By BRIANNA BOND, Capital News Service
ELLICOTT CITY - Regina made the apple-pumpkin crisp, Debra brought the butternut curry carrot soup and Marty put together the pasta salad.
The table spread at Bonnie Sorak's Ellicott City home was filled with casseroles of all shapes and sizes. The scents from warm garlic knots and Moroccan pumpkin soup blended seamlessly in the bitter November air.
Missing from the kitchen table, though, was the traditional centerpiece: the turkey.
Sorak, 43, hosted about 50 people for the annual vegan Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by the Vegetarian Resource Group, but the missing turkey was the only hint in a house filled with pumpkin pie and Ravens football that this hearty Sunday afternoon Thanksgiving feast was vegan.
Veganism and vegetarianism, once considered strange and restrictive diets, are gradually gaining acceptance into the mainstream, making it easier for non-meat eaters like Sorak and her guests to participate in holidays like Thanksgiving where tradition typically demands meat and dairy dishes.
A 2006 poll sponsored by the Vegetarian Resource Group, a non-profit education and advocacy group based in Baltimore, showed 2.3 percent of 1,000 people surveyed said they don't eat meat, fish or poultry, and 6.7 percent said they don't eat meat. The 2003 poll showed 2.8 percent of the U.S. adult population was vegetarian. A vegan diet is generally considered devoid of all animal products, while vegetarians eat no meat, but may eat eggs or dairy products.
Despite that dip between 2003 and 2006, the group has watched the trend slightly increase over the past 10 years, said Jeannie McStay, the group's events coordinator.
"Twenty years ago I was only vegetarian I knew," she said.
Now, gathering the ingredients for an animal-free holiday repast is as simple as a trip to a good grocery store. For example, Nature's Promise, a private label that offers an array of organic and natural foods at Giant Food stores, has introduced nearly 150 new products since it entered the market in October 2004, said Jamie Miller, a spokesman for Giant Food.
Whole Foods Market has expanded its seasonal vegan and vegetarian selections beyond Tofurky, which is "much maligned and often joked about," to offer things like herb-crusted tofu and roasted butternut squash tart, holiday favorites of both vegans and non-vegans, said Sarah Kenney, a director of marketing for the company, which has five stores in Maryland.
Marty Friedman, a vegetarian for 15 years who works as a director for Maryland Public Television, said he noticed a change in his co-workers' attitudes toward his vegetarianism. They'll ask Friedman, 54, questions about tofu whereas before "they made fun of it," he said.
He still feels alienated and isolated at large gatherings because of his dietary choices. "Everywhere you go you sort of feel like the odd man out," when you ask about a dish's ingredients, he said.
It's taken Sorak three years to perfect her vegan Thanksgiving Day menu of a red lentil chestnut roulade, Portobello mushroom gravy and sweet potato casserole with vegan marshmallows.
Transforming the "traditional American dinner," was no easy feat, she said. "It's all centered around the turkey," said Sorak, who became vegan for health reasons when her first of four boys was born. "People don't even say, 'Happy Thanksgiving.' They say, 'Happy Turkey Day.'"
For Friedman, a first-time attendee, the event was a great way to show that "you can have fun and enjoy your food being a vegetarian," he said.
Matthew Sorak was definitely enjoying himself as he ransacked the dessert table, piling vegan chocolate cookies, pumpkin pie and chocolate cake onto his plate after his mom slipped into another room.
A mischievous smile crept across his chocolate-frosting-stained face as the 6-year-old tried to decide which his favorite was. He eventually settled on the chocolate cake, "cuz it's so rich."