Vegetarians at the Gate: 8 Million Americans Skip Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving brings with it the sweet taste of cranberry sauce, the sound of football fans cheering, and the savory smell of turkey roasting in the oven…or maybe Tofurky®, “America’s Leading Turkey Alternative Since 1995.” The humble turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, has long been synonymous with Thanksgiving and could have even been a national symbol of the United States had Benjamin Franklin had his way: “…the Turk’y is in comparison [to the Bald Eagle] a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America,” Franklin wrote to his daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache. The odds are 1 in 1.25 (80%) that an adult plans on eating turkey on Thanksgiving, and the odds are 1 in 2.04 that an adult considers turkey his or her favorite Thanksgiving dish. But what about all those vegetarians, vegans, and others who can’t or won’t eat turkey? What do they eat on Thanksgiving?

According to a 2008 survey commissioned by Vegetarian Times1 in 31.36 adults in the United States is a vegetarian, which equates to about 7.3 million people. 1 in 229 adults are classified as vegan: they never eat animal-produced foods such as dairy, honey, or eggs in addition to avoiding meat, poultry, and all other animal products (Of course, there are also some people who just don’t like turkey. The odds are 1 in 16.67 that an adult considers turkey his or her least favorite Thanksgiving dish). Although the dietary restrictions of vegetarians and vegans prevent them from consuming a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, those who desire it can enjoy some fairly close—or at least similarly shaped—alternatives.

Tofurky® is made from tofu, as the name suggests. For the holidays, Turtle Island Foods, Inc. offers its Tofurky® in a boxed “Vegetarian Feast” that feeds four hungry non-meat-eaters: one Tofurky® roast, cranberry apple potato dumplings, gravy, rice, stuffing, and Tofurky® Jurky Wishstix. “Have a bird-free feast, but with all the flavor and trimmings you’ve always enjoyed,” declares the website. Turtle Island Foods doesn’t have the monopoly on fake turkey. Quorn™ is also a popular brand, featuring products that are both meat-free and soy-free. So what’s in Quorn’s Turk’y Roast™? Mycoprotein. That’s fungus. According to a non-scientific taste test by a Slate writer for Thanksgiving 2008, Gardein™ Stuffed Veggie Turkey Roast is the most “palatable vegetarian bird,” beating out both the Tofurky roast and the Quorn roast as well as the redundantly-named Field Roast Stuffed Celebration Roast.

Many vegetarians avoid fake turkey altogether and instead make holiday meals that feature seasonal vegetarian recipes that don’t imitate meat (ratatouille and vegetable loaves, for example.) Others, when dining with non-vegetarian family members who are gobbling up as much turkey as they can eat, will merely fill up on traditional Thanksgiving sides: stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes, to name a few. And omnivores do not have the corner on overeating that day: Regardless of the food consumed, the odds are 1 in 2.17 that an adult expects to eat too much on Thanksgiving.

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