Healthier Thanksgiving options gain popularity

By Jim Vorel

The American celebration of Thanksgiving dinner is steeped in the Norman Rockwell tradition. Since the publication of his famous painting “Freedom from Want,” part of his “Four Freedoms” series in The Saturday Evening Post, there has been an iconic image associated with the holiday. A matronly old lady, still wearing her apron lest the juices ruin her best dress, somehow summons the Herculean strength to place an impossibly large and heavy-looking turkey on the table, so Grandpa, in his Sunday best, can carve and divvy it up to everyone.

A growing population of students, however, is choosing to forgo the turkey on Thanksgiving altogether. Whether as the result of a diet that does not allow certain parts of the classical Thanksgiving dinner, or by adhering to the strict codes of vegetarian and vegan ethics, for some students, Thanksgiving dinner as they know it is something different entirely.

Bethni Ruot, a nutritionist for McKinley Health Center, said that many people, whether or not they’re cutting parts of the classical Thanksgiving dinner out of their diets, are misguided about the holiday. She said that the biggest mistake people make is in thinking that one day makes a great difference in a person’s overall health, or using the day as an excuse to end the diets that they may be on.

“People like to blame all the weight they’ve gained in a year on one or two meals on Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Ruot said. “That simply isn’t true. It’s just easier to blame weight gain on the second piece of pie you had on Thanksgiving than it is to recognize that your eating habits are bad year-round.”

Ruot said that is difficult to educate students about eating properly because many are influenced by trendy diets. The latest, according to Ruot, is a book that many women have been bringing to her office to ask about, Rory Freedman’s and Kim Barnouin’s “Skinny Bitch.” The book is described on its Web site as “a no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!” Ruot said this is what students need to avoid.

“It’s written by a model and a modeling agent,” Ruot said. “No credentials, no nutrition background, no nothing.”

Ruot went on to say that she believes the most important way to approach the Thanksgiving meal, and by extension all meals, is to properly control portion sizes. For turkey, a proper portion is three ounces. For mashed potatoes and stuffing, a proper portion is a half cup for each. Luckily for the very hungry, there is one area where it is safe to indulge.

“You can have as many veggies as you want,” Ruot said. “In fact, it’s best to try and have at least half the plate be vegetables.”

This last bit of advice is not a problem for campus vegetarians and vegans like Nicki Gschwind. The sophomore in ACES said that her Thanksgiving dinner would be composed of Brussels sprouts, asparagus, sweet potatoes and corn bread. The main course will be a plump, juicy, Tofurky.

“A Tofurky is a vegan replacement for turkey,” Gschwind said. “It’s basically a big ball of soy made out of tofu, stuffed with some sort of bread stuffing and vegetables like mushrooms and wild rice.”

Gschwind, who has been a vegan for several years and was a vegetarian for several more before, said that her mother would be preparing the Tofurky, and that she usually splits it with her sister, who is also a vegan. The rest of the family will enjoy a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Also on the menu for Gschwind’s vegan Thanksgiving will be vegan pumpkin “cheesecake,” which fills in for the stereotypical pumpkin pie dessert.

Not all vegetarian meals are so complicated. Emma Claire Sohn, senior in FAA, said that she would simply eschew the turkey and make a meal of the sides.

“My uncle will hunt a turkey, but I won’t touch it,” Sohn said while enjoying her lunch in The Red Herring, a campus vegetarian restaurant in Urbana. “I’ll just load up on mashed potatoes and cranberries, and I’m perfectly happy.”

Gschwind said that she doesn’t miss the traditional Thanksgiving meal that she once took part in, and that she still gets excited for Thanksgiving dinner.

“I actually really look forward towards Thanksgiving,” she said. “Some people don’t like Tofurky but I love it. It’s basically my perfect meal.”

Vegan Pumpkin “Cheesecake”

12 oz. firm silken tofu, puréed

8 oz. nondairy cream cheese

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 prepared graham cracker crust

Preheat the oven to 350øF.

Purée all the ingredients except the pie crust in a food processor and pour into the graham cracker crust. Bake at 350øF for 50 minutes.

Allow to cool for 30 minutes, cover with plastic wrap or the top of the pie container, and refrigerate for six hours or overnight before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Nicki Gschwind