November 20, 2009
A Thanksgiving Recipe for Change
Thanksgiving isn’t what it used to be, as one family gathering proves
by Gail Berrigan
My Thanksgiving plans started out pretty much as usual: Someone in my extended circle of family and friends would have a turkey, and I would bring something for the vegetarians.
But this year, something happened to break the old habits in an interesting way.
We started to invite more people, for one thing. As the numbers expanded, a few of us started to get more ambitious and less—well—tradition-bound with the food. A tofu “turkey” became the unexpected talk among the would-be cooks. That and the pumpkin-portobello mushroom lasagna my friend Hara has convinced me to try.
Others began discussing what they could bring. I never discouraged anyone from bringing a meat dish, but I wanted to make sure that there were enticing alternatives for those who preferred them. This posed no problem because the harvest season—the founding reason for the Thanksgiving celebration—is so tantalizingly rich with vegetables: pumpkins, squashes, sweet potatoes, turnips, greens.
Yes, this is 2009 and “green” isn’t just a word about the environment. It describes a powerful trend in dining too, where the garden is no longer just a side dish.
Looking forward to all the good food that would miraculously appear when we converged, I paid no attention to who would bring the non-tofu turkey; someone on the other side of the family was doing that. But then it emerged—small detail—that no one else had actually considered this very carefully—or at all. For lack of interest, there would be no turkey.
For a moment, I considered. Would there be fallout? Would someone take a seat and be disappointed?
The answer came in the form of another question: With this great bounty we’d planned, did it even matter?
Not according to the New York Times. In Tara Parker-Pope’s Nov. 11 column (“Going Vegetarian for Thanksgiving”) she writes, “Who needs turkey? Thanksgiving is an ideal time to test out new vegetarian recipes that could quickly become everyday favorites.”
Thanksgiving, it seems, isn’t what it used to be, and that itself is reason to say thanks.
Indeed, on Thursday, November 19, Martha Stewart announced that she is going vegetarian this year, and devoted her show to planning a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner—a first for the show. (Check out this celery root, persimmon and swiss chard stuffing.) She interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer (“Eating Animals”) about responsible dietary choices and talked with Robert Kenner (maker of the film “Food, Inc.”) about problems in today's commercial food industry.
For those who are sticking with non-tofu turkey this Thanksgiving, there is no shortage of new and surprisingly creative harvest-basket dishes that can still grace your table. Reducing America’s consumption of farm animals is one of the important goals of The Humane Society of the United States—and one surefire way to make progress is to throw a feast from the garden, invite friends and family, and call it Thanksgiving.
Gail Berrigan is a managing editor of this website. She is a graduate of the professional chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.