by Erika Stern.
There was a time, not too long ago, when friends and family used to be thrilled to be invited to my house for dinner. I was one of those people who loved planning dinner parties. I’d spend days going through cookbooks and painstakingly piece together exactly the perfect combinations guaranteed to surprise and delight my guests. And I think they were (mostly) surprised and delighted. These days, however, when I invite people over to dinner there is always a perceptible pause while they take just a moment, I’m sure to contemplate the many tasty virtues of tofu and seitan, and longingly think back on past meals I’ve set before them. Yeah, I would whip out salads and side dishes as well and plentifully as the next cook, but let’s all just admit it, shall we: these gatherings were essentially just epic meat-fests. How could anyone throw a Super Bowl party without ribs and chicken wings? Or a summer barbecue without burgers and dogs? What about the ham at Easter? Or…Thanksgiving Turkey??? Apparently, nothing brings loved ones closer together than tearing flesh from the bone with your teeth.
So here I find myself again, face-to-face with my second Thanksgiving as a vegan. In a few weeks, 22 people will be seated around my table, and all of them, with the exception of my husband and I, will be expecting to eat Turkey. (I wish I could spell for you the anxious, whimpering noise that just came out of me.) No, I get it. I do. I totally get it. I had turkey for 52 Thanksgivings before I…decided not to anymore. (For me it was always mostly about the gravy, really, but look, there’s Vegan Gravy!!!!! (I’ve made this often–it’s truly delicious and readily passes the Young Smern Test.) So, I’ll make a batch of veggie gravy this year, but I will also accept that not everyone at the table is as gravio-centric as I am, and that for most of them (as it was for me for all those years) it’s not really about the dead turkey, it’s about Tradition.
Yes, everyone would still have a lovely Thanksgiving if I made a whole mess of fabulous side dishes surrounding a meatless “Celebration Roast”, but they will have a better time with a few slices of turkey on their plates. So what to do? This is a really tough one for me. In my mind, no one should be eating turkey. Period. Not one turkey should be slaughtered on Thanksgiving just to uphold Tradition. But, as my husband is always telling me, “You can’t re-educate all the idiots in the rotary.” (Nothing personal, I’m sure all of you you fully understand and abide by Massachusetts’ fine rotary laws). I don’t want to be The Angry Vegan, or The Radical Vegan, or The Righteous Vegan (well, maybe a little bit righteous) and so although I can’t bring myself to personally do it, my husband-the-vegetarian will cook a turkey. For our families. Whom we love. And I will make meat-and-dairy-free versions of all the other standbys. I might even make a Green Bean Casserole, if I can get my mother-in-law to unhand her can of french-fried onions. The other issue that I wrestle with (as you can tell, there’s always a good amount of wrestling going on inside my head) is whether to actually tell my guests that the mashed potatoes are made with Earth Balance, not butter. It’s a question of disclosure, really. Peoples’ mindsets are funny. I find that often, if I don’t tell people that what they’re eating isn’t precisely what they believe they’re eating, then everyone is happier. Is that terrible? I mean, I’m not going to lie if questioned about ingredients, but often a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy is the best stance for vegan entertaining.
I promise you that dinner parties can still be a wonderful experience for both a plant-based host and her meat-eating guests. Just last Sunday I made a lunch for family that showcased this fantastic Indian Samosa Potpie (name me one thing with Piecrust that isn’t fantastic) paired with a light and wonderful tomato salad, with fruit salad and a big plate of glazed doughnuts for dessert.
Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Not too scary. I think everyone was still a little surprised and delighted. Unless they were all lying to me.
Erika Stern is a wife and mother, an artist, a kitchen designer and a new food blogger with no professional experience whatsoever with either food or blogging. But her mother is French and her father is a poet, so everything should work out just fine! She lives in Duxbury with 3 dogs and 23 chickens.