Fake Meat for the Holidays?

After my cardiac arrest, I began to learn how harmful it is to consume animal products, with both the animal fat and animal protein linked by numerous studies to increased heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. But in my household, there was a tradition of Thanksgiving turkey. What to do?

As the kids were growing up, Thanksgiving Day was one of the days where my wife, Linda, welcomed us into the kitchen to help with the massive food preparations. While Linda attended to pretty much all the other dishes, the kids and I took on the task of preparing the bird. This involved thawing it, fishing out the plastic bag of giblets from inside the chest cavity, preparing the stuffing, packing the bird, tying it up, rubbing it with salt, cooking it, and despite a humorous basting accident when the kids were little, basting it as well. It was a wonderful time of giving thanks for plentiful and good tasting food and bonding with the family.

whole-turkeyHowever, as I learned how unhealthy turkey (and other meats) are, I couldn’t abide by damaging my health and that of my family despite our family traditions. As I sought alternatives, I checked out the VegeUSA store located in their headquarters in Monrovia, CA, which just happened to be a few blocks south of my work place. They manufacture a product that looks, cooks, and tastes very much like turkey and is available in many Whole Foods stores. It is quite expensive per pound, but you can eat it all as it has no bones or giblets. And it has no animal protein, animal fat, or cholesterol. It even has a cavity that you can fill with stuffing.

For many years, our family was happy with this fake turkey. We even served it to guests without telling them in advance it wasn’t meat. With the white flesh and brown skin, they couldn’t tell the difference except of course there were no bones.

But I knew this product wasn’t really very healthy. Healthier than real turkey: probably. Healthier than eating whole plants: absolutely not. You can see from its nutrition label that it has 60/140 = 43% of its calories from fat. It is tough to hit the ideal percentage of 7-10% of fat calorie consumption when you are eating much of this fake turkey.

After many years our family had gotten used to and enjoyed eating low-fat whole-food plant-based meals. So as one Thanksgiving approached, I asked my family if they were alright with not buying the fake turkey that year. They said they were fine without it. How liberating! We could now fully enjoy Thanksgiving without the constraints of old and unhealthy traditions.

So do we go hungry on Thanksgiving? Absolutely not! The main entrée may be lentil loaf. Other tasty holiday dishes include beefless stew, cabbage salad, pumpkin spice muffins, stuffed pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato mango bowl, garlic mashed potatoes, lasagna, and finished off with pumpkin pie. And of course we eat many soups, salads, and side dishes of potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and many other grains, starches, and vegetables in luscious combinations. You too can enjoy your holiday meals while also enjoying your health and longevity.

Happy Holidays,

John Tanner, PhD
Director, NuSci, The Nutrition Science Foundation

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