Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner

I'm A Vegetarian, But I Love Thanksgiving

by Kelley Gardiner

Make fun of me all you want: I’m a vegetarian, and I get down on Thanksgiving. Laugh at my rolls stuffed with cheese and cranberry sauce. Turn your nose up at the salad I brought — that’s just more for my gullet. Jokingly offer me a leg or a drumstick. I don’t begrudge anyone their Thanksgiving turkey. You do you! But I don’t need light or dark meat to end up full and happy at the end of the meal.

Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks for what we have, and I use this opportunity to remember what I am truly grateful for: Family, friends, the privilege to be able to choose my own food, and pie. Always pie.

Being a vegetarian means that I don’t eat meat, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy Thanksgiving. It’s everyone’s favorite holiday for a reason, you guys — mine included. Aside from giving thanks for the things and the people that I love and am grateful for, I like to chow down on the sides and the mashed potatoes and the bread and the cheese and the pie just like everyone else does. And while the rest of the table is preoccupied with the cutting and trimming of the bird, I’ve got a straight-shot to the dishes we all actually show up for. Some might think I’m “missing out,” but why you’re all tired after the meal, I’m making room for dessert.

I haven’t always been vegetarian, and I ate my share of turkey up until the age of 20 or so, so it’s not like I never tried the stuff. Most of it was in the form of thin-sliced sub sandwiches from Blimpie with plenty of provolone and mustard, purchased when we were feeling flush after pay day at the movie theater. I used to eat turkey at Thanksgiving, too, but I have no special memories of it. That’s because it isn’t a memorable food. If it requires large amounts of gravy to be palatable, it’s probably not the exactly a gift to your tastebuds. Turkeys are hard to cook, they stress people out, they make people sick, and even burn people when they try to deep-fry them.

Sides rule. You already know this. When it comes to Thanksgiving, American hearts and minds turn what we fondly refer to as “all the fixin’s.” Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce, even gooped straight out of the can. Sweet potatoes (vegetarian marshmallows, please, if any). Rolls? Yeah, I can get down with some rolls. Stuffing? As long as it’s made with veggie stock and wasn’t stuffed inside a bird (don’t do it!): into it. Green bean casserole exists for those who choose to eat it. Yes, that’s my official stance on green bean casserole. Maybe my family laughs at me a little for making little sandwiches out of rolls, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheese, and caramelized onions, but everyone knows that sandwiches made with leftovers are the best part. Why not cut to the chase?


When you’re vegetarian, or you have any dietary needs, you can pretty much bring whatever you want. Maybe this year maybe I want to bring a kale salad. Is that too much of a cliche? I don’t care: I’m a vegetarian, and I love kale salad. I’m comfortable with that. Put a little quinoa or some beans in that salad, and you’ve got a meal going. You don’t like it? Well, you don’t have to eat it!

Maybe I want to make something fancy. Maybe I don’t feel like putting out that much effort this year because I’ve been too busy watching the Great British Bake Off to actually do any cooking. Being a vegetarian on Thanksgiving rules because you can make your favorite thing that you want to eat, and then eat as much of it as you want because you get first dibs on the vegetarian food. Now if only I could use that excuse to get to the olive plate first.

And sides are great and all, but there’s no way that they can be considered the main event. Neither is the turkey. It’s never been the turkey. The real main event? DESSERT.

You might’ve been going about this wrong for many years. Don’t go full force at the dinner table, leaving dessert as an afterthought you get to later. No. You don’t save room for dessert as an afterthought. You carefully cultivate a loving home where your pie will soon rest, right there in your tum-tum.

What kind of pie will you have? Apple? Pumpkin? A combo? How hard do you want to go on this? If you’re a whipped-cream person, how much dairy do you plan to consume over the course of the meal? Think of your guts, here, people. Consider of the pie, and work your way back.

Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner

I’ve been told that Thanksgiving isn’t just a time to fill your piehole with as much flaky all-butter pastry as you can stand. It’s also a time to give thanks for the what we have — for me, that means an abundance of love and food. Maybe I’m not rich by American standards, but wow, do I have a lot. I have a husband who puts up with my vegetarian ways, and makes sure to give me a smooch before he drives into the giblets (so to speak). We have a healthy 2 year old who will probably be done with his meal in about six minutes and then insist on making a trumpet out of Duplos, but we wouldn’t want him any other way. I’ve got my family close by and in-laws who live just a few miles away. On Thanksgiving, I’ve got it all: love and family ...

… and a whole other pie.

Images Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner (2), Giphy (1)