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Thanksgiving with the vegetarian

How do you do it?

“Yes, but does she eat lard? Like, as an ingredient.” 

It’s a question I never thought I’d ask my brother: the barbecue-loving, Crossfit-obsessed, power investor libertarian, about his very serious new girlfriend: a levelheaded, cool-as-a-cucumber world traveler and vegetarian. And not just the trendy kind, either—a real-life, lifelong, vegetarian-vegan hybrid in the flesh.

My disbelief isn’t really rooted in the fact that she’s a vegetarian, but in the fact that my brother had matched up with one in the first place. And moreover, that they’ve been such a great fit. 

Match they did, however, and it wasn’t long before the unlikely pair fell in love—opposing diets and all.  

Now, as Thanksgiving inches its way closer, the women of the family (I know—gender roles. Another column…) have been left trying to answer the inevitable question that comes with the welcoming of any guest with a specialized diet: what the hell is this girl gonna eat at Thanksgiving? 

We’ve always been a family of fairly simple tastes: we like three-way style chili, hibachi grills, Chex Mix with extra Cheezits, chicken and noodles, the usual. I went through a vegetarian phase when I was in high school, right about the time my dad joined Jungle Jim’s Pig Posse—aka, the Episcopal church barbecue team. They were undefeated for a whole summer, and meat assumed the majority of our family’s dinner table. My dad and I didn’t talk much over those weeks.  

These days, I’m back on meat with a newfound enthusiasm. I’ll willingly preach the gospel of pastured poultry, grass-finished beef, and rotational grazing to any poor schmuck who’ll listen. Still, I’m as much a fan of meatless Mondays as the next eco-minded diner, and I keep my vegan and vegetarian pin-board pretty full with new recipes. But I’d take ethically raised meat over tofurkey any day, and I feel fairly certain the rest of the Shepherd family would, too. My dad doesn’t “get” Greek yogurt. My mom thinks fancy food is stupid. My brother loves Wendy’s. Our lovely vegetarian’s entrance into our mild-palated, taste-traditional, meat-n-potatoes kind of clan raises an interesting question: how do you marry tastes when you marry? 

As far as vegetarians go, I’d say she’s the best. She’s steadfast in her choices and doesn’t give a single shit if you participate or not. She never guilts the meat-eaters for indulging, and doesn’t seem to get bent out of shape over ignorant comments about vegetarianism—even when they come from those close to her. She can make any menu work, and is always a gracious guest. If there were a table of barbecue set before her and a side of bacon-infused green beans, I’m pretty sure she’d take the beans and be grateful. Or fill up on water. 

But we aren’t trying to punish this girl, nor do we want to feed her some flavorless mystery “meat” mush, as if from the trough of one of the pigs she so firmly elects not to eat. And we want her first Thanksgiving with our family to be the first of many, and nothing short of comfortable and wonderful. But let’s be frank: it’s really tough to make stuffing taste good without chicken stock. And chicken stock is basically just liquid chicken (yum). Yikes.  

But there’s more. We’re also big bacon people. We put it on everything. Namely, our green bean casserole.  

And consider the gravy: it’s absolutely dripping with drippings. Sorry! Here’s some apple cider vinegar for your potatoes instead.  

The stuffing’s basically born from the rubble of the turkey, and is infused with the aforementioned liquid chicken. We like the wiggly cranberry sauce from the can, and I’m pretty sure nothing in the world could stay so perfectly cylindrical without the help of gelatin. Same deal with the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato casserole. Hi, welcome to our home, hope you like horse hooves.  

And clearly, this girl’s not gonna be eating the bird. I don’t blame her; roasted turkey’s a bit dry and weird for my taste, too. 

So where does that leave us? Rolls. Finally, a bastion of Thanksgiving, and the possibility that all is not lost. Deviled eggs (she’s a bit more selective than a straight up vegetarian, but not quite a vegan. The eggs should play well). The pickles from the relish tray. Potatoes. We’re doing a salad, which I can color up with bright, beautiful veggies and nuts. Chocolate mousse and all the pie. Not a speck of protein in sight, but really, not a bad menu overall. 

Still, I’ve been looking into alternatives. Martha’s got more than a few extravagant, carte blanche recipes for vegetarians in her Thanksgiving section, including cauliflower soup, butternut squash lasagna, and sautéed dates. I might even get ambitious and try for some roasted stuffed squash boats. Who knows how they’ll turn out; hopefully well, but if not, here’s hoping we’ll have a few more Thanksgivings to get it right.

For more from Megan, read her interview with Yeasayer keyboardist Chris Keating.

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