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The case against Tofurky surprises

Wouldn't you rather be eating mashed potatoes?
Wouldn't you rather be eating mashed potatoes?
(Shutterstock)

Here is some advice for your upcoming Thanksgiving meal: do not surprise an unsuspecting vegetarian with a Tofurky. Don't go for a Celebration Field Roast or a Veggieducken. Or whatever oddly-named fake-meat monstrosity you're eyeing in Whole Foods. Just walk away. Now.

There are certainly vegetarians out there who like Tofurky. Sales for the holiday turkey alternative have grown 123 percent over the past decade, according to data provided by manufacturer Turtle Island Foods. The company sold 500 Tofurky Roasts in 1995, the first year it hit the market. In 2013, sales hit 340,596. Over the past two decades, the company has sold more than 3 million Tofurkys.

tofurky sales

Some of this is certainly due to enthusiastic Tofurky consumers, who purchase the product for themselves. But my experience as a vegetarian suggests a decent chunk of the sales comes from Tofurky surprises — Tofurkys foisted on vegetarians who don't enjoy it, who (just like most carnivores) think it tastes squishy and weird. We've survived plenty of meals without a Tofurky, and I am here to let you know that Thanksgiving can, in fact, be one of them.

I've been a vegetarian for about 14 years and am far from an authority on anything meat-related. But from what I remember of my meat-eating days (and what various carnivores tell me), turkey isn't even that great of a meat. It comes in a distant fourth to beef, chicken, and pork.

Turkey isn't the meat you choose to eat. It's the meat you have to eat because it's Thanksgiving.

That makes Tofurky a fake meat product that attempts to imitate a real meat product that people don't really enjoy much anyway. And when you buy a vegetarian a Tofurky, you're asking him or her to be excited about that. You're making them feel obligated to eat the Tofurky you went out of your way to purchase, because sane meat-eaters sure as hell won't touch it.

Here's something I figured out a few years into vegetarianism: without meat, Thanksgiving is still an amazing meal. The cornucopia of sides provide ample opportunity to knock oneself into a food coma. And the vast majority of what's on the table — the green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, mac 'n' cheese, sweet potatoes, the entire dessert selection — is all vegetarian. Vegetarians do not leave Thanksgiving hungry. We get just as uncomfortably stuffed as the rest of you.

Graphic by: Tyson Whiting

So if your vegetarian guest requests a Tofurky then, by all means, go for it. But if not, don't make this your big surprise. If you really want to make a vegetarian welcome, think about making your stuffing with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock — or setting aside a portion of mac 'n' cheese before you throw some bacon into it. And let the vegetarian you love pig out like everybody else.