Along with the usual serving of “Veggie Options for Thanksgiving” articles, this year there’s a toxic mix of meat-will-kill-you stories on the side — with one notable, valuable exception.

If there’s one certainty about the Thanksgiving holiday — along with the awkward interlude at the family gathering where someone eats too much/drinks too much/talks too much — it’s a slew of stories about alternatives to the traditional turkey.

In some quarters, those trendy stories are seen as a sign of some mass movement away from turkey as the centerpiece of the meal. I would argue it’s at least partly the result of food columnists and bloggers growing more fatigued over trying to spin a new angle on the how-to-cook-the-perfect-turkey story than the adults actually eating that perfect turkey circa six p.m. (if not earlier).

This year, alongside the healthy-veggie-options-for-the-holidays stories, there’s a simmering stew of headlines like “Meat causes cancer” and “Recalling the most-recalled meats,” and of course, there’s the classic PETA-planted story “International Meatless Day: Stunning Campaign Against Meat Consumption.”

They’re like a toxic selection of side dishes to the main course of the-world’s-going-vegan stories.

I clicked on a few of the “Thankful for Veggies” stories, and after you wade through the emotional swamp of people allegedly scarred for life because they were forced to watch a relative eating some turkey, you get to the wonderful alternatives that supposedly replace all those awful conventional concoctions the other 95% of people consume.

Here’s the menu from a typical vegetarian Thanksgiving:

  • Butternut squash mac ’n’ cheese made with cashew cheese (that doesn’t even sound appetizing)
  • Vegan cranberry sauce (Isn’t cranberry sauce just cranberries, sugar and water? Even Martha Stewart’s recipe adds only “unfiltered organic cider vinegar and fresh peeled ginger” to the basic ingredients.)
  • Stuffing made with zucchini and celery (including fake savory flavoring)
  • Green bean casserole (No matter how it’s made, that’s not going to be in the center of anyone’s plate.)

And for the “main course?” How about a delicious hunk of pumpkin-seed patty? That’s not one of those adolescent nicknames whose origins are lost in the mists of high-school hazing, but the actual “alternative” to a serving of roasted turkey and gravy.

Look, I’m not condemning anyone whose conscience leads them to sacrifice the foods the rest of us enjoy for the sake of some higher principle. But c’mon. Pumpkin-seed patty? That’s what I’m supposed to give thanks for?


What’s the real problem?

Amidst all the hype about vegans taking over Thanksgiving, and the hysteria about red meat killing you with cancer, there was one intelligent, thoughtful piece buried among the floating trash heap of holiday food phobia. It was a commentary published in The Pawtucket Times, a newspaper in Rhode Island, and the headline sums up its message rather well: “Don’t avoid meat; just accompany it with vegetables.”

That says all you need to know, but allow me to quote just a short passage from the story (the full text is available here.

“We need to question why it is that eating meat has (supposedly) only just begun to cause cancer and the other health problems often blamed on it, when we’ve healthfully eaten it for at least 2.6 million years.

“The central point is this: Like every other animal on this planet, we were healthy eating a diet natural to our species, which included lots of vegetables and about half of daily calories from animal products (mostly red meat); the further we’ve strayed from this, the less healthy we’ve become.”

Makes total sense, doesn’t it?

As I’ve argued for more than three decades now, it’s not the meat or poultry that’s the cause of our problems. It’s all the processed products loaded with unhealthy ingredients with which we surround that meat (Lookin’ at you, pumpkin pie…) that’s the source of our collective national struggles with obesity and the increasingly serious problems that accompany it.

As noted, meat not only kept the human species alive for the eons it took to evolve into Homo sapiens, it allowed our species to thrive under an incredible variety of geographic and climatic conditions.

We don’t know whether the natives who saved the Pilgrims’ colony by sharing stores of corn, squash and beans also included turkey at what we’re told was the first Thanksgiving feast. Wild turkeys are among the most difficult birds to hunt, especially when you’re equipped with only a primitive bow and arrow.

But we do know that those and hundreds of other indigenous tribes survived and thrived for millennia on a diet of animal foods, vegetables and whatever edibles could be foraged from their immediate surroundings.

It’s a long way — in both the chronological and culinary sense — from that to squash mac ’n’ cheese and pumpkin patties.

A long and disastrous detour.

Happy Turkey Day — because that’s how it’s still celebrated in this household.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.