Cook a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal
Since the time of the Plymouth Pilgrims, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in American homes. A day intended to express thanks for productive land and a prosperous year, today’s Thanksgiving meal may actually come at a significant earthly cost. This year, you can lesson the eco-impact of your meal and express your environmental awareness by choosing a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving menu. The planet will thank you.
How to plan a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal
When considering vegetarian options for your Thanksgiving meal, you can go one of two ways. Sticking with traditional Thanksgiving menu options, you can choose vegged-out versions of your favorites to maintain time-honored meal traditions. On the other hand, if you’re willing to strike out and try something new, you could opt for an entirely different menu filled with interesting and delicious dishes.
Cooking a traditional yet vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner
If you’re a traditionalist at heart and want your family to experience a classic Thanksgiving meal without the meat, have no fear! There are many ways to achieve a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving. If you’re a gourmet in the kitchen, than these recipes and meal planning ideas will be a great fit:
- Main course: Whip up a vegetarian version of traditional turkey using tofu protein and other healthy ingredients. Online recipes abound: Tofu Turkey, Tofu Mock Turkey Loaf, Oven-baked Marinated Tempeh, Soy and Seitan “Turkey”, Holiday Tofu Loaf, or Southern Baked Tofu. Alternatively, you can buy a pre-made imitation roast (turkey or ham) and jazz it up with these unique twists (deep fried, maple-roasted, or ginger garlic).
- Stuffing: Instead of stuffing a bird, build your own dressing and stuff it in a squash or cook it in a crock pot. Check out these tasty alternatives: Neo-Classical Dressing with Apricots and Prunes in a Pumpkin, Wild Rice and Mushroom Stuffing, or Kamut Berry, Spelt Berry, and Wild Rice Stuffing.
- Gravy: Smother your mashed potatoes and carrots in tasty vegetarian gravy, made from a pre-packaged spice pack or from scratch: Cashew Gravy, Mushroom-miso-mustard Gravy, Nutritional Yeast Gravy, Red Wine and Shallot Gravy, or Portobello Madeira Gravy.
- Sweet potatoes and yams: Top this year’s sweet potato pie or candied yams with gelatin-free marshmallows (gelatin is derived from boiling down the bones, connective tissue, organs, and some intestines of animals). Great vegan marshmallow options can be made from a variety of gelatin alternatives and recipes: using agar agar or vegetarian gelatin. You can also purchase gel alternatives in pre-made or kit form online or at your local health food store.
- Pumpkin pie: Don’t forget the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert treat! Many classic pastry and pie recipes include lard (animal fat) as well as eggs and milk. This year, go for a vegan pie instead. You should be able to pick up a vegan pie crust from your grocer’s freezer. Making your own (crust and pie) is pretty simple, too: Short Pastry, Flakey Pie Crust, or Easy Vegan Pumpkin or Squash Pie.
Thinking outside of the traditional Thanksgiving box
For something totally different than the traditional turkey, why not build a menu based on a particular international cuisine?
- Go Italian with some pumpkin risotto or vegetarian lasagne.
- Make a German or Polish meal with vegan vegetable pot pie, vegetarian cabbage rolls, and warm potato salad.
- Adventure into the world of Indian food by cooking up some aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), cottage cheese pakoras, and chickpea curry.
- Try your hand at some vegetarian Cuban black beans and fried plantains.
- Head to Asia by tasting your way through some vegetarian spring rolls, pad thai, or broccoli with garlic sauce.
And, if cooking an elaborate vegetarian Thanksgiving meal is just too much work for you, consider eating out at a local green-certified restaurant serving local and organic fair, much of which may already be meat-free. Or, for a home-based, stress-free meal, hire an organic caterer to cook up an organic, vegetarian delight instead.
Find it! Ingredients for a vegetarian Thanksgiving
Finding meat substitutes can be as easy as making a trip to your local natural foods store. But if you lack such a venue, many items can now be ordered online.
Make fresh marshmallows without the use of gelatin (this’ll please any vegan guests you may have) and use them to top your sweet potatoes or on a tasty dessert. Comes with an easy recipe and their website also has an instructional video!
Made using reduced-fat soy beans, this meat replacement can be used in casseroles, spaghetti sauce, burgers, and other vegetarian entrees. It’s gluten-free and kosher and can be ordered in bags of various sizes.
If you normally celebrate the holidays with a ham, try this meatless alternative. Made from “grain protein,” this artisan-style roast is made using vegan sausage, mushrooms, apples, and butternut squash. Can be ordered in either a 1-pound or 2-pound size.
A new generation of meat alternatives has arrived with Garden Protein. Their turkey breast alternatives is made entirely from vegetable sources and is enriched with vitamins.
Just add water to this gravy mix that’s made with natural ingredients like unbleached flour, sunflower oil, onion powder, shitake extract, and soy sauce. This Vegan Certified option has a hint of mushroom taste and is great on all sorts of veggie dishes.
A sweetened alternative, this one is made with carrageenan (also known as Irish moss and derived from seaweed) and lust bean bum and can be substituted for regular gelatin in all sorts of recipes. Also comes in various flavors, including lemon, lime, and punch.
This inexpensive gelatin alternative will have you making gelled desserts in no time. It’s Kosher, gluten- and sugar-free, all natural (made with tapioca dextrin), and contains no artificial colors or flavors. Can also be purchased in a variety of flavors (raspberry, orange, cherry, or strawberry).
USDA Certified Organic, this easy and inexpensive gravy mix only requires adding water and bringing the mix to a boil. It’s MSG- and preservative-free, and comes in three flavors: Golden, Shitake Mushroom, and Savory Herb.
This pre-cooked vegetarian feast makes holiday meal planning a breeze! Made with tofu-wheat protein, it has a turkey texture and flavor, and comes filled with stuffing. A side of gravy is also included. Go all of the way and order their Tofurky Feast, which comes with the roast and gravy as well as cranberry apple potato dumplings, rice stuffing, and a Wishtix!
With a stunning array of vegetarian meat substitutes to choose from (many imported from Asia where vegetarian “meat” is already a well-developed market), you’ll have a hard time not turning your feast into a vegetarian delight. With everything from chicken and ham substitutes, to lobster, shrimp, and goose. The sky’s the limit!
Preparing a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal helps you go green because...
- It reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emitted to produce your meals.
- It protects tropical forests from being cleared for animal pasture.
- It keeps pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and other chemicals, as well as animal excrement, from polluting waterways.
- It opens up more land to be used for vegetable-based diets, which require less land, water, and fewer resources, thus enabling the production of more food for the world’s hungry.
- It means fewer animals are required to live in cruel, inhumane conditions.
Americans consume more than 13 pounds of turkey every year, with much of being eaten around the holidays. Though the ills of meat production are becoming more well-known, global meat consumption has increased rapidly over the last several decades. Sixty percent of the recent growth in meat consumption has occurred in the developing world, which collectively eats half of all meat. Production of meat is set to double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050. As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) recently noted: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
Local vs. meatless
A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists has concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally. The study found that transporting food is responsible for only 4 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions, while production contributes 83 percent. Researchers say that means that buying all local food is like driving 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually, which is what you get cutting dairy and meat one day a week. Go totally veggie and you'll slash a whopping 8,000 miles in vehicle emissions.
Related health issues
Vegetarian diets are not only good for the environment, they’re good for your health. According to a position statement made by the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and can aid in the prevention and treatment of some diseases. In general, choosing a meatless diet means lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, higher levels of folate, fiber, and phytochemicals, as well as an increase in vitamins (especially C and E) and antioxidants.
By the numbers, vegetarians are nine times less likely to be obese, 40 percent less likely to develop cancer, and have 50 percent fewer instances of heart disease than meat-eaters. One study estimated that the incidence of colo-rectal cancer decreases by about 30 percent for every 100 grams of red meat cut out of a person's diet per day (which is a near 50 percent reduction).
- Adopt-A-Turkey: Learn more about these interesting animals and support the shelter by adopting one!
- About.com - How to Accomodate Your Vegetarian and Vegan Guests at Thanksgiving
- Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe
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- Gourmet - A Vegetarian Thanksgiving: With these rich and hearty meatless menus, you won’t even miss the big bird
- Mercy for Animals - Vegetarian Thanksgiving Meal Plan: Mouth-Watering Recipes for a Cruelty-Free Holiday
- Toronto Vegetarian Association - Surviving holiday dinner: Catering to vegetarians and meat eaters at the same meal
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- US Census Bureau - Thanksgiving Day
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