Veggin’ Out On Turkey Day

Autumn has always intimidated me. One moment, it’s August and the long lazy days are made of sunlight; September hits, and your senses are assaulted by the omnipresent scents of pumpkin and pine. Most daunting, however, is the traditional autumnal holiday: Thanksgiving. Why, you might ask, is turkey day such a source of dread? Well, I don’t eat turkey, or any other kind of meat. Yeah, I’m a vegetarian, and Thanksgiving is an extremely  disappointing holiday.

While I obviously love the opportunity to spend time with my family, as well as the blessed two-day break from school, Thanksgiving is a stressful time. Before the day is through, I will no doubt have been tricked into eating meat, and have to defend myself against interrogations from my family about my eating choices.

People always make a huge deal about how douchey vegetarians and vegans can be, but I often keep quiet about my vegetarianism in order to avoid the unnecessary harsh words of others. So, I’ll take this opportunity to speak on behalf of my fellow veggies: make an effort to keep your resident vegetarian happy and comfortable when turkey day rolls around.

First, keep your concerns about their protein intake to yourself. While it may be absolutely unimaginable to live on a completely meat-free diet, I can guarantee you that the person you’re addressing has a better understanding of their eating habits than you do. My aunts are extremely guilty of this; every Thanksgiving, I walk through the door to shrieks of how “weak” and “scrawny” I look.

“Please have just a bite of turkey,” they beg. “You’re a growing girl! You need your strength!”

Do y’all really think that, after five years of a meatless diet, one fowl bite will make that much of a difference? I get my daily servings of protein just fine without meat: beans, leafy greens, tofu, dairy. With regards to Thanksgiving dishes, vegetarians can get some protein in with green bean casserole, a vitamin-packed dish and with a sweet potato or yam mash, especially when paired with a grain like rice or quinoa.

Another #turkeydayproblem I’ve dealt with through the years is the accidental ingestion of meat, whether by accident or at the hands of a trickster relative. Even the safest of meat-free dishes can be a hazard. I got halfway through a serving of mashed potatoes before spotting the miniscule bacon bits. Other times, it’s been more devious, like the “meatless” potato salad pushed on me by a giggling uncle — I was not too amused when my mother pointed out the chunks of chicken.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is to be respectful of other’s choices, especially with regards to the things that don’t affect you. I am mostly supportive and, at the very least, understanding of the many lifestyle choices of my friends and family; by that end, why must I defend my choices and reveal my personal reasons for making them in order to be validated in my decision? It feels unfair to me, and I’m sure my veggie friends would echo that sentiment.

This year, I gave thanks for the happiness and well-being of my loved ones, for the roof over our heads, for the shoes on our feet and for all of the significant relationships I’m so lucky to have in my life. Then I tucked into a plate of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheese biscuits and pumpkin pie, with nary a strip of white meat or pot roast in sight. It just goes to show: you don’t have to eat the big bird to enjoy your turkey day.