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The Vegan Thanksgiving Disaster

Thanksgiving is a big deal in our family. It’s a time to gather together, catch up with family and friends, and…

Who am I kidding? Thanksgiving is all about the food! I typically host the Thanksgiving meal at my home. I have a nine-foot farm table that can easily seat 12 people, and we usually have that many around the table, and sometimes more at ancillary tables set up nearby. Setting the table and decorating for the season (fall, not Christmas!) is something I really enjoy doing, but I’m afraid it is probably somewhat lost on many of my family members, who, truth be known, only admire the food on their plates.

And by family members, I’m referring to my brother-in-law, Bob. At 6’8”, Bob spent a few years as an NFL defensive back. Back then, he ate food for fuel. But over the years, he has come to enjoy certain things in particular, and he likes his Thanksgiving dishes the way they’ve traditionally been made most of his adult life. No weird “turducken” or anything remotely different. Stick with an oven-roasted turkey and perhaps a honey-baked ham and everyone will be okay.

So imagine trying to feed a large family a traditional Thanksgiving meal when two of the family members have gone to “the dark side.”

That’s right. In 2016, my husband and I had gone vegan.

Let me explain. My husband had a congenital heart issue that required surgery. He needed to get some weight off and do what he could to reduce the gunk in his arteries prior to surgery. I read about the Dean Ornish Heart Disease Reversal Program at St. Dominic Hospital and called to get more information. The nine-week program covered the four main tenants of the program: exercise, meditation, group support and diet. It meant stepping out of his comfort zone and doing yoga, meditating, and sharing his feelings with his group of cohorts. All that was a piece of cake, so to speak, compared to the diet portion of the program.

What they didn’t tell us until he was in the program is that the diet is a plant-based, low-fat way of eating. In other words, for nine weeks, he must eat a strictly vegan diet. And because I told him I’d go along for the ride to show my solidarity, I was forced to give up meat, cheese, yogurt, fish…the list goes on. Instead, we ate vegetables, fruit, whole grain bread, and tofu.

We did fine on the plan. We actually did really well on the plan. Weight slid off and we had more energy. My husband went from an all-time high cholesterol reading to a perfectly healthy reading in just eight weeks, and without medication. We both reduced our blood pressure meds and overall, we were happy and healthy.

Until Thanksgiving rolled around. How were we going to handle that?

Cue the Tofurky. Now that’s just fun to say. Tofurky! To translate, it’s a fake turkey made of tofu. And for the record, it’s really not bad at all. Especially with fake gravy. But there’s no way we could feed Bob, or any of our other family members, anything but the real deal. I ordered smoked turkey breasts from Logan Farms and even made gravy. But the dinner went off the rails when I used fake bacon in the green bean casserole and vegan butter in the sweet potato casserole. Everything tasted a bit “off” for Bob’s taste.

It’s been a couple of years, but that tragic Thanksgiving dinner has not been forgotten. The family is gathering at my house again this year, and we will be having not only a roasted turkey, but a delicious spiral-cut ham, with dressing and gravy on the side. We will have ambrosia the way my grandmother made it, with fresh oranges, coconut, pecans and baby marshmallows (which, in our family, are not for topping sweet potato casserole). We’ll have green bean casserole made with frozen French-cut green beans, diced onions, Campbell’s Mushroom Soup, real bacon (cooked and crumbled in my own kitchen), sliced water chestnuts and crushed Cheeze-Its on top. We will have sweet potato casserole made with butter and half & half, topped with a streusel of dark brown sugar and pecans, mashed potatoes for my nephew, a broccoli and rice casserole for the same nephew, cranberry sauce, Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls and for dessert, a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie and a chocolate pie. There will be no deviation from the traditional recipes. It will taste EXACTLY like every Thanksgiving meal our family has ever had, except for that fateful year when two temporary vegans rocked the boat.

And the family said “Amen!”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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