With Thanksgiving coming up the day after tomorrow, it’s time to take care of a few last minute menu items. If you have invited a vegetarian to your feast, or if you are a vegetarian who has been invited, remember to think of an alternative dish or two. It’s awkward at meal time if you have not planned ahead.
My worst case scenario happened several years ago during my company’s holiday dinner. Granted, that although this happened at a restaurant, it does illustrate what can happen when the vegetarian in the group is forgotten.
A couple of weeks before the dinner, we employees received an RSVP that if a spouse or partner would be attending with the employee and there was a short checklist for preferred entrée. One of the choices was vegetarian. That was a nice touch because I was the only vegetarian employee.
On the night of the dinner, the wait staff served everyone their beautifully prepared plates. That is everyone but me. I was left with an empty place mat while everybody else was tucking into dinner. To say this was embarrassing is to put it lightly.
The host of the event, the company owner, noticed my predicament and summoned a waiter. About 15-minutes later, which seemed like an eternity, the waiter brought me a plate and some condiments. My “dinner” was one head of iceberg lettuce, divided in half, the condiments were cellophane packets of various salad dressings.
Not only did I feel embarrassed, but I felt sorry for my boss, who did his utmost to smooth over the situation. I did my best to divert the travesty of this dinner disaster into something humorous. One of my coworkers remarked that at least I would never forget this particular meal. She was correct. If there was one important result of the chef’s carelessness, it was that the company no longer booked that restaurant for any future holiday dinners.
There are other pitfalls for vegetarians who have been invited to holiday dinner or any meal. That is dishes containing meat or meat drippings. If the dinner is the standard pass around the serving bowls style meal, it should be easy to gracefully forgo non-veggie foods. That is until you discover such traps as green bean casserole destroyed with bacon or ham mixed into it. The same for potato or pasta dishes containing chunks of meat.
Inevitably somebody will suggest that you at least try a small portion and you can just pick out the meat bits. The problem with that logic is that meat juices have seeped into the rest of the food. There are also very small fragments of meat that blend into the mixture and you don’t discover them until it’s too late.
So, what’s a polite vegetarian supposed to do if there are no spare heads of iceberg lettuce to be sliced in half?
The solution is to plan ahead. One can follow the example of my late step-mom. She prepared a few vegetarian dishes that everyone could enjoy. She also allowed me to bring one or two vegetarian dishes or casseroles to share with everyone. Oftentimes, I also provided one of the desserts. These meals were very pleasant and there were no awkward moments about the food. I never had to ask, “Does this have meat in it?” Nobody ever felt the urge to tell me to pick out the meat bits.
The same considerations apply to vegans, only the advice is supercharged.
What can you serve or bring to Thanksgiving dinner? That’s the beauty of the Internet. Do a search for vegetarian holiday food options and a wealth of amazing ideas come up. Simply select the ones that appeal to you.
I realize that ideally, Thanksgiving is not about the food, but in actuality, the holiday is about the food. A little foresight will make the meal much more gratifying for everyone involved.