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A plant-powered holiday season

With the holiday season in full swing, so is the consumption of animal proteins; but with a growing population of over 9.7 million Americans following a plant-based diet, it may be time to rethink our holiday celebrations.

With over 45 million turkeys being consumed each Thanksgiving and 318 million pounds of ham being purchased each holiday season in the United States, it is no secret that animal proteins are popular at this time of year.

However, the number of people who are seeking alternatives continues to grow. In 2004 there were only around 290,000 Americans who defined their diet as plant-based. Today there are roughly 33 times this amount, to give a total of 9.7 million.

California is home to many of them. In 2015 GrubHub analyzed its data to find the US cities most likely to order vegetarian dishes. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose all made the top ten.

How do these, often meat-centric, holidays affect vegans and vegetarians? Well, it takes a lot of planning, as 19-year-old Madeline Welch is well aware.

Welch has been a vegetarian her whole life due to a genetic disorder that limits her protein intake to 3.5 grams of protein a day, about the same as three slices of bread. For her, too much protein can cause long-term brain damage and symptoms like depression and seizures.

Though Welch does acknowledge that activities like eating out often leave her with limited options, she has learned that with the right planning and attitude there is no need for new vegetarians to fear special events.

“I took it into my own hands at a very young age to not feel left out,” she said in an interview via email. “At birthday parties, I always made sure I had something, like a container of sorbet or a little packet of M&Ms, to have when the other kids had cake.”

This year, Welch plans to prepare her own dishes that can be shared with a crowd at holiday parties. She is specifically proud of her spaghetti squash casserole and looks forward to preparing oat milk butternut squash soup.

While Welch knows her way around planning a vegetarian holiday dish, this will be 14-year-old Elijah Abril’s first holiday season as a vegetarian.

Abril went vegetarian 11 months ago, citing the animal cruelty of the livestock industry as his motivation. In that time has faced many of the same situations Welch has.

“I have felt excluded at…parties in general when they serve food, they almost never have a vegetarian option,” he said in an email interview.

However, he also has plans to prepare his own vegetarian options this holiday season and recommends stuffed squash to any vegetarians looking for a dish to replace turkey or ham.

The holidays are a time to be together and enjoy a meal with loved ones, whether that is ham, tofurky, or stuffed squash.

Welch recommends to new vegetarians, “Don’t go into it feeling like you’re going to be left out. Trust me, it’s not as big a deal as you think.”

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