Childrearing

Parents, Make Your Kids Responsible For Their Own Vegan Thanksgiving

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Vegan TofurkyI’ve been vegan since I was 14 years old.

My diet is far from anything new for my family, as they’ve essentially watched me grow into a young woman under veganism. They haven’t seen me eat so much as a piece chicken since I was in junior high, and yet big family events like Thanksgiving always concern them as they continually stress over what I’ll eat.

It’s been ten years mind you since I first told my my parents and grandparents that I wouldn’t be eating meat anymore, and although they reacted positively and were very supportive when I was teenager, the annual anxiety that consumes them over my dinner options is beyond unfounded. My grandmother’s wringing hands and worried tones start the moment I get home from the airport, as she makes a point to count the number of dishes I can and can’t eat. While I always sense that my dietary restrictions still manage to throw her, I can also tell that my efforts to relieve her of worrying are hardly every acknowledged, as I remind her that I have everything under control, I’ve thought about what I’m contributing to the dinner, and that she shouldn’t be concerned.

When I decided to ditch animal products in the ninth grade, I did the research myself — learning how to meet certain dietary requirements with conducive food pairings and fortified soymilks. I hoarded recipes which I vividly remember trying out in my kitchen, pasting them into a notebook which I still own. I learned to cook as a young kid with veganism and don’t really have many memories preparing food any other way.

I wasn’t the kid who went meatless and then decided to subsist on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — although I did know many like that growing up. I came to my first Thanksgiving prepared, making my own dishes and encouraging my family to try some should they wish. I’ve been assisting in Thanksgiving preparations since I was little, and going vegan has never once compromised my participation. Every year now I prepare an assortment of dishes which I enjoy making, but I also make sure to cook them because I’ve never wanted to burden my family with my own choices.

Parents and extended family shouldn’t lose sleep over how to feed their meatless children come the holidays. Dragging kids into the kitchen and making them responsible for their own diets sets a precedent for how to conduct themselves at big sit-down dinners. It shouldn’t all be on the hostess, or the parents, to suddenly whip together an entirely meatless spread for their suddenly vegetarian guests. If children are making these choices for themselves, they should be actively involved in the process and learn early that being a good vegan or vegetarian often means bringing their own food to events.

Children are more than capable of reading up, trying out recipes (with adult supervision), and understanding the responsibilities of such a diet. Granted, meatless living has received massive exposure in recent years and has become way more accessible and acceptable since I was a kid. But if children want to try out these types of diets, they should know that a large part is being informed about nutrition and not expecting the grownups in their lives to do everything for them.

(photo: log.peta2.com)

17 Comments

  1. Cee

    November 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Yes! I completely agree. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian by any extent. But it’s really annoying when vegans/vegetarians expect you to whip up a full meal especially for them at functions. I gladly eat their vegan/vegetarian food at their homes (which is delicious, by the way, but not fully convincing enough for me to leave meat), but the majority of people at big events aren’t vegan/vegetarian so usually main courses are animal based and vegans/vegetarians should understand that, not pout at the end of the table because I didn’t buy them all their meal and fixins. If they really wanted me to do it, they should at least call and ask, not show up expecting it, since I dont show up to their house expecting meat.

  2. cjane

    November 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Great column. I’ve been working my way toward Veganism for about a year now and went through a bout of vegetarianism when I was in my late teens. I travel a lot and find myself staying at various hosts’ homes throughout the years. Unlike my former vegetarian phase, which was motivated by nutrition and diet, my current goal to go Vegan is fueled by my interest in animal rights. Throughout all of these phases, I maintain the belief that my dietary choices should not burden anyone gracious enough to host me as a guest. If I find myself at a meal where foods I don’t want to eat are served, I try to inconspicuously stick to foods I am ok with and fulfill any other dietary needs I have later on on my own.

    Question:
    I tried a tofu turkey/lunchmeat substitute and it was not cool.

    How is the Tofurkey pictured above?

    • Koa Beck

      November 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      I’ve always liked this particular Tofurky and tend to use this brand every other year or so — for Christmas and Thanksgiving. There is a good recipe on the box that I enjoy but there are way more creative ones online using this same Tofurky if you’re into more flavor. Thanks for reading!

    • CW

      November 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      I’m a “flexitarian” and I find Tofurkey nasty. My favorite vegetarian holiday entree is lasagna. Vegetarian Times featured this recipe a few months ago and it was really tasty: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/11671

      As my extended family has both vegetarians and omnivores, I make all the side dishes vegetarian so that everyone can eat them. Then everyone just picks the main entree that fits their dietary preference (or a little bit of both, like I do).

    • Meghan

      November 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      I’m a huge fan of Quorn’s Tofurkey – it’s moist and flaky, and tastes BETTER than turkey (because my motivation for becoming vegetarian was not morals, but the fact that I hated the taste of meat). It’s also easy to prepare.

  3. Rachael

    November 4, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Agreed! My sister is gluten-free, and although when she visits we make sure there’s always something at meals for her, she provides the bulk of it herself, knowing that in our town it’s a) expensive and b) hard to find. It’s very good of her to do so 🙂

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  5. Sharky

    November 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    This necessity doesn’t stop at Thanksgiving, either. My husband is vegan and he never assumes there will be something for him to eat outside of our own house. Even if a non-vegan host makes a point of saying they’re providing food for him, he has a back-up plan because not everybody understands the difference between vegan and vegetarian, or even that things like fish and poultry ARE, indeed, meat. (It always blows my mind when people say fish and chicken is vegetarian.)

    As for the author, I applaud your family for being so respectful of your dietary choices when you were a kid. Mine forbade me to be vegetarian until I went away to college.

    • Wowzers

      May 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      Tofurky is a curious cross between two blatantly nonvegan foods, tofu (100% soy, 0% vegan) and turkey (which isn’t even a plant food). Let’s face it, if you don’t eat meat, you shouldn’t eat ANYTHING that resembles meat!
      PS: As the plant world’s answer to dairy, soy is about as far away from vegan as can be no matter what peta says about it.

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  8. bug

    November 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

    CW my vegan auntie made me a similar lasagna once but used eggplant (auburgine) as well for the sheets. It’s also gluten free (i think) because it doesn’t use pasta sheets, so two dietry requirements in one! You can’t lose, plus it tastes great.

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  10. Cait

    November 10, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I agree that vegetarians/vegans should provide their own food just in case there isn’t something already available at functions for them to eat, but I totally disagree that a host/ess shouldn’t at least attempt one veg-friendly dish at their meal. If you know you’re going to have guests that don’t want to dig into a dead animal at your party/event/etc, do the polite thing and offer up one suitable dish minimum, otherwise you come across as both lazy and a pretty shitty host. Especially nowadays, where so many people are some type of vegetarian or have meat-related restrictions, providing something without being specifically asked is the courteous thing to do and it’s not really difficult to create a dish or two sans animals.

    • Leigha

      November 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      I don’t think the issue was having “one suitable dish” but rather the main dish. Most non-vegetarians cook turkey for Thanksgiving, which is a pretty high-maintenance food to prepare in a way–it takes hours to cook and uses up most or all of the oven space. To expect people to prepare, in addition to turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, bread, vegetables, and pie, a vegetarian main dish for the one person who happens to not want to eat the turkey…well, that’s sort of ridiculous and overly demanding. They already spent their entire morning, quite possibly even the day or two before, cooking. Bring your own tofurkey or whatever you want for the main dish.

      Now, if half the people who would be there are vegetarian, that may be a different story. But for just one? That doesn’t warrant an hour of extra cooking and trying to work around a full oven.

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