With Thanksgiving just around the corner, families are likely starting to organize their holiday dinner. Cornell University experts comment on the history of vegetarian Thanksgiving meals and offer tips on how to keep this year’s dining experience safe.
As plant-based alternatives grow in popularity, historian Adrienne Rose Bitar, who specializes in the history and culture of American food explains how vegetarianism has been reflected in Thanksgiving meals over the 20th and 21st century.
“Vegetarians have long crusaded against the Thanksgiving meal. At the turn of the 20th century, ethical and religious vegetarians rebelled against both the sinful gluttony of overeating and the centrality of meat for the Thanksgiving holiday. In 1894, Ella Kellogg, wife of John Harvey Kellogg of the cornflakes fame, published a Thanksgiving menu featuring ‘mock turkey’ made entirely from vegetarian ingredients. By the 1910s, newspapers featured meatless alternatives to Thanksgiving foods such as ‘vegetary turkey’ or ‘mock goose’ made from breadcrumbs, eggs, nuts, and rice and molded into the shape of the fowl.
“During the resurgence of the ‘counter cuisine’ of the alternative food movement in the 1960s and 1970s, homemade meatless turkey recipes circulated in vegetarian cookbooks. Companies also began to develop commercial alternatives. Tofurky was introduced to the Thanksgiving table in 1995. Since then, both commercial and homemade vegan and vegetarian substitutes for turkey and other meat-based Thanksgiving foods have proliferated.”
Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. In order to prevent the spread of bacteria to food and family, Robert Gravani, professor of food science, recommends four steps for food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill.
“It is important to keep in mind that errors in food preparation and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to unhappy outcomes such as foodborne illnesses. When preparing foods for guests at holiday time, food quantities are often larger than normal, so proper planning and attention to detail are important to assure a safe and delicious Thanksgiving meal.
“Clean: Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen. Wash hands for a full 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating. Always wash utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water and then sanitize them after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.
“Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate, separate meats from other foods. Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.
“Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature – 165 F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer, you can’t tell if it’s safely cooked by checking its color and texture.
“Chill: Refrigerate perishable food promptly. Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the ‘danger zone’ between 40 F and 140 F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.”