THANKSGIVING DAY — It’s a day of excess and gluttony for most, but the euphemistic “Turkey Day” can be something of a misnomer for the growing multitude that like the celebration without a side of death.
In fact, many of the traditional dishes consumed on Thanksgiving can be off-putting for those seeking an alternative to the meat and preservative-filled menu that many have come to associate with the holiday.
Green bean casserole cooked in sodium-rich cream of mushroom soup. Cranberry sauce that holds the shape of the can it comes in. Stuffing that comes out of a cardboard box. Ambiguously crunchy sticks that claim to be onions.
A big roast turkey. Free range and organic? Who knows?
Andrew Wilder, the man behind the blog www.EatingRules.com, has seen, eaten and overcome them all.
Eating Rules puts forth three clear-cut, but hardly simple, rules. First, if you eat grains, make them whole grains. Second, cut the high fructose corn syrup. Third, no more hydrogenated oils, trans fats or anything deep fried.
Even with the one cheat day Wilder allows per week, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the dishes that appear in Ladies Home Journal.
Wilder further limits himself by embracing fish as the single source of meat in his life, making him either a pescetarian or vegequarian, whichever you prefer.
These days, the main course of the Thanksgiving meal no longer holds much sway over Wilder’s holiday plans.
“My strategy is to skip the turkey, my family has gotten used to it,” he said.
It wasn’t always that way. When Wilder first went vegetarian in high school, his supportive mother dutifully purchased a faux turkey, which are now made of seitan, a protein gleaned from wheat.
“We bought a Tofurky. It was a special order at the co-op,” Wilder said. “I very clearly remember stretching the fake skin over it.
“They can’t possibly be doing that anymore,” he said.
(Update: As far as we know, Tofurky no longer employs “skin.” The recommended cooking method involves putting the thawed roast on top of vegetables, similar to a more traditional bird, and basting it with one of two optional glazes as it bakes in the oven. We hear it looks almost like the real thing.)
Taking the chemical unwanteds out of Thanksgiving is all about cooking from scratch. That can sound daunting to anyone tasked with putting together a spread like Thanksgiving, but it’s all about sharing the burden, Wilder said.
“We share the workload, that’s a big part of it. We list the menu, who’s preparing what. Planning and e-mail has made it all a lot easier,” he said.
Turkey the Palisades way
Karen Dawn took her holiday meal one step further last year.
Dawn’s neighborhood knows her as “the turkey lady.” Turkeys don’t show up at her Thanksgiving table, mostly because they’re outside, living the life.
Dawn fell in love with turkeys after visiting one named Olivia at an animal sanctuary. Since, she has either sponsored or rescued turkeys, which then live at her Palisades home.
Last year, Dawn began the celebration with her two newest avian tenants — named Russell and Perry after the (now-divorced) vegan couple Katy Perry and Russell Brand.
“Well, they’ll be hanging out with us outside,” she said. “We’ll start on the patio overlooking the ocean, with hot apple cider with Wild Turkey bourbon.”
The rest of the feast is turkey-free.
Dawn prepared butternut squash soup, heightened with cashew butter for flavor and richness, pumpkin pies, stuffing with pecans and cranberry sauce.
The protein of the show, hickory smoked Tofurky slices and seitan smothered in vegan gravy.
“It’s festive and delicious, while still being animal-friendly,” Dawn said.
Vegan, but don’t want to take the cooking home?
Santa Monica’s raw food restaurants have the answer for that.
Euphoria Loves RAWvolution and Planet RAW both know how to make holiday meals that approximate traditional grub for those that value not only animal-friendly practices, but also the preservation of key nutrients and enzymes.
Last year’s Euphoria Loves RAWvolution Thanksgiving menu was unique, said Zat Baraka, the cafe manager.
“We’re creating something that resembles something that people are used to eating at a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and having it also be highly nutritious,” Baraka said.
The menu included coconut turkey jerky, cauliflower mashed potatoes, heirloom kale salad, walnut stuffing, mushroom gravy and a cranberry orange sauce.
The trick lies not just in the taste of the meal, but creating the right look while using raw techniques, which can be quite labor intensive, Baraka said.
“You’re soaking the seeds and nuts to activate the enzymes to make them more alive,” he said.
Raw food is a life-changing and life-saving endeavor, Baraka said.
“It helps us rid ourselves of poisons and toxins to prevent horrible diseases,” Baraka said. “We don’t get enough of those through eating fast food or the processed, cooked food diet.”
Whatever your dietary inclinations, the point of Thanksgiving is to appreciate the things you have in life, preferably with good food, family and friends.
It doesn’t have to be healthy or unhealthy, meat-filled, vegan, raw or parcooked, just an authentic celebration of what’s gone right over the last year.