About the word "vegetarian"

“Vegetarian” is a word that means somewhat different things in different subcultures. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure that you know which definition of the word they mean.

In most English-speaking cultures, “vegetarian” means “someone who doesn’t eat animals.”. That includes red meat, poultry, fish, and anything else you’d have to kill an animal in order to eat. 

In some subcultures, “vegetarian” can mean “someone who doesn’t eat meat”, where meat is defined more narrowly than “all animals." 

For instance, in the observant Jewish community, most people don’t think of fish as meat (in part because it’s not defined as meat in the rules about keeping kosher). So, in many Jewish circles, a good percentage of people who describe themselves as vegetarians eat fish, but not other animals.

From both sides of this, it’s worth being aware that "vegetarian” is a word that’s used different ways in different communities. If you aren’t sure, it’s ok and good to ask what someone eats. Similarly, if you’re vegetarian and someone asks you whether you eat fish, it’s a legitimate question, not them being willfully ignorant about what the word means.

tl;dr “Vegetarian” is a word that’s used differently in different subcultures. If you’re a vegetarian eating with someone from a different community, it’s important to make sure that they understand what you don’t eat. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you understand which definition of vegetarian applies to them.

Vegetarian happiness on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday focused around coming together and eating a big delicious meal. The traditional version of the meal centers around eating a turkey, and many traditional side dishes also contain meat.

This can make Thanksgiving unpleasant for vegetarians and for people who want their vegetarian friends and relatives to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them. With some planning ahead, this is a problem that can be solved.

Some general principles:

  • Since the meal is centered around being big and delicious, it’s much nicer if vegetarians also get very delicious things to eat
  • Some things that often have meat in them can also be made delicious without meat
  • Vegetarians need protein as much as meat eaters do
  • Vegetarians don’t want to eat things that are made of meat or flavored with meat

Some examples of common Thanksgiving foods other than turkey that vegetarians probably won’t want to eat:

  • Pie that contains lard or schmaltz
  • Brussels sprouts that contain bacon bits
  • Green beans made with bacon
  • Gravy made from turkey drippings
  • Stuffing that has been inside a turkey
  • Stuffing made with chicken broth
  • Anything else with meat or meat derivatives in it

Some thoughts on how to make food options for vegetarians:

  • Artichokes are delicious, especially with dip. If that’s one of the vegetable side dishes, it can be a happy thing for vegetarians to eat
  • If you make mashed potatoes and meat gravy, serve them separately, and use separate spoons so that the potatoes won’t become meaty
  • Consider also making vegetarian mushroom gravy. It’s delicious and will mean that vegetarians get to share in the deliciousness of potatoes and gravy
  • Bake some stuffing outside the turkey (safer anyway), and use vegetable broth or wine or something else non-meat and delicious rather than chicken broth to flavor it
  • Use butter/vegetable shortening instead of lard/schmaltz for pies
  • It’s ok not to make all the sides vegetarian, but make sure it’s clear what has meat in it and what doesn’t. Vegetarians don’t like surprise bacon.
  • Some vegetarians enjoy Tofurkey fake turkey roasts
  • Find out whether they eat fish. (Some people who identify as vegetarian do, and fish can be a good delicious protein source for those who eat it. Don’t assume in either direction. Ask.)
  • Ask them to bring or make something delicious and vegetarian for the meal. Group contributions are fairly normal in Thanksgiving meals, and most vegetarians have something delicious they like to make/share

tl;dr If you’re making a Thanksgiving meal and inviting vegetarians, the meal will be much more fun for everyone if you include delicious vegetarian dishes in your meal and avoid feeding them side dishes with stealth meat. Scroll back up for examples and concrete suggestions.

Anyone want to weigh in? Vegetarians who celebrate Thanksgiving: what do you like to eat? What makes you the most comfortable at a meal hosted by meat eaters? People who host vegetarians at a meal meal: what have you done that worked for everyone? What would you like vegetarians to do to make it work for you?