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Thanksgiving, minus turkey, still holds holiday cheer

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ACCORDING TO ONE-time vegan Christian Schider, the produce buyer at Mountain Greens in Bristol, Thanksgiving for vegans and vegetarians is just as festive even without a traditional turkey.<br /> Independent photo/Kathryn Flagg

By KATHRYN FLAGG

ADDISON COUNTY — For years, Lincoln resident Christian Schider traveled all the way to New York City for his Thanksgiving meal, sitting down for what could be the year’s most-talked-about meal not with family, but with strangers from all over the world.

Schider was in his late teens when he struck up this nontraditional tradition, making the trek to sit at a community table at the well-known vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen. At the time, he said, he was a fairly militant vegan, someone who has chosen to eat no foods containing animal products.

After his animal-free Thanksgiving meal he’d travel to Long Island to visit with tryptophan-drugged family, but his sit-down supper with strangers was a longtime holiday highlight.

Schider gave up his vegan diet recently, during his wife’s pregnancy, and this year, the produce buyer at Bristol’s Mountain Greens Market and Deli plans to stay a bit closer to home for the holiday.

But what Schider’s memories of Thanksgivings in New York suggest is that “Turkey Day” for vegans and vegetarians is about everything but the turkey.

Take one of Schider’s co-workers at Mountain Greens, 24-year-old Courtney Lucia. Lucia is planning for her seventh vegetarian Thanksgiving. Leaning over the deli counter, where Lucia works, she said that her family doesn’t do any of the “fake stuff” — “tofurkeys,” for instance, or “smart bacon,” both vegetable-based products designed to mimic meat dishes.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty at her family’s table she can happily gobble up.

“I always bring something that I’ve made that I know I can eat,” she said. It’s hard, sometimes, to turn down dishes that she knows her family has worked hard to make. But does politely declining a serving of white meat change the holiday for her?

“Nope,” Lucia said. “I’m still thankful.”  

For more militant vegetarians and vegans, the holiday can pose occasional problems. Middlebury resident and vegan Marty Anwar — whose answering machine wishes callers a happy “meat-free day” — said that differences in dietary opinions can make for uncomfortable family gatherings.

“You don’t mind strangers eating meat in front of you,” commented Anwar, who said his concerns for the environment and animal justice prompted him to give up meat 27 years ago. “But when people who you really care for do it, it’s kind of depressing.”

So Anwar said that he and his family often try to strategically time their arrivals at friends’ and family members’ homes during the holidays, waltzing in, when possible, after the main course is served.

Aside from the tofu-based tofurkey centerpiece on his table, Anwar said that his Thanksgivings look much, he would imagine, like anyone else’s.

“It’s still the same concept of family get-togethers and giving thanks for our good fortune,” said Anwar. “We just don’t want to give thanks by causing misery to a living being.”

In Schider’s case, Thanksgiving this year will include a tofurkey and the real deal: a Misty Knoll turkey. He and his wife are joining a few of the other “misfit” couples in town, many of whom have family too far away to join for the holiday. He won’t know everyone at the table, but he said he’s looking forward to the day.

Not that he’ll be eating that tofurkey — which he described for those who’ve never seen one as resembling a “stuffed, deflated, over-sized softball.” He’s had his share, he said.

“(Now) I’d much rather support a local farmer who’s doing the right thing,” Schider said. That push toward supporting local farmers and buying locally produced foods, he said, is something he sees more and more customers at Mountain Greens striving to do.

For his own holiday get-together, he’s taking along shitake gravy. His wife, who is on a “raw foods kick,” will likely set aside that diet for the day. Ultimately, Schider said, what’s important on Thanksgiving — for omnivores, herbivores, carnivores and localvores alike — isn’t what’s on the table, but who’s around it. 

“Thanksgiving is just one of those times where you let everything go,” he said. “You’re there for the company and good times.”

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