely from foods of the garden or orchard, these types of dishes will attract not only the vegans, and the vegetarians, but quite a few meat-eating patrons as well.
     This Thanksgiving, we would hope restaurants offer tasty treats for vegetarians and vegans (--and that those treats are cooked on a grill and with utensils not used for meat, eggs, or dairy.)  One positive sign in this direction: this year Rhode Island Vegan Awareness (RIVA) holds its holiday dinner at the Radisson Airport Hotel Providence, a Johnson and Wales University educational facility. That's quite a step up from the typical church basment. However, this is not the first time vegetarians have been indulged with fancy fare on Thanksgiving Day, as the menu below indicates.
     Chefs and restauranteurs: Vegetarians and vegans want to spend money at restaurants!  Indulge us!

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