Turkey is a no-show at vegetarian feast Dinner: Vegetarians gathered yesterday for a pre-Thanksgiving potluck to gobble delectables made without meat or animal products.

November 24, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

For a holiday feast like this, the turkey should give thanks.

A bounty of vegetables, breads and potatoes crammed the buffet table yesterday at St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore's Charles Village. The dessert table offered pumpkin pie and other sweet temptations. It was Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings -- but without the bird.

This was the Vegetarian Resource Group's 16th annual pre-Thanksgiving potluck dinner, a cholesterol-free affair where health food disciples and meat-is-murder moralists broke bread and marked the season of giving.

"This time of year brings us together because it's the time when most people gather for a dead turkey," said Don Robertson, 49, a Lutherville assembly-line worker who has been vegan for nine years. He said the potluck promotes a spirit of sharing -- "In the spirit of life," he added, "rather than death."

About 70 vegetarians gathered within the stone walls of the church hall for yesterday's meal. They enjoyed squash in lieu of fowl. The mashed potatoes were made with soy milk to satisfy the vegans, who eschew not only meat but also animal products.

For those attending, it was a chance to trade healthy, low-fat recipes. And it was a holiday meal marked with the fragrance of brussels sprouts in walnut-maple vinaigrette -- for vegetarians, a scent far preferable to that of a roasting turkey.

The Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group conducted a survey this year showing that about 2.5 million Americans -- or about 1 percent of the country's adult population -- never eatmeat, fish or fowl. Whether they avoid meat for health reasons or because they oppose the killing of animals, many vegetarians know the fourth Thursday in November as a day for awkward encounters with their carnivore relatives.

"It's not good for you, and it's not good for them, and nothing gets accomplished except everyone gets upset," said Mark Rifkin, 33, of Catonsville.

A vegan for 11 years and a regular at the vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner since 1985, he looks forward to it as "the height of the holiday season."

Many may look at a golden-brown turkey at the Thanksgiving table and see the ultimate symbol of Americana and the one truly American holiday. But vegetarians see a dead bird laden with saturated fat.

Preparing for yesterday's feast, Charles Stahler, co-coordinator of the Vegetarian Resource Group, said: "A lot of people come here giving thanks there is no turkey at the table."

The group's co-coordinator, Debra Wasserman, said she doesn't find a holiday turkey the slightest bit appealing.

"I look at meat in the supermarket as a bunch of dead corpses," she said.

Stahler said the feast began as a way to give vegetarians ideas on what to prepare for Thanksgiving. Now, with so many cookbooks readily offering vegetarian recipes, that need is less urgent, but a meal with friends is no less enticing.

He said vegetarian societies in many large cities arrange meals on Thanksgiving Day. But in Baltimore, the meal is before the holiday to avoid conflicts with family obligations.

Yesterday, a health inspector and a doctor were among the diners who paid $3, plus canned vegetables for the needy and a dish to feed four at the potluck. As the meal began, children and veteran vegetarians with 20 years or more without meat were allowed to go first. Soon, a long buffet line formed. One could choose a table stocked with Thai spinach-squash soup and vegetarian treats.

Sandy Laken, a vegetarian from Glyndon, loaded her plate with the fish-free sushi, broccoli and tofu, butternut squash and her favorite, sesame peanut noodles.

"This," she said, "is some seriously good food."

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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