At this holiday dinner, hold the turkey

01:00 AM EST on Monday, November 20, 2006
By Michelle J. Lee

Journal Environment Writer

Cynthia Cruser, of Narragansett, adds whipped potatoes to her plate at a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner yesterday.

The Providence Journal / Steve Szydlowski

Information about the vegan lifestyle was available at the vegan Thanksgiving celebration.


WARWICK — Paul Dumont, a piano tuner from Lincoln, celebrated Thanksgiving early yesterday at the Radisson Airport Hotel with a feast of butternut bisque, stuffing and potatoes with gravy.

What was missing from his plate was the turkey. Instead, he ate seitan, a meat substitute made of wheat gluten.

Dumont became a vegan in 1997 when his older brother sent him a box of books on animal rights and health. The books persuaded Dumont to give up meat, dairy and other animal-based foods so he and his twin sons can prevent such problems as heart disease and high cholesterol.

“It made my life have meaning, not hurting animals and making my children healthy,” he said. “There’s a lot of positive things from it. It makes my life fuller.”

Dumont was one of 110 people who attended the sixth annual Compassionate Thanksgiving held by Rhode Island Vegan Awareness, a group that promotes a vegan diet for animal rights, improving the environment and nonviolence.

Elana Kirshenbaum, the president and cofounder of the organization, held the Thanksgiving event at her house in 2001.

She noted some vegans and vegetarians might face confrontation when celebrating with family members who eat meat. “Thanksgiving can be a stressful time because their ethics aren’t understood, their values, whatever [reason] they chose to be vegetarian,” she said. “Sometimes they feel misunderstood and they can feel trivialized.”

It is difficult to count the number of America vegetarians. One national poll this year by the Vegetarian Resource Group estimated about 4.7 million adults over 18, roughly 2.3 percent of the population, said they never eat meat, fish and poultry.

There are a number of reasons people embrace a vegetarian diet. Some believe in animal rights, others choose it for aesthetic or religious reasons. Still others choose vegetarianism for environmental reasons because industrial farms use tons of grains, thousands of acres and millions of gallons of water to raise animals. The farms can produce tons of waste, leading to air, water and land pollution.

While some may view vegetarianism as a lifestyle, it is more of a “philosophy and practice of living in harmony with animals and nature,” said Karen Iacobbo, a Glocester journalist, cofounder of the online Vegetarian Museum and coauthor of two vegetarian books with her husband, Michael.

“Vegetarians had a remarkable influence on society that the community isn’t aware of,” Karen said. She noted that vegetarians were early champions of ideas such as preventive medicine, exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

Vegetarianism has been practiced for thousands of years in religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Notable figures such as philosophers Plato and Pythagoras were vegetarians.

One of the first famous American vegetarians was Benjamin Franklin, who gave up meat for humanitarian reasons and even served a vegetarian meal to George Washington, Iacobbo said. However, during a fishing trip off Block Island, Franklin was tempted by cod and reverted.