Vegetarians, vegans turn to local businesses for Thanksgiving substitutes

Hannah Smothers

The traditional Thanksgiving Day centerpiece of a plump, shining bird covered in a thin layer of fat has been replaced by a lean slice of wheat gluten on many American dining tables.

Vegetarians and vegans have found and created ways to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving foods coveted by their omnivorous friends without sacrificing their dietary restrictions for a day. Several local grocery stores and catering services have helped by offering meat-free options for their meat-abstinent guests or for guests looking to put something new on their tables this holiday season.

The Wheatsville Food Co-Op is one such local destination, providing an extensive menu of vegetarian and vegan renditions of foods such as pumpkin pie and gravy.

“If you can imagine a vegan option for anything, we have it,” Wheatsville Brand Manager Raquel Dadomo said.

Although Dadomo takes pride in the delectability of the co-op’s vegan pumpkin pie, she said you wouldn’t know the difference between the animal-free recipe and the traditional recipe.

“We hesitate about putting the word vegan next to it because it’s just really good pumpkin pie,” Dadomo said. “If the food is good, the food is good. Whether it’s vegan or not is really secondary.”

While this may be true for flavor purposes, some people have dietary restrictions or choices that argue otherwise.

Brendan Good and Stevie Duda, communications director and newsletter editor for the Vegetarian Network of Austin, have been celebrating Thanksgiving sans animal products since 2010.

“It wasn’t difficult to make the transition because we’d been moving in that direction for several years before that,” Good said. “We’d gotten used to eating vegan by then.”

Good and Duda have found their own favorite Thanksgiving foods since going vegan.

“He likes the Tofurky,” Duda said. “I, on the other hand, am gluten free, so I can’t eat the Tofurky. But I make this zucchini carrot loaf that I look forward to every year.”

Tofurky is a meat analogue to traditional turkeys and is composed mainly of tofu-wheat blend. It is considered a popular alternative to meat for vegans and vegetarians. But according to Good and Duda, the gravy on top of the Tofurky is just as important as the entree itself.

“I’ll tell you what, that’s the one thing that makes Thanksgiving,” Duda said. “Whether you’re a vegan, a vegetarian or a carnivore, it’s the gravy.”

According to Dadomo, the co-op offers vegan gravy on its hot bar, complete with other traditional and meatless Thanksgiving options.

Several other Austin locations offer Thanksgiving food options for vegan and vegetarian diets as well.

“In terms of doing a real vegetarian Thanksgiving meal, Mr. Natural and Counter Culture would be our two choices,” Good said.

This year, Mr. Natural will be hosting its 19th annual vegan Thanksgiving Eve Dinner at its Cesar Chavez and South Lamar locations.

“Normally, if you come in our restaurant we have a lunch special that works like a cafeteria line, where you come in and choose your salad, main dish and two sides,”
Jesus Mendoza, owner of Mr. Natural, said. “For the Thanksgiving Eve Dinner, there’s a Thanksgiving twist to it.”

The dinner at Mr. Natural lasts from about 11 a.m. until each location closes at 8 p.m., and has been a very popular occasion for the past 18 years.

“People start placing their orders a month in advance for this,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said that some people order ahead of time and pick up food to prepare the next day for their own Thanksgiving meals, while others walk in and enjoy a pre-Thanksgiving day meal of their favorite vegan foods in the restaurant.

The Wheatsville Food Co-Op, Mr. Natural and Counter Culture are just a few among countless local restaurants and grocery stores providing vegan and vegetarian options for meat-conscientious Austin residents.

“I think it’s easy [to eat vegan] in Austin,” Good said. “Austin has a great vegan and vegetarian community.”