A vegetarian describes the trials and tribulations of being the sole vegetarian, during a national holiday, where family members are gathered to consume a menu filled exclusively of meat.
Aunt Virginia, your mother’s oldest sister who never got the memo that the 1950s had ended, invites you to the annual Thanksgiving feast at her affluent abode in the suburbs. Your heart palpitates with anxiety from the annual ritual, because you know you will be the only vegetarian there.
Even though you have endured countless family dinners relegated to salad and crackers, your distant relatives always forget that you are not an omnivore while they feast on country fried pork chops. You tell her yes, because you cannot escape the pressure of avoiding family for the holiday, but mostly because you are lonely with your cat and still have hope that maybe this year they will finally understand who you are.
You make sure to remind your Aunt Virginia you are a vegetarian. Her voice begins to crack, as she considers her plans for the feast are soiled. You assure her that she does not have to make a separate dish, you can bring your own food. She accepts your offer happily, and you try to accept that she will have forgotten this conversation by the time you arrive at her house.
You mentally prepare yourself for the parade of questions uncles and second cousins will ask you as the only vegetarian at the table, like “why aren’t you vegan?” (answer: “I like cheese too much”) or, from the bold, “so, you eat eggs? Isn’t that horrible for chickens?” (answer: “I buy organic cage-free”). You nearly have the script memorized for how you will reply.
As the only vegetarian at the table, it is important that you bring your own food to the family gathering, such as your famous tofu-stuffed peppers. When you open the door and greet Aunt Virginia, make sure to emphasize you brought extra food, so she forgives you for being a vegetarian. Forgiveness is a very important step. You have found that many people in general harbor images of self-righteous vegetarians, like the hippie cousin-in-law Laura who always scolded meat-eaters (but after the divorce your family does not see her anymore).
You hang your coat in the foyer and saunter to the dessert table to snag some sweets before dinner. On the table are cookies of more sizes, shapes, and flavors than you could have imagined possible. As you reach for a double dark chocolate chip cookie, you are struck by numerous ethical qualms as you realize the eggs used to make the scrumptious masterpieces are likely not organic cage-free.
As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you still eat dairy products, but remain haunted by the conditions cows and chickens face at industrial farms. Most baby chicks never meet their mothers and grown chickens are crammed in cages so tight they can’t spread their wings. Like many vegetarians, animal welfare is one of the main reasons for your vegetarian lifestyle. Images of the 24 million chickens killed each day flash through your mind as you sniff the dark-chocolate goodness.
At the last second your hand swerves toward the much-less-appealing-though-ethically-more-delicious pineapple. You vow that next time you’ll bring along sugar cookies made with ethical eggs.
Aunt Virginia then rescues you from pineapple-based sadness, announcing that it is time for the feast. Seated between two omnivores with a sample of every kind of animal already sliced and bathed in gravy on their plate, you are sure to receive inquiry about your tofu-stuffed peppers. One of your family jokingly asks if the tofu in the peppers is actually meat. You smile awkwardly, and remind yourself that at least you are not still sitting at the kid’s table.
As everyone else digs in and, between bites, one of your cousins tells you she’s considering becoming a vegetarian. You tell her to try a bite of the tofu-stuffed peppers. Tofu is really as good as meat, you say. The cousin says she likes it, but you know that it cannot compete with the Turkey.
As the rest of your family compliment Aunt Virginia on the baked ham, you rave about the mashed potatoes that sit in a dry mound on your plate. To the side are baked asparagus, which are basically your chicken fingers.
Aunt Virginia and Uncle Herbert eventually begin to clear plates as the rest of your family chat about the election and the future of our country. Usually everyone is in agreement that America is going down hill, but one of your cousins began college this year so the young radical offers a briefly defiant voice before correction.
When the football games on TV end, and people have begun to recover from their meat-induced food coma, you find the right opportunity leave. You have spent hours surrounded by food you cannot eat, watching others have their fill, yet surprisingly you find yourself still hungry. So you celebrate surviving yet another family holiday gathering, as you settle down to binge watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix with a bowl of sliced apples and a jar of organic peanut butter.
Tofu-Stuffed Peppers (from Vegetarian Times Cookbook, 1984)
2 ounces onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
14 ounces tofu, squeezed and mashed
2 ounces cooked wild rice
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
4 medium-size red peppers
Heat olive oil and sauté onions and garlic. Add crumbled tofu, wild rice, oregano and basil. Cook ingredients for 5 minutes, stirring continuously to avoid burning onions. Add salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly.
Cut off bottoms of Peppers, remove seeds and wash the peppers. Fill peppers with tofu mixture and steam for 10-15 minutes or until stuffing is heated through. Remove peppers from steam and cut out a wedge
Scrumptious Sugar cookies
½ cup butter and ½ cup shortening
1 2/3 cup white sugar
3 whole eggs (make sure to use organic cage-free eggs)
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon
4 cups silted flour and pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
Let dough stand overnight in refrigerator
Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
In the morning drop cookies on a greased cookie sheet. After baking, flatten cookies with a glass dipped in sugar. You may also add chocolate chips or nuts over top.