By M.K. Luther - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Thanks to an array of healthy turkey alternatives, a traditional Thanksgiving feast no longer has to be a famine for people who do not eat meat.
A hearty holiday meal does not have to be sacrificed when dining with or cooking for vegans or vegetarians, said Denise de la Montaigne, owner of Better Thymes Natural Foods in Royal Plaza Shopping Center in Front Royal.
Abundant Thanksgiving feasts can always be created using standard turkey alternatives like Tofurky, de la Montaigne said. Tofurky slices and soy or soybean roasts can be used as a meal centerpiece in place of the turkey.
A vegetable soup or casserole can become the core of the meal. Holiday meals also can focus on grains and nuts, with non-dairy desserts and soy-based side dishes, de la Montaigne said.
And even a novice chef can create an ample, visually appealing autumn banquet using a cornucopia of harvest vegetables like squash, corn, mushrooms and pumpkin.
"[The meal] reminds you of a kind of Thanksgiving-ish taste," de la Montaigne said.
De la Montaigne has been in business for almost 30 years, catering to vegans -- who do not use any animal products -- vegetarians and health food customers who have turned to non-meat, non-dairy and organic products.
The Tofurky products are stocked all year long, but demand skyrockets at the holidays, especially from customers who are not vegan or vegetarian themselves.
"What I see is the people who are the most concerned are the people who are having guests who are vegan or vegetarian and they are not," de la Montaigne said. "If you or your household is vegan or vegetarian, then you know how to do this and you make a special meal with fall foods."
While none of the alternative dishes can totally replicate the turkey taste, the substitutes do mimic the flavor, de la Montaigne said. The most noticeable difference is the absence of the texture associated with turkey, de la Montaigne said.
De la Montaigne, who also is a certified nutritionist, said people choose to be vegan for either personal or health reasons, but whether it is a lifestyle or a nutrition choice, the change alters a diet.
Choosing to go without meat or dairy can open up a whole new world of meal options and introduce natural, often overlooked, alternatives into a diet by sheer necessity.
"Often, their varieties of food multiply," de la Montaigne said. "They are trying things that they have never tried before."
A holiday meal without a turkey dish does not require any more work or preparation once stores or vendors with the alternative products are located.
"It is still involved," de la Montaigne said. "But it doesn't have that long time frame that a turkey does, by any means."
Soy-based Tofurky is packed with protein and nutrients and does not contain the high-levels of cholesterol found in meat, de la Montaigne said. The product Quorn, a "myco-protein" made from mushrooms, and a field roast, with a nut and grain base, are also popular non-meat options.
Harvest Moon Natural Foods in Winchester regularly stocks Tofurky products, said manager and owner Clay Smith. The vitamin and health food store located in Creekside Station stocks up on the holiday-meal Tofurky dishes for both newcomers and loyal customers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
"We go through a ton of them," Smith said.
Smith said regular customers are typically well-versed in the art of preparing a meatless Thanksgiving dinner, but he often sees people searching for alternatives who are usually entertaining a vegan or vegetarian guest during the holidays.
Smith said college students who are away from home for the first time discover vegan or vegetarianism, and families can find an assortment of options in Tofurky products.
The meals average between $13 and $15, Smith said, depending on the product serving and type. A number of non-dairy desserts made without sweeteners or honey also are available, Smith said.
Smith said that even with the inherent health benefits of the soy-based and natural turkey alternatives, the same holiday meal advice still applies: Avoid overeating.
"It is like anything else -- it depends, it is a matter of how much food you indulge in," Smith said.