Many families don't give a second thought to what they'll be serving on Thanksgiving: It's always turkey. Yet, the traditional Thanksgiving bird isn't found on every Thanksgiving table.
As a vegetarian, I have not had turkey in decades and my children have never had turkey on Thanksgiving. Instead, my family eats a Tofurkey — which is exactly what it sounds like — an imitation turkey made from tofu. Through a period of trial and error, I found a Tofurkey recipe with caramelized onions and baked dried cherries that even meat-eating guests enjoy. My family also focuses heavily on sumptuous side dishes and desserts.
But, the reasons families decide to not make traditional turkey the center of their Thanksgiving table are as diverse as the country itself. It's not only vegetarians who don't carve a turkey on Thanksgiving, and what families eat instead of turkey is varied, too.
"This is a very relevant topic among families who struggle to find compromise in the kitchen when coming together to dine during the holidays," says Andrew Noyes, vice president of global communications and public affairs at Eat Just, "particularly with the rise of dietary restrictions and increased awareness of how the food we buy and eat affects our own health."
Some families don't like turkey
"No one in my family likes turkey," says Kathy Meyer Larson. Instead, Larson says her children, who range in age from 8-14, "would rather have tacos or hot dogs or pasta." However, since Larson's mother vetoed the idea of a Thanksgiving taco bar, the family compromised on steak.
Arbella Odishoo Parrot says she will, "always pick something other than turkey," on Thanksgiving. In recent years her family has dined at a restaurant for Thanksgiving. She'll often eat fish if its on the menu, but will choose a vegetarian option if she needs to in order to avoid turkey.
"I have recently discovered that people secretly admit that they don't really love turkey, but maybe feel obligated to eat it because it is tradition," she says.
Some families have allergies
"A few years ago my dad developed an allergy to turkey, so we had to switch," says Suzanne Brown. She now cooks an Ina Garten recipe for roast chicken on Thanksgiving. "Everyone loves it — even our kids — so no one is missing the turkey," says Brown.
She adds that making chicken is easier because supermarkets never run out. "No one is looking for chicken [for Thanksgiving]," she says, "so we're thankful to do the shopping with ease."
Some families think turkey is too much work
"A turkey feels like a lot of work for not as much payoff," says Ashley Austrew, adding she got tired of eating turkey year-after-year. "We tend to make traditional sides, then use the main as an opportunity to experiment a bit with whatever sounds good that year."
In recent years, she's made pork tenderloin, pot roast and Cornish hens for Thanksgiving dinner instead of turkey.
Some like autumnal dishes
"Anything squash…seems autumnal [and] 'Thanksgiving' to me," says Caroline Grant. Grant, a vegetarian, says, "there's often the impulse to replace the roasted meat on the table with some other roasted centerpiece."
She doesn't think that's necessary. Instead, Grant often makes stuffed squash for Thanksgiving, adding, "sometimes we just make all the delicious sides and call it a day."
Muriel Penoty, a vegan, lives abroad and doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving anymore. When she did, she often made, "a seasonal casserole with wild rice, roasted [nuts], cranberries, raisins, scallions, basil and coriander."
Some prefer meat alternatives
Kale and Aubry Walch started America's first vegan butcher shop, The Herbivorous Butcher. The siblings started eating a turkey alternative on Thanksgiving over 25 years ago when Kale went vegan. At first, they were the only ones in the family opting out of turkey, but as the duo developed better recipes for an entirely meat-free Thanksgiving feast — including a roast turkey alternative — the entire family joined in. Now three generations of the Walch family enjoy a vegan meal for Thanksgiving dinner.
To Aubry Walch this means, "really being a family around the holiday table and eating the entire meal together."
"No more of the 'this is yours, and this is ours' business," she says.
Some like to indulge
"Thanksgiving is a more festive occasion for me and calls for [something] more sumptuous than turkey," says Chary Otinggey. Instead, Otinggey eats roasted suckling pig.
Larry Snider opts for duck. "Duck is far richer than turkey, and when it's pan-roasted it's extremely delicious," he tells Yahoo Life. "I make it with a pan sauce made from fresh mushrooms, red wine and herbs."
Vared DeLeeuw eats ribeye steak on Thanksgiving, even though it costs much more than turkey. "We see it as a special treat we indulge in once a year," she says, noting the cost is worth it because ribeye tastes so much better. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I give a perfectly prepared turkey a 7 and a perfectly prepared ribeye roast a 10," she says.
Some honor cultural traditions
Some families blend the American holiday of Thanksgiving with traditional foods from other cultures. Blogger Gennifer Rose says, "my husband is Mexican-American and one of my favorite perks to having a Mexican in-law family is that instead of turkey for Thanksgiving, we make tamales."
Rose explains that, "very similar to how a turkey is reserved for the holidays because it is so labor intensive to make, a batch of tamales takes a minimum of five hours to make."
"Making tamales is often a socializing event," she adds, "with family and friends coming together to make a big batch and divide up amongst the families."
Some are bored with turkey
Kyle MacDonald used to have a turkey for Thanksgiving, but his family got bored with eating the same thing year-after-year and decided to try something new. Now, making something other than turkey is a tradition of its own, and the family eats something different each year.
"One year, we had lasagna made completely from scratch" he says. The next year, the family had a traditional Indian meal. "Make Thanksgiving about discovering new foods from around the world instead of eating the same turkey year after year," he suggests.
Some think turkey is wasteful
Jessica Fisher, a budget-minded cookbook author and food blogger, thinks it only makes sense to buy a turkey on Thanksgiving, "if your guests really love it and you can use it all up or got a great deal on it."
Even with a family of eight, Fisher usually found herself with a lot of turkey leftovers no one wanted to eat. Instead, she switched to, "baking chicken legs for the kids, cooking a ham in the crock pot and roasting a turkey breast for the purists at the table." Fisher's kids are thrilled that there are more drumsticks to go around, and she enjoys being free from the hassle of cooking a turkey no one really enjoyed.
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