It was 1987, and 13-year-old Cristin Gregory had recently become a vegan. “My Midwestern mom was super-duper excited,” she jokes. It meant Mrs. Gregory, a meat-and-potatoes kind of cook, would now have to take her daughter’s veganism into account when planning and preparing family meals. The newly minted vegan offered to help her mom by being in charge of Thanksgiving that year. No one has ever forgotten it, and not because it was, in any way, good. “There was nothing but tofu,” Gregory says. “We had tofu-spinach pate, tofu turkey and tofu pumpkin pie. And none of it tasted great.” Even though young Cristin made the entire meal – with just a little help from her mom – no one in the family was impressed or especially grateful. “My mom ended up making a turkey and having a sort of second Thanksgiving two days later.” But these days, no one’s complaining when Gregory, a Davidson resident and owner of Wellbeing Natural Health in Cornelius, is in charge of Thanksgiving. The menu she’s preparing for this year’s feast would tempt even the most committed carnivore. She’s preparing a gelatin-free fruit mold with cranberries, oranges, raspberries and walnuts; maple-grilled tempeh with cashew gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts and a garden salad with roasted beets, oranges and pecans. Her main dish will be a roasted potato-mushroom-spinach torte with “cheese” sauce. She likens it to lasagna and declares the fake cheese tastes like the real thing. Unlike in 1987, no one will have to politely nibble and move food around on their plates this year. “There’s no suffering going on over here,” she says proudly of her vegan Thanksgiving. Gregory’s vegan journey began when she realized she liked animals more than she liked the taste of meat. Although her first attempts at vegan coking didn’t go so well, Gregory, who’s also an acupuncturist and certified specialist in Chinese herbal medicine, got better when she went to the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore. “When I first became vegan, the trend was to replace meat with soy,” Gregory says. “That led to all sorts of unpleasantness, like ‘notdogs,’ ‘soysage’ and ‘tofurkey, There was even a Jimmy Dean replacement called ‘Gimme Lean.’ The general thought was, ‘Oh my God! You’re gonna die if you don’t get your protein!’ Now we know it’s all about variety and not about replacement. If you’re eating plenty of beans, nuts and seeds, you should be fine.” During her time in Portland, she also worked in the produce department of a popular farmers market and learned how to cook all the food she sold. She became an expert in healthy cooking at the same time she was learning about health science. Despite her expertise in the field of nutrition, she’s not doctrinaire in her approach. Gregory even describes herself as an “on and off vegan.” “There’s no perfect diet for everyone,” she says. “We change, and we need to listen to our bodies. Chinese medicine teaches moderation in all things, and that includes our diets.” For anyone considering trying veganism, Gregory recommends starting slowly. “Maybe start with breakfast,” she says. “Then, add lunch and slowly add a vegan dinner. To cook in that way takes time, and I’ve seen a lot of folks get overwhelmed when they start, and then they give up.” In other words, don’t give up meat cold turkey.