Business & Economy
11:40 am
Thu November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving - Vegetarian Style

Full plate of fixings at Vegetarian Thanksgiving at Washington Duke Inn
Credit Leoneda Inge

Many households across the country are already filling up with intoxicating smells of roasted, fried or smoked turkey and dressing.  But that’s not what they’re eating in Durham at the largest Vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner in America.  The Vegetarian Thanksgiving event has gotten so big and popular – about 275 people opted to have their special meat-less, gourmet meal last weekend on Sunday.  Changing Economy Reporter Leoneda Inge was there.

Veggie Thanksgiving in Durham

Leoneda Inge:  Families of all kinds patiently waited in line to be seated for this Vegetarian Thanksgiving feast.  Viji Sathy and her family walk into the huge ballroom at Washington Duke Inn. You can’t miss the long, beautifully, decorated table full of vegan fare stretching through the middle of the room.  The Triangle Vegetarian Society has organized a Thanksgiving dinner for close to 20 years. But this is their first pre-Thanksgiving dinner, the first at Washington Duke and the first time Sathy has been able to make it.

Viji Sathy:  Well, we’re not usually in town for Thanksgiving, so this is the first time they’ve offered a pre-Thanksgiving meal so we decided this would be a great time to try it out. We are vegetarian, our whole family is vegetarian. So it was exciting to see all the options. Our boys are excited because they know they can eat everything that is here today!

The food line moves slowly as people take in the spread with their noses and their eyes. The first dish – Farfalle Pasta with roasted peppers, wild mushrooms and sweet potato broth.  Next – roasted eggplant and polenta stacks with arugula pesto. Dinner is 27-dollars for adults – less if you’re a member of the vegetarian society. Brian Neelon of Durham has attended the Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner for the past three years.

Brian Neelon:  These are the black bean cakes.

Inge:  At the very end.

Brian Neelon:  These are excellent.

Actually, they’re Black-eyed Pea and Butterbean Cakes, in roasted tomato sauce and Black Bean Salsa.  Neelon is also registered to eat at tomorrow’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving at Café Parizade in Durham.  Mike Willis is a meat-eater.  Willis says he thinks his wife and friends are trying to show him what a Thanksgiving could be for a vegetarian.

Mike Willis:  Well, so I’m sitting at a table with two vegetarians and they’ve decided that this might be the best opportunity to show me the best that a vegetarian can offer.

Willis was impressed. When I walked back by his table – his plate was clean.

Mike Willis:  I’m pleasantly surprised not to see to-furkey here. Because a lot of times I feel that these attempts to bring non-believers like me over are predicated on trying to replicate what is going to be missing.

Dilip Barman says no to to-furkey. No way.  He’s president of the Triangle Vegetarian Society.

Dilip Barman:  We have a cornucopia of food and it’s all plant based.  It’s diverse it has beautiful color, all those vital chemicals that are helping to keep you healthy and it’s tasty.  People have a misperception vegan, vegetarian, but vegan, what do you eat, cardboard, you know.  And it’s not that way at all.

Barman says the two meals will make the Triangle’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving the biggest in the country at close to one-thousand people. He says gatherings in Washington D-C, Honolulu and San Francisco bring in less than half that amount. 
Jason Cunningham is the Executive Chef at Washington Duke Inn who prepared Sunday’s feast. Yes, he’s a meat-eater and today he’s in the kitchen preparing nearly 40 – 22 pound turkeys for the annual traditional Thanksgiving meal at Washington Duke. But he says Sunday’s meal has him thinking about ways to “lighten up” rich food.

Jason Cunningham:  Our Thanksgiving food is very, very rich and the food that we’re serving today is very flavorful, but without a lot of the added fat – I guess the biggie is butter.

More than 600 Vegetarians and Vegans will get the chance to “pig out” at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal at Café Parizade – without the butter!