Vegetarian Thanksgiving: the meaning in food


Each year, the third Thursday in November marks the holiday on which millions of turkey-lovers can finally enjoy the results of countless hours spent in grocery stores shopping for that perfect meal.

Thanksgiving is a time for family-gathering, stories of thankfulness and turkey. But for vegetarians, store lists are absent of any meat products, preventing the indulgence of many of the holiday’s traditional dishes shared by family and friends.

This leaves one to ponder: why is food spotlighted on this particular holiday, and can it really make or break the meaning behind it?

Vegetarian or not, most would argue no. But it’s hard to deny the pedestal turkey has been placed on generation after generation in the context of the holiday.

There are numerous alternatives for a main course and several side dishes that can be found through quick, online browsing of vegetarian-friendly cooking sites such as and even general sites like Kraft Foods.

There are also brands that specialize in meat substitutes such as Morningstar Farms and BOCA Foods. These replacements are nutritious; most are made of tofu, a food item rich in protein and low in calories, according to The Vegetarian Society.

“I eat tofurkey, and I am a huge vegetable person,” said junior communication major Amy Chiang. “I just kind of eat what I can.”

Bart Welling, UNF English department associate professor, has similar tastes. He was a big-time carnivore five years ago but chose to stop eating meat during what he calls a “quick and dramatic transformation.”

After gaining insight on the horrors of factory farms, just the sight and smell of the cooked bird was enough to nauseate him. This year, his wife and children will be joining him in the alternatives to turkey, he said.

“I eat tofurkey or Quorn instead of turkey,” Welling said. “Tofurkey is vegan, and Quorn is vegetarian and is excellent. Tofurkey is made mostly of soy, as the name indicates, and vaguely resembles turkey, but is tasty in its own right.”

Chiang and her family are not uncomfortable around one another during meal time, and she doesn’t expect them to cater to her, she said.

But when accommodating a vegetarian, the task is simpler than one might think. And providing options for guests who do not eat meat is the host’s responsibility when an invitation into his or her home is offered, so be willing to do as such.

“My extended family members and friends try to be accepting of my vegetarianism,” Welling said. “For some it’s no big deal, and for others it’s perplexing but something they’re willing to deal with.”

But the time together should be focused on the real reasons for Thanksgiving, not food, Welling said.

“Thanksgiving is interesting, and would be all-too-easy to trash, but I still enjoy it because of the way in which it brings people to the table and forces them to think about food, Welling said. “We confront our dependence on food for survival and in that respect, Thanksgiving can serve as a model for meals throughout the year.”

E-mail Sarah Gojekian at [email protected]