Transforming Tradition : The Valley's Varied Perspectives Refine Meaning of Thanksgiving : No Turkeys Allowed

Hearth and home, turkey with all the trimmings, family members reunited from afar.

These are the usual images of Thanksgiving, a holiday outdone only by Christmas in its sense of tradition and fireside warmth. But tradition does not reflect all of today's reality, as definitions of home, family and even food are evolving in our society.

Throughout the San Fernando Valley, residents gathered in their own unique ways to observe a national holiday that has deep roots in American history. From a Chatsworth home for boys to houses where turkey is taboo, from a group of Filipino exchange students dining at a Mexican restaurant to a new kind of family in Van Nuys, celebrations and celebrants brought new perspectives to the meaning of Thanksgiving.

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The Thanksgiving meal at the Wright home in Canoga Park didn't look traditional, and it didn't taste that way, either.

Instead of a succulent golden-brown turkey, a granular nut loaf was Thursday's centerpiece. Instead of stuffing cooked in the belly of the bird, the dish was prepared with bell peppers, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes nowhere near any meat. And instead of gravy loaded with meat juices, the topping was made with tofu, nuts and miso.

Welcome to Thanksgiving, vegetarian style.

"I've been a vegetarian since I was 16," said Adrian Wright, now 32 and the mother of two boys. "I'm sure the turkeys are thankful for that."

The days when vegetarians nibbled on carrots while the rest of the family devoured turkey legs on Thanksgiving are long gone.

Vegetarian dinners are now so popular that entire precooked meals can be bought at most health-food stores. Those who avoid meat can buy sliced vegetarian turkey, fresh rosemary-and-thyme whole-wheat bread stuffing, mashed potatoes with herbed mushroom gravy, pan-fried lemon garlic green beans, orange-cranberry relish and cranberry bread.

But none of this precooked stuff for the Wright household. After all, some traditions--like home cooking--have to be maintained.

Adrian Wright had to prepare her Thanksgiving meal earlier than in previous years because her husband, Tui, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, had to work the evening shift. Joining them for dinner was Adrian Wright's brother-in-law, Alex Wright, who is also a vegetarian, and her friend Jenny En, who is not.

The Wrights have been serving a nut loaf--like a meatless meatloaf--in lieu of a turkey for several years now, but for En, this was her first time. After biting into the loaf, she smiled and said it was good.

"I'm having turkey later with my family," she said sheepishly. "I'll get my fill of vegetables here."

Alex Wright said that most meals from all cultures are predominantly vegetarian, with salads, vegetables, rice and beans as basic staples.

"When most people think of vegetarian food, they think it's boring," he said. "But it's all in how it is prepared. I think it tastes very good."

Four-year-old Biko seemed to agree. He ignored his fork and used his fingers to gobble up his food. With his mouth full, he could only nod when asked if he was enjoying his meal.

While the food may have been prepared differently and tasted differently, one Thanksgiving tradition remained the same as with omnivores: a dirty kitchen.

"The kitchen is a mess," Adrian Wright said, looking over the dirty pots and pans. But she shrugged her shoulders, took off her apron and joined her family at the table.

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