If you have been out and about in the last couple of weeks, you probably noticed that the big shopping hubs are already playing Christmas music. By the first week of November, everybody knows that, along with some turkey and some mistletoe, Christmas carols are the alarm clock, waking us up to the social demands, hopes, and expectations of the coming Holiday season.
While for some, the holiday season mix and mingle runs like a month-long party, for others, it can be a 30+ day reminder of loneliness and isolation.
I will guess that for most of us, this time of year is an odd combination of both. There are celebrations we want to attend, but with people we don’t care to see. There are people we want to see, but they are in places we don’t want to go. There are places we want to go, and people we want to be with, but we don’t get invited. And of course, there are times we think we have to go out when we would rather stay quietly at home.
These common holiday dilemmas take on a whole new flavor for people who do not eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). Let me explain. I belong to several online Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) communities. I also speak face-to-face with a lot of people about food and nutrition. At this time of year, one question that comes up almost daily is, “What should I do about going to dinner with my family/friends over the holidays?” Typical follow-up statements are:
- “They are all avid hunters/heavy meat-eaters/ ranchers/dairy farmers, and they don’t accept/respect my food choices.”
- “They are all in healthcare and like to argue with me about the nutritional risks of eating only plants.”
- “There is always so much processed food/sugar mixed into all the side dishes. I feel sick after eating like that.”
- “I am new to plant-based eating, and I want to stay on track.”
If this sounds familiar to you, trust me, there are a lot of us in that same gravy boat. For example, one woman, Sue, told me that when she and her children switched to a WFPB diet a couple of years ago, her parents tried to talk her out of it. Her mom called her crying, solely to voice her worries. They even sent Sue pamphlets about the importance of children eating the recommended daily amounts of protein and dairy.
Her parents kept on for months, but Sue felt it was ok because she knew her parents loved her and her children. Besides, her parents lived several states away, and she was always able to end the conversations on a positive note. Eventually, they stopped talking about it.
The subject seemed to be off the table until Thanksgiving Day when Sue and her family went to her parents’ house for a long holiday weekend visit.
Sue made sure to bring plant-based meal options for her family. She had enough to share with others, as well. When it was time to eat Thanksgiving dinner, Sue’s parents served the food. Speechless, Sue watched as her parents loaded the kids’ plates with turkey, butter-soaked mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole with ham chunks, and candied yams topped with marshmallows.
Sue was shocked that after so many conversations about diet, her parents would go against her wishes like that. Worse still, Sue had come from a long distance, the kids were looking forward to spending time with their grandparents, and they weren’t due to go back home for another three days! Obviously, this was a tough situation to handle.
Sue told me, “I felt so disrespected and hurt! I wanted to walk out right then, but that would have only made a scene. Somehow I managed to keep a cool head. I decided to hold my tongue. I gave my kids the WFPB sides we had prepared. I had a big talk with my parents in private, you know, later, after everyone else left. I am glad I kept it all in perspective. I am sure it would have exploded if I let it. I am grateful that it worked out ok in the long run.”
Now, this is an extreme case of SAD overreach. It can occur, usually to a lesser degree, any time WFPB folks get together with family, friends, or co-workers who are not sensitive to Whole Food Plant-Based eating.
Sue’s story leads me back to the thought of lonely people at holiday time. If you are a person who eats a WFPB diet, be prepared for those holiday invitations so that you can go and enjoy yourself. Here are some tips for being plant-based at a SAD gathering. Bonus: They will work for any gathering, for any reason, at any time of year.
- When they ask you to come, talk with your hosts about your diet. You may be surprised! They may have already planned to have food that you can eat.
- Be appreciative and unapologetic. If the hosts haven’t planned plant-based options, thank them for the invitation and let them know you will bring a dish to pass.
- Use the conversation as a light-hearted, teachable moment, if possible — emphasis on light-hearted.
- When you go to the gathering, remember to bring something special that you can eat and make sure you have enough to share.
- Keep your mood joyful, your sense of humor active, and above all, don’t get self-righteous about any of it.
- If you do find yourself getting angry, or indignant, or feeling like a victim, I invite you to take it as a sign that you are taking the situation way too seriously. That’s your cue to start being light-hearted and joyful again.
- Resist the urge to preach about the life-giving benefits of plant-based eating. Parties are not usually the time or the place for that anyway.
- Above all, keep in mind that unless you are starving, gatherings are usually more about enjoying people than enjoying food. You can act accordingly.
In other words, unless someone is stuffing animal products in your mouth, there is no need to get insulted about food. I mean it. If you are at a party, the goal is to have fun. Getting aggravated about what there is to eat defeats the purpose. Plan to go to the gathering to have a great time. Laugh, talk, and be with your family and friends. Eat what you brought for yourself, and share with those who are interested. Choose to make it your mission to bring more joy to the world wherever you are, whatever the circumstances, no matter what you find on the table.