I became a vegetarian in 1987. That was … 28 years ago, woah! It was my freshman year at Berkeley, and I attended the Berkeley Animal Liberation Front’s “film night” and watched a movie about factory farming. Needless to say, I lost my taste for hamburgers on the spot!

Of course, going vegetarian presents some immediate problems–especially during the holidays. If you’re a vegetarian like me, you know what I mean. For instance, every year on Christmas Eve my family serves salami slices and cooks up traditional German sausage from a special meat market in Fresno, California. Then, the next morning, they fry up eggs in the sausage grease. And consider Thanksgiving: When I first became a vegetarian, while everyone else was gorging on turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and “in-the-bird” stuffing, I was left with plain potatoes and steamed veggies and maybe a soft bread roll. Not exactly my idea of a feast.

Luckily, my mom—who is an amazing cook—began to rethink some of her dishes to make them vegetarian-friendly. Not just for the holidays, but at all of our get-togethers. And while I still pass on the turkey and gravy at Thanksgiving, she now makes a delicious stuffing “outside the bird” that’s even better than the original recipe (according to me and my sisters, anyway). And we are better about making sure there are lots of other options, too, so that everyone has a full plate. It has taken some time, to be sure, and has required the embracing of new traditions. But, here we are. And now none of us “goes hungry” during holiday feasts.

This year, I have to be more creative than years past. Due to health reasons these post-cancer days, I am now mostly dairy-free and gluten-free. Yesterday I cooked up some special dishes to add to the feast this year. I brought my new favorite comfort meal: Lemony Lentil & Kale Rice Bowl.

Luckily, dessert is never a problem when you’re a vegetarian! And though I have cut down on gluten and sugar a lot, I’m happy I can still enjoy my ancestors’ simple but delicious Küchen recipe once a year; it’s a special coffee cake my mom serves on Christmas Eve and morning.

For more meatless holiday meal ideas and inspiration; check out these beautiful recipes from Martha Stewart.

These are our traditions; what are yours?

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