Making Room for Vegans at Your Holiday Table
By Leah Lancione
Vegan? What’s a vegan? I still get that question frequently despite the fact that 7.3 million Americans consider themselves vegetarian and of those, one million are vegan (consume no animal-derived products), according to a Vegetarian Times study (www.vegetariantimes.com). The next question is then, more often than not, “So you mean you don’t eat or wear anything that comes from an animal?” Usually, I try to explain briefly why I’ve chosen this lifestyle and how long I’ve been a vegan before changing the subject. It’s just too easy to get into a debate about animal rights or healthier food choices when, quite frankly, I don’t feel it’s my place to judge someone else or convince them that my way is right.
That being said, it’s a bit off-putting when arriving at a party, barbeque or just a simple meal and there isn’t something — anything — a vegan can eat. If I’m dining with family members who are well aware of my veganism, I’m usually asked in advance if there’s something like a vegetable side dish, fruit or salad they can fix for me along with the regular course. My family has learned to support my veganism after 15 years, although there’s an occasional comment about eating rabbits’ food.
When eating at some place other than my home or with family members, it can be dicey. Not wanting to appear rude or hard to please, I usually look for a vegetable side dish and politely ask what the ingredients are and/or how it’s been prepared. Usually, there is at least something I can eat without the fear of getting sick later.
Recently I did find myself at someone’s home for dinner, and although it’s well-known that I’m a vegan, there appeared to be nothing for me to eat. Fortunately, I had a packet of vegan protein shake in my purse. So, when everyone started pulling their piece of the pizza pie and somebody quipped, “What are you going to eat?” I nonchalantly whipped out my shake. My husband looked mortified that even he hadn’t remembered to order a salad for me, but since I was somewhat prepared, the situation wasn’t too uncomfortable. I simply have to remind myself to be understanding; if I feel being vegan is a compassionate choice then I have to also be compassionate with those who don’t fully comprehend my lifestyle.
Hopefully you’re starting to understand, too, how awkward and potentially embarrassing it can be to sit at a dinner table with an empty plate or one adorned with items you can’t fathom consuming. So, take this as the start of your new role as the most gracious host to all! It’s not too hard to make vegans feel welcome at the holiday repast.
The following are a few suggestions for enabling a vegetarian or vegan dine contentedly.
If you don’t have the means or time to create both a vegan or vegetarian option to the meat main course, Eatdrinkbetter.com suggests providing a selection of sides. “Using vegetable stock in the stuffing instead of chicken stock; leaving the ham, cheese and bacon bits out of sides and salads (or even just a portion of them); making pie crust with vegetable shortening instead of lard; sautéing vegetables in olive oil instead of butter—all are gestures that are greatly appreciated.” Since Thanksgiving typically involves a stuffing, mashed potatoes and a number of vegetable side dishes and comforting desserts along with the bird, it’s all about the preparation of these items. A small portion of mashed potatoes can be whipped together with almond, soy or rice milk and vegan margarine. The corn and other vegetables steamed and left naked opposed to served with butter. You can always leave a butter tray on the table. Yams can even be topped with vegan marshmallows and nobody would taste the difference.
Now, if you want to supply a real vegan main course along with your regular turkey and fixings, Turtle Island Foods offers a Tofurky meal that is vegan, uses certified nongenetically engineered ingredients and no hexane-extracted soy isolates, concentrates or other ingredients manufactured with hexane. This bird substitute can be cooked in the oven alongside the meat version. Just add about 10 minutes and follow basting directions. Tofurky can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Kroger, Wegmans and some other grocery chains. Good Life Organic Market in Severna Park is also a great place to shop for vegetarian and vegan meal options.
Field Roast’s “Celebration Roast” (also available at the retailers listed above) is made with the seasoned protein-rich, wheat-flour substance referred to as “grain meat.” This Seattle-based company is proud of the culinary fusion of Chinese and Japanese seasoning techniques as well as English flavors derived from barley malts, mustard, garlic, red wine, balsamic vinegar and more. The company also offers other roast variations as well as meatloaf, sausages, deli slices and other meat alternatives to tantalize any vegan foodie.
The brand Gardein offers a Turk’y cutlet that uses non-gmo soy, wheat and pea proteins, vegetables and ancient grains like quinoa, millet, kamut and amaranth. These are meatless cutlets that can be grilled or cooked in the oven or microwave and come with a vegan home-style gravy.
There are countless real turkey substitutes available at grocery stores that try to present some vegetarian or vegan products, usually found around or near the frozen vegetables. Just remember to add the items to your holiday shopping list.
In addition to providing plenty of vegan dishes, consider providing a “humane” turkey for your feast. Brands like Organic Prairie raise animals according to the federal organic standards. For turkeys this means slightly more square footage and better conditions than nonorganic industrial factories. Organic Prairie claims its turkeys are raised with “100 percent organic feed and the freedom to range in the out-of-doors. This means you’re assured a turkey free of antibiotics, synthetic hormones and pesticides.” (Visit www.organicprairie.com/product/organic_whole_turkey1/organic_turkey) Go to the website or visit natural food markets like David’s Natural Markets in Gambrills and Columbia, to find more civilized and healthier options for your turkey dinner. This humanitarian nod may please all guests during this time of giving thanks and remembering the compassion and harmony Native Americans and pilgrims shared at the very first Thanksgiving.