Care and feeding of the vegetarian at your holiday table

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First let me confess that I am skipping Thanksgiving for the second year in a row – leaving the country, actually. But let me assure you I have years of experience sitting at a table laden with animal protein, seeking artful ways to fill my plate in a way that will occasion no comment from well-meaning family. Though I’ve recently brought some meat back into my diet, I will always have all the sympathy in the world for the non-meat-eater at Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you have a friend or family member who forgoes meat dining with you this holiday season, allow me to give you some tips to help make the meat-focused day a little less awkward for them and difficult for you. First, the time to ask a vegetarian why they don’t eat meat is assuredly not as you propel a toppling tower of turkey into your maw. If you’re genuinely interested, choose a time not so emotionally charged as a holiday gathering, and certainly not at the dinner table. It’s like handing someone who doesn’t want kids your newborn and asking why they don’t want something so precious. And nothing can ruin everyone’s appetite faster than an earnest vegetarian telling you (you asked after all!) about where exactly that Butterball came from or a baleful host haranguing a guest for refusing to eat the dish they worked so hard to prepare. When planning your meal, you can safely assume that your veggie guest will likely bring at least one dish of their own. I always did. But ask ahead of time to be sure, and plan to supplement that with at least a couple other meat-free items. The Thanksgiving police won’t come crashing your party if you don’t use ham in your green beans. If you really, really can’t make meat-free vegetables, consider cooking an extra dish – what’s one more dirty dish later – of the veggie without the meat. The final issue of Gourmet, on newsstands now, features 20 gorgeous vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes. Know your meats from your not-meats. A dear, kind hostess assured me at one Thanksgiving that she made my gravy especially without the giblets. But it was still turkey gravy. On that note, find out where in the spectrum of following a plant-based diet your friend falls. Does she eat dairy and eggs but no meat? Maybe he’s a pseudo-vegetarian like I was who still ate fish. If so who’s to say you can’t have some fried catfish on the table? Or are they a full-on vegan, with no animal products whatsoever? Finally, even though it may seem like the day is all about the food, it’s more than just the protein, carbs and fat on the table. It’s those faces around the table, contentedly munching away on whatever you decided to prepare. Worry less about the food and more about just hanging out and we'll all be happier.
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