What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving ?
Almost certainly, your answer will be ” Thanksgiving Turkey and trimmings.” No other American festival is as bound up with food as Thanksgiving is. Since that is so, what do vegetarians do at Thanksgiving? If they can’t eat turkey , what DO they eat ?
I put this question to a vegetarian friend of mine. He told me that they share a big, fancy ( vegetarian) meal with friends. Since they have never tasted turkey they do not feel they are missing anything .He said that, one Thanksgiving, they went to a Chinatown restaurant where they had faux turkey and other ” non-vegetarian” dishes all made of bean curd. For those who sneer at imitation food, let me say that it can be done. I remember an article by the late food writer, Roy Anders de Groot, about the meal he ate at a Buddhist monastery in Hong Kong. He was served a bewildering succession of dishes , each better than the last. There was chicken, there was pork , there was duck….all of it superlative. It was , de Groot, wrote , one of the best meals he had ever had. At the end of the meal , de Groot had a question for his hosts, ” How is it that you serve these meats when Buddhists do not believe in killing animals ? Isn’t this a violation of your principles?” His host replied , with a smile in his voice, that all the food he had been served was actually vegetarian and that it had been made from bean curd. de Groot was absolutely floored. Though he was blind, he was renowned for his discerning palate and had been a food writer for decades,
I doubt that the Chinatown meal my friend ate was of that quality but then it didn’t need to be. Since they had never eaten turkey before , they had nothing to compare their meal to. There is, however, another more fundamental consideration. If I was a strict vegetarian, would I wanted my food to look like turkey ? I don’t think I would.
But perhaps we all focus too much on the food , and not enough on the purpose of Thanksgiving. Originally, it was celebrated by the Pilgrims to give thanks to the Almighty for His bounty and for surviving a difficult year. Today, we give thanks for the blessings of the past year and for the gift of friends and family gathered at the festive table. The important thing is being able to celebrate with those who are dear to us.
As Plutarch said , two thousand years ago” We invite each other not to eat and drink , but to eat and drink together.”