The loudest vegans, like the loudest members of any group, are often the most obnoxious, and I’ve endeavored to disassociate myself from these crusaders. My girlfriend put it best when she coined the phrase “unobtrusively vegan.” I’d rather you not have to worry about my food choices. You choose the restaurant; I’ll be fine.
But then we come to Thanksgiving with the family. As if the image of happy Indians dining with pious Pilgrims weren’t enough to make it a strange holiday of giving thanks to God for all he gave and all we took, add dietary restrictions to this national day of pigging out, and you’re all set for a surreal adventure. Pity whichever sibling or parent is lucky enough to be hosting our enormous family—and contending, already, with a giant turkey, candied yams with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and three different types of pie. I can’t bear to add another chore, no matter how many times I’m assured that it’s OK. Of course, neither do I want to sit nibbling a carrot while the feast goes on all around me.
So, it’s off to the food co-op, or, as my brothers call it, the hippie store. I feel silly buying something called a Tofurky, but this birdless bird has done me right. I’m not a fan of fake meat—soy dogs, Fakin’ Bacon, Gimme Lean—but there are special occasions when nothing else will do. Fourth of July: Throw a Tofu Pup on the bar-b. Thanksgiving: Give me my Tofurky.
The Tofurky is a vaguely turkey-colored ball of textured vegetable protein. Slicing the ball open, you’ll be relieved to discover that the “skin” is not skin-like at all, and in the middle of the ball is a good vegan stuffing with a bit of wild rice. Yes, I’m aware of how unappetizing this sounds. Once arranged on your plate, however, it almost approximates food. You can buy the Tofurky alone or with a side dish and gravy.
The first year I showed up with my feast in the box, the brothers had great fun. James, the youngest, fastened the tempeh drumsticks to the main dish to give my meal a more “lifelike” appearance. My nephews tasted some, but mostly for entertainment. They said yuck before it even hit their tongues. And then there’s Erick, who has, every Thanksgiving for 12 years, offered me some turkey in a dramatic fashion. “Hey, Keeeeith,” he says, “want some tuuuurrrkkkeeeyy? Mmmm turkey.” It was funny the first year and annoying the next 10, and now it’s a tradition I look forward to. I’ve acquired a taste for his joke just as I have acquired a taste for textured vegetable protein with mushroom gravy.
The Tofurky itself has evolved and now comes with delicious cranberry potato dumplings that even my nephews have admitted to enjoying.