The Care and Feeding of Vegetarians During the Holidays…and Beyond

With Thanksgiving in the U.S. coming nigh, I just wanted to mention a few items to all of you well-meaning cooks who try to accommodate your vegetarian friends and family over the holiday season. Here are some bullet points of things I’ve learned over the years (this is not intended to be all-inclusive, but I’ve been a vegetarian since about 1980 and trust me, this stuff comes up more often than you’d think):

Know your vegetarians. While an ovo-lacto vegetarian will eat eggs, cheese, and dairy, a vegan will not. Be warned. E.g. An O-L vegetarian will eat your cake that has eggs and maybe milk in it, a vegan won’t. Same goes for chocolate.

Tofurky isn’t that great. It’s edible, but you all can do better. Make something with love.

Remember, chicken and turkey broths are not vegetarian.

Almost all Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies, and are thus not vegetarian. Read ingredient lists. Markets such as Whole Foods do carry vegetarian Worcestershire sauce.

Most gelatins are not vegetarian… they are made from the connective tissues of animals. There are gelatins made from plants but they aren’t easy to find and sometimes are difficult to deal with. Read those ingredient labels.

It gets tiresome to only eat side-dishes and salads. C’mon, make a vegetarian main dish — they aren’t that difficult.

Note that most vegetarians aren’t happy if you stir/cut/transfer a vegetarian dish with the same utensil that was used for a non-vegetarian dish. At least wash it, first.

Lard is not a suitable fat for vegetarian dishes.

Unless you are making your non-vegetarian guests bring their own contributions to the meal, don’t make your vegetarian guests bring theirs.

Make more of the veggie dishes than you think you’ll need. Why? While your veggie friends won’t eat the non-veggie dishes, everyone else has no such limitation for the veggie dishes and tend to take some for themselves. If you don’t make enough, the vegetarians get less to eat.

If it was cooked on, under, or in the bird, it’s not vegetarian.

Generally speaking, gravy is not vegetarian.

Seafood is not vegetarian. Neither is poultry. And if you need reminding about the unsuitability of beef, pork, and lamb… I might have to hurt you :-)

Vegetarians love seeing that turkey carcass. (That’s sarcasm, people.)

Vegetarians also love having the spotlight of being vegetarians on them through the whole meal. (Again, that’s sarcasm, people. Seriously, if you love the people enough to have them for dinner, you love them enough not to roast them.)

Don’t make the non-vegetarians taste the veggie stuff you made special if they don’t want to. Let them enjoy the day.

Just because it’s a vegetable-type-thingy doesn’t mean a vegetarian is going to like it. As many vegetarians hate Brussels sprouts as do non-vegetarians.

If you make veggie and non-veggie versions of the same dishes, don’t mix them up (this has happened to me in each of the last two thanksgivings…it’s getting old).

DO NOT… repeat DO NOT intentionally insert non-vegetarian ingredients into supposedly vegetarian dishes because “they’ll never notice”. That’s just being evil.

Unless you have a good track record with cooking and following recipes, don’t make thanksgiving your first try at making that special vegetarian dish… or if you do, at least have enough backups that a disaster won’t be a cause of regret and recriminations.

It’s sometimes helpful to remember that unless a vegetarian is a “newbe”, vegetarians tend not to miss meat. You don’t have to try to make something taste like meat to satisfy them. Just make something veggie that tastes good.

* * * * * * *

Mostly, though, remember that when the whole group is together to celebrate thanksgiving, the meal is basically just a meal. It’s the togetherness that gives the holiday meaning. Try not to focus so much on the food that you forget about the people and the meaning of the day.

(Originally published October 14, 2007)

Photo credit: turkey (w/o toke) Steve Voght CC (Attrib/SA)

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