Chelsea Leeds | Sun Staff Writer

November 28, 2018

What is Thanksgiving Without Turkey?

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A vegetarian one…at least for me, the lone vegetarian in my family.

For those of you who may be afraid of what I detail in this piece after I just revealed I’m a vegetarian, know that I do not plan on challenging your beliefs whatever they may be. The purpose of this piece is solely to share the story of my vegetarian Thanksgiving.

While this was not my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian (I went through a three-year phase during middle school), this time was different. This time around, I knew my decision to be vegetarian was neither a phase nor a product of my stubbornness or resistance to authority (a characteristic of a young Taurus) as it was when I first became a vegetarian. Instead, it had become a belief I adopted that I could not turn my back on. You may ask why at age 22, I would decide to become a vegetarian again — practically a vegan? That’s for another time.

Just as my experience being a vegetarian since this past June has been different from that of my childhood, so was this past Thanksgiving distinct from those of years past. I was asked, “So you’re not having turkey?”, “What are you going to eat?” and “How can you not have turkey?” Despite the legitimacy of these questions, I was still taken aback and slightly surprised when they were asked because, to me, turkey is not what Thanksgiving is all about.

Although “Thanksgiving Day accounts for 18 percent of annual turkey consumption” — which is a considerable amount of turkey — when I talk to family and friends, most share that they don’t even like turkey all that much. The only reason they take a small piece of it is for the purpose of tradition. Likewise, I’ve never enjoyed turkey all that much and, prior to becoming a vegetarian, only took one little slice on the holiday as well. I did this to follow Thanksgiving tradition, which I was taught revolved around turkey. A picture of a turkey dinner is, in fact, the first photo that appears when you Google Image search “Thanksgiving.” Interestingly, I found research that the Pilgrims didn’t even eat turkey at the very first Thanksgiving. Rather, they feasted on wild game, such as venison and waterfowl.

Despite knowing what the Pilgrims really ate at their first Thanksgiving, I chose not to divulge this knowledge to those who asked me the aforementioned questions regarding Thanksgiving and turkey. Rather, I responded with my excitement over the delicious vegetable sides that are part of any Thanksgiving dinner. My response quickly put the issue to bed, which was my goal, as I often fear inciting anger or insecurity when discussing my vegetarian lifestyle, one that contradicts the sentiments held by those in my company, who may find my beliefs threatening to theirs.

While I succeeded in defusing what could have turned into a heated debate (which has happened in the past), my mind always returned to the same thing. It’s what I would spend my drives back to school thinking about after every Thanksgiving break. It wasn’t the drive itself, the crowded supermarkets, the turkey, the stuffing or the wine. It was family.

Family is what makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday. Despite being a self-proclaimed foodie, I never really cared much about food when it came to Thanksgiving.  During each of these moments and soon-to-be memories, I am not thinking about what is on the table in front of me, but how thankful I am to be surrounded by the people I love. For me, this is what Thanksgiving is all about.