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Thanksgiving, minus the turkey

November 20, 2010
By JESSICA COLLIER, Enterprise Staff Writer

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, because there's so little pressure. You don't have to buy presents; you don't have to make a costume; and you don't have to strain yourself trying to find awesome hiding places for little colored eggs that are filled with candy that will be ruined when it rains before the Easter egg hunt begins. You just have sit back, relax with family, watch football and eat.

But the eating part is sometimes a problem for me. I'm a vegetarian. Or, I guess, I used to be a vegetarian until I loosened my personal rules a bit and became a lacto-ovo pescetarian, which some people consider a level of vegetarianism.

Article Photos

The three options for fake turkey available at Green Goddess Natural Foods in Lake Placid are displayed on the store’s counter.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)

We'll get into what that means in a minute, but before that, what was your initial reaction when you read that? Did you immediately try to think of a way to taunt me?

Because that seems to be a lot of people's reactions. I started phasing meat out of my diet in eighth-grade because it just grossed me out to eat dead animals. It was something I had thought about before, but never thought I was capable of doing. Steak, pork chops and chicken wings were my three favorite foods, until one night my mom called saying she was going to be home late and asked me to prepare a chicken for dinner. That, coupled with an ill-timed reading of a particularly vivid passage of "The Lord of the Flies" that involved a pig and a stick, pushed me over the edge.

Ever since then, I have endured endless teasing due to my diet. Friends often jokingly tell me totally harmless foods like cookies have meat in them, and an acquaintance actually chased me around with a raw steak once in high school.

Fact Box

Vegetarian recipes

Courtesy of Sabine Weber, long-term care dietitian at AMC-Uihlein

Vegetarian "Stuffing"

(Serves 8-10)

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 pound bag Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing, or equivalent stuffing

1/2 pound of Pepperidge Farm Corn Bread Stuffing

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 cup roasted chestnuts, chopped

(For variety, you can add raisins, substitute nuts for chestnuts, or use different vegetables.)

1. Saute onion, celery, and mushrooms in broth until tender. Add water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing, Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing, cooked brown rice, and roasted chestnuts.

3. Combine both mixtures. Spread into a large, shallow, lightly oiled baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until top and bottom are browned. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 404; Total fat as % of daily value: 6%; Fat: 4 grams; Protein: 11 grams; Carbohydrates: 82 grams; Calcium: 113 mg; Iron: 5 mg; Sodium: 1096 mg; Dietary fiber: 4 grams.

Pumpkin Pie

1 1/2 cups soymilk

3 tablespoons agar

1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin

1/2 cup raw sugar (or other sweetener)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine agar and soymilk in a saucepan. Allow them to stand for 5 minutes. Bring them to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

3. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool before cutting.

My brother is probably the worst offender, though. He does all the normal teasing that everyone else does, but he also likes to take it up a notch. At his wedding, he attached balloons to the chairs of the few vegetarians to remind us that we were "demanding special attention."

And every year since 2005, he wears a T-shirt that reads, "Nobody likes a vegetarian," to Thanksgiving dinner at our grandmother's house. He says he wears it to help remind me of what a burden I am.

"Most of it's to be facetious," my brother said when I talked with him about it this week. "It's not really like I think less of you for being a vegetarian. I think it's something that's really easy to pick on you about. I appreciate the opportunity to make your life more difficult."

Apparently, I'm not the only veg who has experienced this type of ridicule. Rob Carr, a 33-year-old vegetarian who lives in Saranac Lake, says he gets the same type of treatment from his family.

Carr became a vegetarian about 10 years ago. In his early 20s, he realized he had been eating horribly when his doctor wrote him a prescription for medication to control his cholesterol levels. So he decided to change his eating habits.

Now, he goes to Thanksgiving with the Italian side of his family, all of whom are politically conservative and big meat-eaters who enjoy poking at him about it.

"I get teased all the time," Carr said. "I'm a total black sheep in my family."

Carr said he usually tries to bring a dish for the meal that's safe for him to eat, but his family won't touch it.

"Just because it's vegetarian, it has such a negative stigma in my family," Carr said. "They'll think it's this weird, granola-laden food, and I'll be the only one eating it."

But this year, in an e-mail circulated to family members about planning for Thanksgiving, his dad said he would bring a tofu turkey roast, which Carr said is a big step for his family.

Carr admits that some of the teasing he gets may have something to do with the fact that the year before he stopped eating meat, he drank about 30 ounces of lard drained off the Thanksgiving turkey on a bet. Juxtaposed against refusing to eat meat the following year, his family may have had reason to jest.

I might have invited the same criticism by giving up my vegetarianism and eating turkey on Thanksgiving for probably the first three or four years after I stopped eating meat.

So, you ask, what can I eat these days as a lacto-ovo pescetarian? I get that a lot. My typical answer is, "I can eat whatever I want. It's what I choose to eat that's the issue."

I know it's a bratty kind of response, but I think it makes an important distinction: for most people, being a vegetarian is a choice. Most vegetarians can loosen their personal rules occasionally and, say, spend one day gorging themselves on chicken wings at a North Country Life Flight Wing Wars fundraiser (just a totally hypothetical situation, of course) and still consider themselves vegetarian.

Either way, I try to stick to my rules. I used to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, the most common kind, according to Sabine Weber, a dietitian at Adirondack Medical Center's two nursing homes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians have a diet based on grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, dairy and eggs.

When I lived in Boston two years ago, though, I decided to start allowing myself to eat fish every so often. I'm still a little grossed out by it, but as long as I don't think too much about it, I'm OK.

Carr said he actually considers himself something of a localvore, because he generally doesn't eat any meat, but he will if it's raised locally and it's organic. One year on Thanksgiving, he went to a local farm and slaughtered his own chicken.

"It's not like animals have souls and I don't want to kill them. I would happily kill an animal," Carr said. "It was the most sustainable way to get meat, and it was delicious and healthy."

There are several other variations on vegetarianism, according to Weber. They include vegans, who don't eat any animals or animal byproducts, including dairy, eggs or honey; people who follow a macrobiotic diet, which is a diet based on in-season foods, and sometimes includes seafood; fruitarians, who eat only fruits, botanical fruits, nuts and seeds; and raw foodists, who don't eat anything that has been cooked hotter than 118 degrees.

With all those different rules, it's understandable that it can be pretty confusing to some people.

My grandmother does her best for me at Thanksgiving. She cooks most of the dishes, and she often makes vegetarian stuffing and a few extra vegetable sides for me, which I appreciate incredibly.

But sometimes she has trouble with it. The day after Thanksgiving a few years ago, she asked me what she could get me to eat at the store, since everyone else was going to have left-over turkey sandwiches. I said something like, "Oh, I don't mind, Grandma, just something without meat,'" but she couldn't really figure anything out, so I had to tell her a specific frozen meal to buy for me.

"I'm sure she just like has this idea of what meals are like, and they're always meat and a side, and if you don't have meat, then what do you have?" my brother said. "Nobody can figure out what to do for you, and that's really the struggle of vegetarianism, I think"

Kevin McCarthy, a culinary professor at Paul Smith's College, said the best way to cook vegetarian is to pick one vegetable to turn into a main dish, then build a meal from there, finding vegetable sides that will complement it. That's what he teaches when his Contemporary Cuisine course tackles its three-day vegetarian lesson.

"I don't find it a challenge," McCarthy said. "I find it kind of exciting and inspirational."

McCarthy says that Thanksgiving is actually a great holiday for vegetarians. There are generally so many vegetarian side dishes incorporated into a typical Thanksgiving meal that people who don't eat meat can get stuffed without even noticing there's no turkey on their plate.

He also teaches students how to take traditionally non-vegetarian foods and turn them around to make them vegetarian friendly. For instance, a person can easily make stuffing with vegetable or mushroom stock rather than chicken stock.

Just remember to keep it out of the actual meat. When I pitched this story, there was an anecdote that floated around the newsroom about a certain Enterprise employee's wife laboring over a batch of vegan stuffing for a friend, then shoving it in the turkey without even thinking about it. And that's not the only story I've heard like that. It never hurts to ask people about the food they cook, vegetarians!

"It's very easy to make anything vegetarian," McCarthy said. "It's just a little bit of extra thought."

But years of vegetarianism doesn't necessarily mean a person learns how to cook. For all my years of being anti-meat, I'm pretty great at heating up frozen veggie burgers and making macaroni-and-cheese sides, but I'm still pretty terrible at any cooking that requires the slightest bit of skill beyond that.

For people like me, there are a variety of fake meat products for Thanksgiving that require only a bit of heating up. Locally, you can choose from three different types of fake turkey - some that come complete with stuffing - at Green Goddess Natural Foods in Lake Placid or Nori's Village Market in Saranac Lake. Or you can even order pre-cooked vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free meals from the Green Goddess.

Both health food stores also sell locally raised turkeys for Thanksgiving, but they have to be ordered by early November.

Wynde Kate Reese, co-owner of the Green Goddess, said she gets a lot of people coming to her store who have to feed vegetarians and don't know where to start, especially parents whose kids are coming home from college with new eating habits.

"They're like, 'We don't know what to make them or how to prepare it,'" Reese said.

I'm sure that most vegetarians would be thankful to just have enough to eat. Because the point of the holiday, after all, is to spend time with family and be thankful what you have.

McCarthy, the culinary professor, said people shouldn't worry too much about dealing with vegetarians.

"Vegetarians aren't lepers," McCarthy said. "They're OK people."

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or



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