Happy Herbivore Blog

November 23, 2013

This Week's Q&A -- Thanksgiving Special Edition 2013!

With less than a week to go until one of the biggest food holidays of the year, this Saturday's Q&A is a special Thanksgiving edition!

But before I get into your questions, a quick reminder that I'm hosting a second LIVE episode of the Happy Herbivore Cooking show tomorrow on Ustream *and* I'll be making fan-requested recipes for Thanksgiving! (Details about my new cook show here. I'll be going on LIVE tomorrow, Sunday, Nov 24th 6pm (pacific-CA), 9pm (eastern-NY). Cya tomorrow! Bookmark the Ustream link and set an alarm :) Recorded episodes post to YouTube the next day.)

Now here are the most common questions I get via email and Facebook:

1. I'm the only vegan/plant-based eater. What do I do?

I always, always recommend telling a host about your dietary restrictions long before you show up. Offer to bring your own meal or something that everyone can enjoy along with you. I suggest saying something like, "I'm eating a plant-based/vegan diet now but I don't want you to go out of your way for me. I can bring something for myself, or a dish for everyone..." Just start the conversation. Get the ball rolling. It benefits no one (especially you) to show up and sort of spring it on the host. I did that at a party once (just showed up) and the host was devastated that she had made nothing I could eat. Then I felt bad that she felt bad. All of that could have been prevented if I'd just called her. Or take Barbara's advice and gift your host/hostess a copy of EHH ;)

If nothing else, bring something. You can always eat it another time, but chances are, everyone will try what you've brought.

This week's individual meal plan has a Thanksgiving meal for the solo diner (it's easy, fuss-free and can be made ahead -- no leftovers or waste!) and the family plan has a healthy, easy meal for a fam, too! Get the special Thanksgiving meal plans plus free Holiday Survival Guide eBook now. (The current meal plan is designed for every kind of situation you can think of!)

If you want to bring something: Safe bets are HH Butternut Soup, Vegan Deviled Eggs, Stuffed Acorn Squash (in HHA) or HH Pumpkin Muffins or even something as simple as a healthy, Thanksgiving-themed fruit or veggie platter (see link for several examples, like this one below).

2. Do I talk about the benefits of a plant-based/vegan diet at Thanksgiving?

In my humble opinion, Thanksgiving (or any major holiday) is not the best time to bring it up. It's one thing if someone is curious, or asks you a question. By all means, answer them... and if a neutral, educational (not hostile or heated) conversation starts, that's great — but otherwise, I'd reserve talking about it to your loved ones for another time.

3. What if my family makes fun of me or tries to fight with me, etc.?

First, remind yourself why they are being hostile. See my post, "Dealing with Negativity from Family and Friends".

Second, don't let them get a rise out of you. I mean it. End the conversation by saying "I prefer not to talk about this right now, but I can send you some articles/websites later if you'd like to know more." You're not going to change their mind that day in that conversation, so don't waste the emotion.

4. Seeing all the animal products my family eats makes me sick/sad/etc. What do I do?

See my post, "How to Keep Yourself from Being a Vegan Snob".

Don't forget this is also an amazing opportunity for you to lead by example — be a shining, positive example. If people see you loving your life and thriving, it will make them curious. See my post, "Build Them Up".

5. My family is plant-based, but my extended family is not. They want me to make a turkey. I don't want meat in my house — advice?

My house is vegan/plant-based, period. My relatives are free to eat how they want in their houses — but in my house, plants rule. Two years ago, my parents decided to come visit me for Thanksgiving. They were not plant-based at the time and couldn't imagine, after 65 years, not having a turkey at Thanksgiving — but they did, and they loved their first vegan Thanksgiving! Last year, after both going 100% plant-based, they went to my cousin's house (not plant-based) for Thanksgiving and brought along food they could eat and share (the pumpkin pie was a HUGE hit!)

It's ultimately up to you, but my advice is to do what feels right to you — and remember that your feelings matter, too. I'm a people pleaser, so I know how hard it can be to make what feels like a "selfish" choice, but standing firm usually leaves you feeling the most warm.

6. Last time I offered to bring dishes, but my relative assured me we would have lots of veggies! That's not exactly eating vegan. Any suggestions on how to approach it this year?

Bring your own items no matter what (see this week's special fuss-free Thanksgiving meal plan) or potluck-like dishes for everyone to enjoy/share, and you make your main meal.

7. How do you answer the "oh, come on it's a special day, you can cheat for Thanksgiving" people?

When this happened to me -- one family member was just relentless, I ended up taking a play from my negativity post (linked above) and turned it back on them. I asked, point blank, why it was so important to them that I eat whatever they're pressuring me to eat. Why did it matter to them so much that I cheat? Admittedly, this can cause for a sour grapes situation, but it tends to stop the nagging :)

A more gentle approach is to say, "I'm all good thanks -- but you enjoy" or even "I don't feel like cheating or the wave that comes afterward. If anything, eating that is going to make me cheat on my goals for myself, and I'd rather not do that. Thanks for understanding and supporting me. I really appreciate it."

I'm not sure I recommend this response, but I once heard a friend say, "well if today is the day I can cheat on my diet, what day of the year can I cheat on my husband? What holiday is that? I'm guessing not Valentines day?" I had to cover my mouth to stop from laughing out loud when my friend said that. Admittedly, the conversation/situation only went downhill from there, but it was at least entertaining to watch, I guess ;)

Anyway, I like to remind others (and myself) I'm not missing out. I'm not there for the food. I'm there for family, love, gratitude, celebration, memories, coming together, and so forth. I don't go to weddings for the cake, I go to be in the presence of love and support my friend or family member as they embark on a new journey and wed the love of their life.

Summing up: Be polite about it, say no thanks, AND they kept their healthy promise to themselves.

8. One of my favorite things to eat at Thanksgiving and all during the winter, are roasted veggies and I haven't tried it without oil (I try to only use a tiny amount). I worry that roasting without oil would make them come out dry; is there something else I can use in place of oil?

Check out my previous posts on replacing oil and cooking without oil. I bake 'em naked in the oven, no problems. You could also try veg broth, or beer/wine.

9. Should I cave this once for family peace?

NO! NO NO NO NO NO. (I've got to be a little harsh here).

If you want your family to respect your decisions, you have to stick to them.

By caving, you're sending a message that you're not really serious about this, it's a half commitment and you can easily be bullied or swayed. Stand strong!

It also creates harmony later on. A friend of mine was plant-based, but when she was around her family, she'd often succumb to family pressure and eat cheese. Then when she decided to really stick to her guns, they were all mad — especially since they had prepared a special vegetarian meal for her. "What? you're not eating cheese now?!" Same story with another friend. His family was like, "oh yeah, sure you're vegan; we'll see how long that lasts this time!" Stick to your guns. It's about your life, your health, and your choices.

I like to remind myself that I should never have to compromise myself, or hurt myself, for someone else to be happy.

10. What if my grandma gets offended?

It can be hard on older relatives when you suddenly won't eat their food. They often take it personally. Try to explain it the best you can. Also tell them that you love them a lot. It'll get better with time. I showed one of my family members that seemed particularly upset I wouldn't eat something how they could make it vegan. They did, and I ate it — and so did everyone else.

11. Finally, what should I make?

Here's my latest blog post with tons of ideas on what to make for Thanksgiving and how to prepare for the big day!

But you can also search "Thanksgiving" on the blog and find at least a dozen posts.

One final note. While everyone's thinking about what they're going to make and eat, remember what Thanksgiving is about, too.

As Jeff Novick said in a recent newsletter, "The holidays are also a time to focus on family and friends — not just food. Catching up and sharing laughs with loved ones will allow you to feel the spirit of the holidays more than a second helping of pie. Allow yourself to celebrate, but do so without throwing all caution to the wind or hurting yourself. And remember, your body is never not watching!"

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I sent this story out via newsletter earlier this week to our meal plan users and thought I'd re-share it here on the blog, too!

One of my tips in the Holiday Survival Guide (included in the current special "Thanksgiving" meal plan as a free bonus) is to remember that Thanksgiving is about so much more than food.

Yes food---feasts--have been included in our celebrations throughout history, but food (and eating) isn't really what these holidays are about.

I find it's important to remember that as we embark on the holiday season and face social pressure and temptation to slip.

Admittedly, I was worried about my Dad last Thanksgiving. He had a heart attack in January, and went plant-based upon leaving the hospital. Although both of my parents had been plant-based for 10 months (and without a single slip) come Thanksgiving, I wasn't sure my Dad was going to make it through Thanksgiving.

Turkey was his favorite meat and because my mother never cooked it the other 364 days in a year, he always feasted on Thanksgiving. And it wasn't just the turkey. He loved all the trimmings, including butter soaked mashed potatoes, gravy made from turkey drippings, a stuffing that involved all sorts of animal organs, and various other meat-and-dairy rich dishes.

The previous year, before my parents were plant-based, they'd had Thanksgiving at my house. To their surprise, my parents loved everything and couldn't believe how it still felt (and tasted) like Thanksgiving.

Dad: "It was a very good replica. I've been joking with my daughter since I arrived, asking where the turkey is, and I don't feel like I missed anything. It was really good!"

Mom: "I don't feel that we missed any of the traditional meal. It had all the flavors and taste of a traditional meal but it was healthy and fresh and vegan."

(You can read their feedback to each item I served by clicking here.)

Unfortunately, my schedule made it impossible for me to be with my parents last year, so they were having dinner at my cousins home. (My cousin, by the way, deep fries a turkey every year, and smokes one, and serves a traditional one. Basically, it's a meat fest).

I was worried. How was my Dad going to do? Would my cousins and his siblings peer pressure him? Would seeing all his favorite foods be too much to bare? And if he slipped, would it turn into a downward spiral?

(I wasn't worried about my mom. She never really cared for turkey).

They made it! Peer pressure and all, they kept to their plant-based diet and only ate the foods they brought.

"HH vegan pumpkin pie? Forget about it. All gone. Not even a sliver to take home for leftovers. Of course all the other pies remain." my mom told me.

Yeah! Healthy pie for the win!

My Father then had his confession and it was nothing like I expected: He said while he was in the kitchen helping my cousins clean up, he had to excuse himself. It wasn't the temptation -- he was grossed out watching my cousins remove the last of the meat from the turkey carcass.

Two years before this was his job and it had been for decades. Cleaning the turkey was something he always looked forward to because he could eat more turkey as he was working. Now, the mere sight of turkey grossed him out!

My mom laughed, "Geez. you really ARE vegan."

All that worrying for nothing. My parents even admitted they were worried -- but overall, they were surprised how much they didn't want things. My Mom said the turkey gravy, glistening with fat, totally turned her off, and previously it was the one item she really liked at dinner.

Thankfully, both my parents found it all too easy to pass up turkey and trimmings. Perhaps a little juvenile, but all the "C'mon just have a taste! it's Thanksgiving!" peer pressure only powered them to abstain harder -- I'll show them how strong I am!

They were polite about it, but they came out feeling like victors -- AND they kept their healthy promise to themselves.

"I don't get it. Everyone kept saying things like "but you're missing out" and "but it's Thanksgiving" so finally I said what you always told me to say and remember... "I'm not here for the food." I'm here for the family. For the memories. I'm here to celebrate what I'm thankful for. I think being plant-based made me see this holiday, all these holidays different. It's better now, in more ways than one."

I found I had the same eye-opener (and I do every time I'm at an event like a wedding. I'm not there for the food. I'm there to watch one of my closest friends marry the love of their life).

DO make it about love, and thanks, and family, and memories.

DON'T give food a power play. It's not about the food.

DO have your own healthy feast.

DON'T focus on all the foods you're CHOOSING to pass up. (Remember that powerful way of thinking).

happy happy Thanksgiving!

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