The Vegetarian's Struggle: Thanksgiving

I've been a vegetarian for almost three years now. Since then, I’ve learned to endure the bombardment of questions relating to my diet during Thanksgiving (and the rest of the holiday season). For all of you who experience these same struggles, or who are about to, here’s how I’ve dealt with them.

The first question you'll usually get when you start dishing up is, “Don’t you want any turkey?” This will probably come from an aunt or older relative who doesn’t see you that often. Or, if it’s your first meatless holiday, you’ll probably get it from everyone. They may add in the extra guilt-trip, “But its extra juicy this year,” or a few remarks about how hard they worked on it, but stay strong and hold on to your beliefs. After a while, they’ll get sick of asking the same old thing and move on to asking all about college, work, relationships, and a whole new world of things you also don’t really want to talk about.

Related: How to Convince Your Family You've Got it Together

I recommend answering with a quick “Nope. Vegetarian, remember?” or a perhaps a simple “Not my thing. Keep it short and sweet. If they want to get into the why, just ask to talk about it after eating. In all likelihood, they’ll forget about the discussion before they get up for seconds.

Another common struggle of being a vegetarian during the holidays is not becoming what my doctor calls “a carbitarian.” You cannot live on bread alone. Yes, the mashed potatoes are great and the bread rolls are super buttery, but don’t forget to check out the corn and green beans. Snack on nuts or veggies instead of the cheese and crackers while watching football. Yes, it's Thanksgiving, meaning you’re allowed one day of a pure binge, but try to keep that binge healthy. Your body will thank you later. I also recommend bringing some vegetarian meat substitute from home to get some protein in. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Morningstar has some really great chickpea nuggets and patties, and I love their “sausages.”

Yet another struggle of vegetarianism are the debates about your eating habits. In the end, most holidays become somewhat political. There will always be one aunt, cousin or uncle who will feel threatened by your dietary decisions and want to debate. They may say things to you like...

“Why don’t you eat meat?”

“But it's good for you.”

“It’s natural.”

“It's the food chain.”

“They’re only animals.”

“But it’s delicious.”

And many other insensitive comments. Don’t worry, it's ok. Countless other vegetarians around the world deal with what you’re going through. If you want to debate, go for it, but as a warning, remember that engaging will only lead to more discussion. If you just want to enjoy the holidays stress-free, I recommend saying “It’s just how I am. If you respect me please respect my decisions.” This should hopefully help. If not, just bring up a new conversation. Ask Aunt Mary about knitting club or your cousin about basketball camp. Redirect their attention elsewhere and, after some time, the tension should die down.

Finally, when it comes to leftovers, be prepared that if you’re home, you may have to deal with mini starvation (this is 90 percent a joke). Since most people live off leftovers alone, and most of the leftovers are turkey, groceries are not usually a top priority. While your parents are scrambling to think of a new recipe including turkey, you’ll be scrounging together toast, the last of the green beans, and a can of salsa into a somewhat decent lunch. I recommend eating out during this period or learn to survive a light fasting after the carb load of Thursday night.

A final word to everyone going through their first vegetarian Thanksgiving: it gets better. Your family will get more and more used to it, each year there will be less questions, fewer comments, and maybe a few more options as people consider you when cooking. Just go prepared and you’ll be fine. Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey; it's about family. So enjoy it, pesky questions and all.