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Hundreds enjoy a vegan Thanksgiving

Linda and Gene McParland, of Lindenhurst, eat a

Linda and Gene McParland, of Lindenhurst, eat a turkey-free Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by Healthy Planet. (Nov. 20, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

To Linda McParland, Thanksgiving dinner is about sitting with family and friends to celebrate and share the earth's harvest.

So as she and friends enjoyed plates piled high with vegetables and grains but not a scrap of turkey on Sunday, it was as complete as any Thanksgiving meal could be.

"And all the turkeys are saying thanks, too," said McParland, 61, of Lindenhurst.

McParland was one of about 200 people who attended the Green & Turkey-free Thanksgiving at the Sweet Hollow Hall in Melville on Sunday. The event has been hosted by Healthy Planet, a Long Island vegan and sustainable living advocacy group, for the past 18 years.

"Since before anybody knew what vegan was," said Bob DiBenedetto, president and executive director of Healthy Planet.

Healthy Planet promotes a vegan lifestyle as a healthier and more environmentally sustainable way of living over the standard American diet. The group hosts speakers and events throughout the year, and DiBenedetto hosts a weekly radio show on WUSB, the Stony Brook University radio station.

DiBenedetto said the group has a consistent following and attendance at events has always been high, but he's finding that people have become more informed as veganism has become more mainstream.

"Back then nobody knew the great correlation between food and health," he said. "Nobody - but us - knew the environmental impact of what we eat. The people that are here are the ones who know this and are ready to make a change."

The Thanksgiving dinner is a potluck and all attendees are asked to bring a dish that is completely free of animal products. The long tables that held the food were crammed with dishes like vegan chorizo and pasta, roasted pumpkin cous cous, autumn millet bake, pumpkin pie with cashew cream, and a "Wickedly Naked Salad," which featured four types of organic greens.

"It doesn't feel like anything is lacking at all," said Jackie Hecht, 29, of Rockville Centre, who is not a vegetarian or vegan.

Hecht said she believes that there should be some meat in a healthy diet, but she was enjoying her dinner and thought the event was a good opportunity to learn about more creative ways to get protein, like through greens and grains.

She said though she's not completely on board with a vegan diet, she did see some of the benefits.

"Unlike at Thanksgiving when you eat too much, we are going to leave here without regrets, only satisfaction," she said.

Matt Schwartz, 31, of Hicksville, who attended with Hecht and is an "aspiring vegan/vegetarian" said he thought a turkey-free dinner actually makes more sense.

"Thanksgiving is not only about the people you're sitting at a table with but all that is around you," he said. "You should be doing what's right for the environment and all that it gives you. We should be able to sustain it in a fashion that everyone can benefit from."

The dinner also featured guest speaker Michael Parrish DuDell, managing editor of, GE's clean technology and sustainable innovation website.

DuDell spoke about how to become an "ambassador for a cause."

"Whether it's veganism, animal rights, the environment - how do you become a voice for it?" he said.

DiBenedetto said the dinner itself was one step in that direction.

"We could have had a dinner without turkey any night and it just would have been a dinner without turkey," he said. "But 200 people not having turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is a statement."

Pictured above: Linda and Gene McParland of Lindenhurst eat at a turkey-free Thanksgiving dinner hosted in Melville by Healthy Planet, a vegan and sustainable living advocacy group. (Nov. 20, 2011)

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