Whether you want to take a "gentle activist" approach at the dinner table, or a non-judgmental "Buddhist" approach, this article will be a Godsend.
You'll learn from the wisdom of four long-time vegans, and hear comical stories that help you realize that you're "not the only one".
If you have additional tips or suggestions to share with our community about this topic, we'd love for you to post a comment at the bottom of this post. If we like your suggestions, we may include them in a forthcoming ebook and credit you.
Disarming Hostile Situations
As a vegetarian, vegan, or raw fooder, you may find yourself in a situation where a host doesn't understand your dietary needs, or an omnivore at the dinner table questions your food choices. In your presence, they might feel judged or guilty for eating meat. In these situations, the last thing you want to do is add more fire to theirs.
recommends “smiling your biggest smile” and then saying in the most loving way that you can, “I feel great on this diet. It seems to be working excellently for me. As long as it continues to, I'm sticking to it.”
This is a really inoffensive thing to say. You’re not asking them to change. You’re just giving them a simple explanation with a huge grin on your face. Nomi says that she can guarantee that almost anyone will back down in the face of a beaming smile and a statement like that.
Omnivores often have developed some shame or guilt for eating meat, but not enough to give it up. So what happens? This makes them defensive. It can help to point out that you love them regardless of what they eat.
also uses a method of “disarming” verbal attackers. She likes to say, “I feel really great eating the way that I do, and that’s my motivation.” She admits that it's tempting to then ask, “What is your motivation?” But that isn't really appropriate for most formal holiday dinners.
Sometimes when you’re presented with arguments, you may feel like you need to fight the battle. Often the best way to “win the war” is simply to not fight, but to display your own personal health and happiness.
Lara says that disarming is the best way to go, even if somebody takes their knife and dings on a champagne glass and says, “Excuse me, I’d like to attack you… Why do hate me so much for eating the turkey?” You don't lose anything when you smile and state that your diet is working beautifully for you.
If somebody does pull you aside and say, “What’s the big deal with this diet thing you're doing?” or “Why aren't you eating like normal people?”, then you can simply ask – in a really polite non-defensive way – “Why does my personal choice bother you so much?”
Gentle Activism & Educating Your Family and Friends
suggests “gentle education” of omnivore friends and family. As long as you keep your statements factual and don't make any accusations. You can express that you feel
a lot of sadness when you think about the way animals are raised and slaughtered. That it makes you unhappy that we feed so much of the grain we grow – about 80% in this country – to animals, and that this practice contributes to world hunger.
This moves the focus to how you feel. When you make a statement starting with “I feel” or “I think” or “I am affected this way”, then you're making a statement about yourself, not about them.
It's an “I” message, rather than a “You” message. This is sometimes called “nonviolent communication” or “compassionate communication”.
Instead of saying “you’re killing animals,” or “you should feel ashamed”, just talk about yourself; “I feel sad that so many animals are kept in cages and treated inhumanely.”
You'll need to gauge each meal and who is present for how you want to handle the situation. In some situations, keeping the topic far away from veganism and humane animal treatment may be the best thing you can do. Just stay focused on enjoying the company and being positive. In other situations, you may decide to drop one or two statements about how you feel.
Away from the dinner table, if you're approached and further questioned, you can try saying, “I’m noticing that you care a lot about what I eat. Why is it so important to you?”
The thing about it is, it’s no longer a debate about “Is it healthy?” “Is it moral?” “Is it better for the environment?” It’s no longer about any of that. It’s about, “Why is it important to you? Why do you care so much? Why does this matter to you?” That puts the ball back in their court.
In situations where someone becomes really offensive, it can be helpful to remember (and to tell yourself as many times as needed): “Everything they say is about them”. They likely have similar issues with other people; what they're saying isn't really about you.
I’ll give you an example, as a parallel. I have an uncle who is a bigot. He’ll say things that are very inflammatory at the dinner table. All my other relatives know it, too.
I can let myself get provoked and argue with him but there’s really no need, because everything he says is about him. Every time he says something bigoted, everyone knows that he is being insensitive. I don’t need to say anything about it for them to know that.
Likewise, if someone attacks you in a way that’s insensitive, even if your relatives don't come to your defense, they know that what was said was insensitive. You don’t need to say anything to make sure that they know it.
I had another experience years ago while I was having a raw food potluck at my house. A very hard-core raw food guy came over. Everyone else prepared a nice dish, something to be savored.
This man, he brought fruit. He didn’t chop it up or make a fruit salad. It was just whole fruit. He put it on the table and nobody ate it because the other food was more attractive.
At the end of the potluck I said to him, “You know, it would really be nice when you come again if you’d prepare a dish like the other people did.”
And he said, “Well I don’t believe in that, because if I chopped up the fruit and it didn’t all get eaten then it would turn brown and it wouldn’t be any good the next day. So this is the way that I like to bring it. If that doesn’t work for you then I just won’t come to the potlucks anymore.”
I had two emotions about this experience. On the one hand, I respected that he cares so much about not wasting food. On the other hand, he was really rigid. It was a mirror for me, because I realized that my family sometimes experienced me in the same way that I experienced this man. My rigidity, for them, was challenging to work around.
For a host to have to think, “Oh I have to now make a special soup that doesn’t have meat in it and a special this and a special that…” I suddenly understood what a challenge I was creating when I would go to family dinners and other events. That gave me some perspective.
Its important to make sure not to overwhelm your host with your dietary choices. If they feel like they can't work around it, then just bring your own.
Bringing Your Own
At one point in Nomi's life she drove five hours to get to her sister’s house a couple years in a row. She asked her sister nicely if she would be willing to make a salad. Her sister's response was, “I’m not going to make a salad on Thanksgiving.”
More recently, Nomi has started bringing plenty of her own dishes to Thanksgiving dinners with her family. She doesn't mention that they're “raw” or that they're “vegan”.
Nomi suggests not trying to contribute a particular part of the meal. Often if you say things like, “I’ll bring the cranberry sauce,” you'll just get replies like, “No, no, I have that,” or “No, no, I have a special recipe.” It's also easiest if you're bringing something that isn't expected to taste any certain way, so that if it tastes different, it can be evaluated on its own merit, not in comparison to something it is “supposed” to taste like.
When you bring something, you can “sell your dish” without ever mentioning its cruelty-free ingredients. You can say, “Oh I have this special favorite. It’s this incredible pie recipe. You won’t ever taste anything like it. It’s delicious.”
When you do this, without mentioning that its vegan, you avoid getting responses like, “For vegan pie, this is good.” What you really want them saying is, “For pie this is good.”
||Nomi likes to bring gourmet raw food dishes like marinated mushrooms, sweet potato fillets, soft marinated savory-spiced greens and cranberry sauce.
By bringing her own, she knows she won't have to go without, won't have to obligate her host with special directions, and she'll be able to have a positive influence on her family all without ever having to get into a debate.
|Raederle Phoenix and her husband similarly like to contribute eye-popping gourmet raw food dishes to traditional omnivorous holiday spreads.
Raederle has found that raw vegan cheesecake goes over extremely well. “They can't even tell its a healthful alternative,” she says. “After the meal, if I decide to tell them, they're always amazed at the healthful ingredients.”
In some families, people will leap at an offer to be relieved if their cooking duties. In these cases, you can offer to host and prepare the meal the way you like best. You don't need to mention or emphasize that you're making a vegetarian or vegan dinner. You can say, “I'll make everything but the turkey, and you can just bring that if you like.”
Lara points out that its good to remember that any given dinner is just one out of thousands of meals you'll eat in a year. There is plenty of time for gourmet vegan dinners with veggie friends. If Thanksgiving can't offer a spectacular meal for you, that's fine. You're not there for the food, you're there for your family. If you want to go somewhere for the food and skip your family, that's a valid option to, and only you can decide whether or not that is appropriate for you.
Dealing With Cravings & Feeling Deprived
If you're worried about feeling deprived during a meal, then its an extra good time to examine whether or not you really need to go to this dinner, and whether or not you could go somewhere else. If you decide you definitely want to go, then come prepared.
Don't just bring yourself a salad and think you'll be okay with that. After you've finished your salad and the dessert comes out, you may find yourself uncomfortably wishing you had a healthful kind dessert of your own. Go ahead and make yourself the most wonderful dish you can possibly have for the occasion. Then there is no chance you'll be jealous of what everyone else is eating.
If you do make a mistake and find yourself at a meal and feeling deprived, it can be helpful to promise yourself to make a vegan version later in the week after you collect up the ingredients you'll need. And then follow-through on your promise so that you'll believe yourself next time you're in that situation.
Lara and her father were once invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's place. The friend was mostly a friend of Lara's father, but he happened to be a vegetarian. His wife and children were not vegetarian, and they did serve turkey.
Since Lara hadn't seen this friend or his family for years, she asked her father politely, “Could you please remind them that I’m vegan and ask them if there’s anything that I can bring, because I’m happy to bring it.”
Her father replied, “Yeah, yeah. Sure, no problem. You know he’s veggie too.”
The day before Thanksgiving Lara said to her father, “Just checking in. You mentioned to them that I’m vegan?”
“Yeah, yeah, veggie. I remembered. I know. I wouldn’t forget.”
When Lara got there, the wife was still preparing food and Lara noticed that she was pouring cream into the mashed potatoes.
With a sinking feeling, she pulled her father aside and said, “Dad you told them I was vegan right, not vegetarian…”
Lara, a bit flabbergasted, said, “Dad, I’ve been vegan for 17 years, you know there’s a difference right?”
Then, in front of everybody, her father exclaims, “Oh, I told you that she’s vegan, right?”
Of course Lara was mortified. The wife's response was, “Oh Richard, I wish you would have told me that yesterday. I’m so sorry. I don’t really have anything for you, Lara. There’s broth in this, and there’s butter in that, and there’s cream in this.”
That year Lara ended up having salad and cranberry sauce for her Thanksgiving dinner.
Lara's story is a good illustration of why you can never go wrong by bringing extra food. Roberta suggests avoiding situations like this by following this simple rule: If something is more important for you than for the other person, then take care of it yourself. So if a host or chef needs to be contacted, you make the call yourself.
You can tell by the response of the chef or host whether or not your dietary preferences are within their comfort zone. If they say – “I’m glad you told me, yes, I can make some modifications for you. What can I put in the mashed potatoes instead of butter and cream?” – then you’ve made some progress.
If they’re unable or unwilling, then just make your own.
Eating Holiday Dinners Someplace Else
Instead of accepting your family's invitation to a holiday dinner, you can choose to find a vegetarian, vegan or raw food dinner happening that same day, and let your family know that you'll be a few hours late to the family gathering. You can join your family for board games, cards, movies or discussion after the meal, and skip the unpleasantness of unshared food values.
Its especially common to find vegetarian and vegan holiday dinners on Thanksgiving day, because most non-meat eaters are at least a little disturbed by the dead animal on the table, especially when everyone is praising its flavor and preparation.
Most urban areas have a vegetarian and or vegan group as well as a raw food group on meetup.com. To use the site, all you need to do is type in your zip code and a search term such as “vegan” and you'll find the nearby groups. Once you've joined a group, you can look at the upcoming events, and even suggest an event if they don't have the sort of thing you're hoping for upcoming.
I was surprised when I went to Nashville, Tennessee. On meetup I found both vegetarian group and a raw food group. There were actually more people in the raw food group. There were 12 to 15 people that showed up for every meeting.
Raederle always opts for raw food gatherings when possible, including when traveling. She remarks that its easy to find raw food groups on meetup, even in places like Wichita, Kansas, they have active and thriving raw food groups.
In the Buffalo, NY, area, Raederle has gone to several raw vegan holiday dinners. “They're actually the best raw potlucks you'll ever attend,” she says. “Because people really go out of their way to prepare something special when its for a holiday meal.”
Another option is to put together a dinner with a few vegetarian and vegan friends and a few “orphans”.
There are always people who don't have anywhere to be on Thanksgiving and are delighted to be invited to your vegan dinner. Even if they’re meat eaters, they’d rather be with some people who are celebrating – even if it’s without meat – than spending the holiday alone.
None of us have to eat a holiday dinner with our relatives. It’s a choice. We could stay home and just make something ourselves. We could get together with our veggie friends, or eat with a local veggie group, or go out to a restaurant
, or we can go eat with our family. Any choice is valid and great. Its just important not to lose sight of what you're choosing, and what that is going to mean for you when it comes to the meal.
If You Choose To Enjoy The Holiday With Omnivores… But Are Struggling
Remember that you're not there to convert them. You're there to spend quality time with people you love. Even if it hurts that the people around you are doing something unhealthy, remind yourself that you were not always where you are today, and you would not appreciate anyone else telling you what is best for you.
The chances are that your family is more likely to take it from someone else than from you. Nomi remarks that it doesn't matter how many books she writes, she'll be the same “schmo” to her family.
A friend of hers – another raw food person – put out a newsletter about that. He’d been trying so hard to get his mother to give up dairy. Recently, his mom called him with excitement in her voice. She had gone to a talk by Dr. Bernard and she was all excited that she wasn’t going to eat dairy anymore. He writes, “I could have said something like, I told you so,” but of course that wouldn't help. From this experience he realized that information his family really took to heart wasn’t going to come from him.
Whenever you make the choice to dine with omnivores, say to yourself, “This is not about the turkey or ham on the table. This is about getting together with my family.” Then take a moment to appreciate that.
How My Attitude Has Changed Over The Years
When I was younger, I was militant in my belief. I refused to sit at the table if anyone at that table was going to eat meat.
For two years I didn’t attend a lot of family dinners. I also had to decline invitations to dinners with friends or tell them, “Hey, I’m not trying to change you but if you order meat I’m not going to be able to sit with you.” Sometimes they’d be nice enough to order vegetarian, but not always.
For two years I kept up that policy, but then I found some situation where I just couldn’t bring myself to ask the people I was eating with because I barely knew them. They were acquaintances.
I started making exceptions. I realized I was holding my family and my close friends to a different standard, to a more difficult standard than my acquaintances. I realized that wasn’t really fair.
As I got older and allowed my mind to open a little bit. I realized that factory farms and widespread animal cruelty are still relatively new. Its only become such an unsustainable and inhumane practice in the last hundred or two hundred years. Individuals have hunted animals and fished in clean ocean waters for thousands years.
I choose not to eat meat. I’m fortune enough to live in a time and a place where I can thrive on a vegetarian diet. Not everybody has had that luxury.
At some point I realized that the real battle is against factory farming, not againt all meat-eating in general.
I read John Robin’s book, Healthy at a Hundred, where he talks about the societies that are extremely healthy, even after they’re a hundred. All of these societies have in common a mostly plant-based diet, but none of these societies were purely vegetarian or vegan.
When I look at all these things, I think, “Who am I to judge all of humankind since the beginning of time?”
Those are some of the things that soften me in my judgment toward other people.
When Omnivores Try To Relate
Often I find people trying to find common ground with me and in some way. They’ll say, “Well, I’m not a vegetarian, but I do buy grass-fed beef,” or, “I don’t eat veal,” and I always praise them for that.
I’ll say, “That’s great,” as well as other positive affirmation. They’re trying to show me that they care, in some way, about how animals are treated or that they care about eating closer to nature and that’s good. That common ground is a great thing to have.
What do you say when someone says, “Well, plants are alive. They have consciousness. Why do you eat plants?”
You may feel that someone is being passive aggressive when they ask you this question, and perhaps they are. It is possible that they are asking seriously, or that they actually wish to have a philosophical debate with you. Regardless of their intent, its best to stay calm when you reply. If a question angers you, it may be best to give yourself a deep breath before answering, or even say, “I've got to run to the bathroom for a moment. I'll be with you later.”
If it's clear the person is trying to harangue you, you can brush off the question with, “Give me a break. Really!”
For a more serious answer, you can tell them, “Plants can’t run away. They’re not designed that way, whereas an animal can run from someone who’s trying to kill it. However if a person is really bothered by pulling a plant up or eating the whole plant then they can just eat things like fruits and nuts. Things that will fall off the plant on the ground and rot if nobody comes along to eat them. Even lettuces, radishes and carrots will rot if they are not pulled up and consumed.”
Another possible response is going back to the approach of turning the question around on them, “I notice you’re really concerned about my food intake. Why?”
You can even try to discover their motive for asking the question, “Are you asking me this because you actually care about plants, or because you just want to antagonize me?” And, of course, that’s embarrassing the person, but they asked for it. Unless, of course, they were just asking it philosophically, in which case they'll likely say so without a hint of embarrassment.
Depending on the situation, you might add, “Well, back in the times when animals got to live a free life, in the wild, the way they were supposed to, and then a person hunted them and killed them and ate them, that was one thing. I don’t have a problem with that.
“But when animals are in factory farms, inhumane conditions, they’re cooped up, they’re shot up with hormones and antibiotics, they’re castrated — that doesn’t sit right with me.
"My eating plants is no different than eating an animal that lived its entire life in the wild, free, like it’s supposed to.”
— Trevor Justice
Roberta’s website: www.mhvs.org
(The abbreviation for Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society)
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