That Thanksgiving is a meat-centric holiday is hardly disputed.

The settlers who kicked off the tradition, celebrating the end of what had been a distressing dearth of food, did so with boatloads of animal-derived protein.

That set the scene for 400 years of meat-based tradition. But with 7.3 million Americans following a vegetarian diet, a new tradition has appeared: tossing the occasional barb at a family member with an opposing dietary preference.

It works both ways, too. New vegetarians tend to have strong ideas about why a meat-free diet is best. That doesn’t always jive with the staunch carnivore who thinks bucking a centuries-old trend is for the birds — and he’d gladly eat those birds, too.



Nava Atlas, author and cook
Nava Atlas is founder of VegKitchen.com and author of several books about vegan and vegetarian cooking.

Author and VegKitchen blogger Nava Atlas provides direction for vegetarians awash in seas of giblet gravy — and the frazzled people who invite them to dinner.

But conscientious hosts need not feel overwhelmed by special-needs eaters, Atlas says. There are numerous simple ways to ensure vegetarians don’t end up relegated to picking at salads.

“Not that there's anything wrong with those,” she says.

One simple way to avoid meaty mix-ups is to make the sides all-inclusive, admittedly easier for some dishes than others. “For example, if you're serving a green vegetable, prepare it with olive oil instead of butter so that everyone can enjoy it,” says Atlas.

For the happiest holiday table, she recommends meatless eaters bring a dish to share — and hold the guilt trips. No one wants to hear about factory farms during the holidays.

But Ari Solomon, who works for farm-animal advocacy group Mercy For Animals, isn’t sure that’s a totally taboo topic.

“Ninety percent of Americans think cruelty to animals is wrong, and I can’t think of anything else you can get 90 percent of Americans to agree upon,” he says.

Solomon says more than 300 million turkeys end up on Thanksgiving tables every year, and he’d love to see that number decline.

But raising that point at the dinner table as someone slices into the Butterball is likely poor timing. Excuse yourself to slice up your own vegetarian roast; Solomon said great turkey alternatives abound.

Gardein Holiday Roast is really great,” he says, referring to a soy protein loaf stuffed with a savory rice and dried cranberry mixture. “Even the most ardent meat-eater would find it very good."

Nina Casalena, an outreach coordinator for the Vegetarian Resource Group, also recommends Gardein roasts.

She often shares similar dishes at Thanksgiving dinner with her sister, who’s also a vegan.

Casalena's family is incredibly accommodating, and makes all of the vegetable sides, from the roasted Brussels sprouts to the mashed potatoes, with Earth Balance instead of butter and almond milk instead of dairy.

“The meat eaters eat these modified versions without complaint,” she says. “Sometimes my family makes jokes about my vegan dishes, but any who ‘dare to try it’ often say it's good.”

Most vegans and vegetarians aren’t as lucky, and for those meat-eschewing souls who find themselves bellying up to a turkey-laden table, she has the following tips:

1. Give your host a heads up. Most will be willing to at least vegetarian/veganize at least one dish for you. If they don't know exactly what your dietary restrictions are, they can't help you.

2. Bring a dish or two of your own. This is good because no matter what, you'll have something to eat. Also, who knows. Maybe your sworn omnivore uncle will get a taste of your Tofurky and become a born-again vegan.

3. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions but please be kind, be patient and be understanding to your host. There is no need to be pushy or nasty (especially on a holiday, folks!).

4. Host 'Friends-giving' feast, or try your 'potluck.' If your family just "doesn't get it," and many don't, be polite and attend your family party but on a day other than Thanksgiving, have an all-vegetarian gathering with your vegan pals. If that seems like just too much, check to see if there are any vegan Thanksgiving potlucks in your area.