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Meatless Thanksgiving? Vegetarians say it’s easier than a can of corn

A view marinated portabellsteak mushroom (left) raw vegan apple pie (top right) Thanks Jordan Vegan Cafe Monday Nov. 19 2012

A view of a marinated portabella steak mushroom (left) and raw vegan apple pie (top right) at Thanks Jordan Vegan Cafe Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, at 928 S. State St. in Lockport. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 23, 2012 6:27AM



For the estimated 7.3 million vegetarians in this country, Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast is all about the lentil loaf, the sweet potatoes, the spaghetti squash or that popular turkey substitute, tofurkey.

Turkey isn’t even on the radar, let alone the buffet.

Ann DiCicco was brought up as a vegetarian. The 65-year-old Park Forest woman said she is not at all bothered by the annual parade of poultry cooking tips, giblet recipes and carving advice.

“I don’t even think about it. It’s not even an issue,” she said.

Her husband is a meat eater; her two kids are not. But everyone gets along fine.

“We usually spend Thanksgiving with his family,” she said. “They do have a turkey but they also make some kind of substitute, such as a tofurkey.”

Sales of Tofurky roasts have increased steadily since they were introduced by Turtle Island Foods in 1996. The company this year expects to sell its 3 millionth stuffed tofu roast, according to its website.

Kathy Moore, of Mokena, who has been a vegetarian since 1974, said her Thanksgiving dinner centers on the potatoes, the Brussels sprouts and the salad.

“I did do a tofurkey once and cooked it wrong. It was like a basketball,” she said. “I used to make a lentil loaf with brown mushroom gravy that I really liked. It was seasoned with sage, and everyone loved it.”

But now she just eats what carnivores would call “the sides.”

When you’re a vegan chef, those sides can become the most popular dishes on the table. As much as holiday revelers delight in the culinary trip down memory lane, they also seem to welcome new ideas and flavors.

Linda Merkle, who co-owns Thanks Jordan Vegan Cafe in Lockport, said she brings enough marinated mushrooms, mashed jicama and stuffing made from nuts and seeds to share because the other diners always end up liking them so much. Merkle also brings a vegan apple pie that she sells at the store.

The Cochran family, of New Lenox, have found a way to appease everyone at the holiday table: It has two centerpieces, a roasted turkey and a tofurkey.

Diane Cochran and her husband, Ed, are carnivores. Their three kids, Dan, Andrea and Valerie, are not.

This year, they’ve tweaked the menu even more to accommodate one kid’s newly discovered gluten issues and because Dan invited a vegan friend from college to dinner. Vegans do not eat any foods derived from animals.

“We’re doing a lot more veggie dishes,” Diane said. “I’ll still make the dressing, but I separate it, mixing some with vegetable broth and some with chicken stock.”

Diane said sometimes the carnivores tease the vegetarians.

“We’ll say, ‘Mmmm, look what we’re eating,’ ” she said, chuckling.

But Dan said it doesn’t really bother them.

“Tofurkey tastes a lot like turkey,” he said.

Dan, who recently graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University, at first resisted following in his older sisters’ footsteps when they decided to stop eating meat.

“I used to argue with them that vegetarianism was not healthy,” he said.

Then, the summer before he entered his sophomore year of high school, he tried it and liked it.

He also did his research and came to the conclusion that it is a healthier way to eat. As he’s gotten older, he has embraced the animal-rights part of the argument as well.

Dan was president of his college’s vegetarian club. He said membership grew every year.

Vegetarians still represent only 3.2 percent of the country’s population. A lot more people, 22.8 million, are like Dorothy Colson: leaning toward vegetarianism.

Colson, 84, never prepares meat but she’ll eat it if chicken salad or sausage pizza is served.

“I just feel better when I don’t eat meat,” said Colson, who’s been general manager of the South Suburban Food Co-op since 1974. “It takes too long to digest meat; it slows everything down.”

Barbara Griffin, who owns New Vitality Health Foods, Inc., in Orland Park, said customizing menus according to eating habits should take a back seat to the real meaning of Thanksgiving: being with family and friends.

Though she no longer is a vegetarian, her children are.

“We’ve always centered the meal on the vegetables,” she said. “Being a vegetarian is not about finding a substitute for meat; it’s about eating vegetables.”



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