No Turkey, Thank You
by Brian Pietrus
What can I make you? What will you eat?” These questions commonly get passed around the dinner table when a family member mentions that they’ve decided to stop eating meat.
Some people choose a meat-free diet for health reasons, but for many (myself included) it’s an ethical issue. Unfortunately I was working at a pizzeria when I first made the switch. Admittedly, the smell of Buffalo wings made me salivate a little my first month there. But I passed my own tests and made it through okay.
When I first made the choice nine years ago, my family was unsure about what to make of it. It was particularly concerning to my mom. Like many people she thought vegetarians don’t get enough protein. (They do.) It also made things tough on her those first few holidays. I’m lucky to have a family who understands my choices and accommodates me at dinners and get-togethers. My mom even tried a meat-free diet for a while. We were stuck in traffic behind a cattle truck, and seeing the face of her food made her decide to try giving up meat. My 14-year-old cousin still eats meat but has reduced her consumption after seeing a slaughterhouse. My aunt joked, “Where did you think meat came from?”
But the facts are staggering. The US Census predicts that 242 million turkeys will be slaughtered this year for the colloquially termed “Turkey Day.” Last year 7.1 billion pounds of turkey meat were eaten in the United States. My purpose here is not to decry eating meat or to try to convince people to ditch the turkey this year. I simply think it’s worth considering where your food comes from, regardless of what you eat.
There are other options for those who skip the meat this year. Tofurky makes a fantastic roast with stuffing, but products like this can be pricey. If you can afford it and enjoy stuff that tastes like meat, great. If not, there are virtually unlimited possibilities of what you can make at home. Tofu can be marinated and cooked just like traditional meat dishes. It’s made from soy and high in protein, generally sold as silken/soft or firm, depending on how you want to prepare it. Tempeh is also made from soybeans but undergoes a fermentation process. Seitan (wheat gluten) is a common meat substitute because of its texture. Beans are another great source of protein, although a little less versatile than tofu/tempeh or seitan when it comes to flavorings and prep work. Beans, along with other legumes such as lentils and nuts, can be combined with grains like rice to round out a meat-free diet.
For those who are considering a vegetarian diet, it may be difficult to give up meat cold turkey (pun very much intended). It may be easier to transition into a vegetarian diet gradually. There are a wealth of resources at your local book store or online that can make the transition easier and healthier by helping you plan your meals.
When I first gave up meat I had a tough time finding restaurants to eat at, especially on the road. Interstate rest stops tend to offer cheese pizza, veggie sandwiches (i.e., ham sandwich sans ham), or the occasional veggie burger (if you’re lucky). But with more and more places accommodating vegetarian diets, that’s becoming less of a problem.
If you feel like eating out and want to skip the well-worn veggie burger, Buffalo has plenty of vegetarian options. Indian and Thai restaurants are always excellent places to find vegetarian dishes. Merge (439 Delaware Avenue) offers seitan “wings,” vegan lasagna, “TLT” sandwiches (tempeh, lettuce and tomato), and an evolving list of daily specials. Betty’s (370 Virginia Street) has great food, too—I recommend the scrambled tofu hash (vegan). Amy’s Place (3234 Main Street) is a staple diner for many local vegetarians. Almost everything on the menu can be ordered to suit a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Some vegetarians and vegans may feel uncomfortable at holiday dinners with a cooked animal as the centerpiece. I know when I first became a vegetarian I felt a little uncomfortable handling and preparing meat for other people. Not because I had an opinion about others eating meat but because, in a sense, I felt like I was supporting the meat industry and perpetuating the cruelty I was actively trying to rebuke. Eventually I had one of those Lisa Simpson epiphanies, but the first month or two were the hardest. The fact of the matter is that handing out pamphlets and lecturing others on the ethical and environmental evils of the meat industry won’t change minds, it just annoys people. If you want to make people aware of the impacts of an omnivorous diet, fine. But don’t expect your family or friends to change their lifestyles because you chose to. Above all else, be respectful of others, regardless of diet and lifestyle choices.
—brian pietrusblog comments powered by Disqus
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