Have a Stress Free Veg or Vegan Thanksgiving

Major Source of Vegetarian Stress: Thanksgiving Dinner with Non-Veg Family

Family Thanksgiving Dinner
I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is next week! It sneaks up on me like that every year! But it’s OK. Thanksgiving is not such a big deal – anymore.

Back in my turkey days, I used to stress over Thanksgiving dinner: Get the bird cooked just right, make everything to go with it, decorate and set the table beautifully (I’d even iron a tablecloth!), invite people over, pray they’d all come, everyone would behave and the big event would go off without a hitch.

Then there was clean up. And leftovers. Major stress!

An unexpected bonus to going completely vegetarian was liberation from Thanksgiving food expectations. Once the turkey was gone from the menu, all bets were off.

We could eat Indian, or Italian, or Mexican, or Thai. Or go with a Traditional Veg Thanksgiving menu, with lentil loaf and all the fixings – veggie gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, etc. Or skip the whole thing and order a pizza.

We started having vegetarian Thanksgiving potlucks, with all the guests bringing their favorite dishes. It worked great, especially if there was some direction, so that everybody didn’t bring dessert or chips. We had some very interesting Thanksgiving feasts!

It never occurred to us to replace the turkey with tofurkey or any other fake meat dish, because we didn’t feel the need, and besides, those options weren’t available back in the day.

These days, the faux turklet is a popular way for new veggies to fill the gaps in their thanksgiving menu, either because they haven’t figured out what to eat instead of turkey, or because they miss eating turkey and want to get as close as they can to the ‘real thing’.

Fact is, there’s almost no end to the delicious veg dishes that can successfully replace the turkey in a Thanksgiving dinner. I suspect that even non-veggies appreciate an alternative to the same-old same-old turkey.

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A major source of Thanksgiving stress for vegetarians and vegans is attending (or hosting) family TG dinners with non-veg family members. I’ve had some choice letters from both sides.

The big problem seems to be that the Thanksgiving turkey is a sacred tradition, and all the favorite dishes that go with it are sacred by association. In some families, the TG menu is set in stone, and enforced by older family members who’ve directed the event for years and years. Egos and emotions rule the day!

Then along comes the vegetarian or vegan, who all of a sudden out of the blue for no good reason doesn’t eat anything with a face, wants to overturn the established order, and generally cause a lot of trouble for the normal majority. At least, that’s how the non-veg family members tend to see it.

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Responses range from loving efforts to accommodate and include the vegetarian or vegan, as with this Grandma, to trying to ignore the veg into submission, as in this family thanksgiving scenario.

What should be a time of coming together to share a feast, give thanks for nature’s bounty, and enjoy the company of loved ones, becomes a stressful experience for both sides.

The vegetarians and vegans resent being expected to pick the bacon bits out of the salad, and endure rude remarks about rabbit food. The non-vegetarians resent being made to feel guilty about their food choices – intentional or not, the veg presence implies wrong doing.

No wonder that veggies often want to boycott family TG, and gather with their own kind to eat lentil loaf! But it doesn’t have to be like that, truly. It is possible to enjoy thanksgiving with your non-veg family and friends – you just have to be one part diplomat, one part assertive, one part devious, and one part easy going.

Read the free Savvy Veg report Veg Non-Veg Together for more on how we can all just get along.

Happy Thanksgiving from Savvy Vegetarian!

Wise and compassionate response to this article from Mary Beth Akers:

Thanks for the article regarding how to handle Thanksgiving as a vegetarian guest of non-vegetarian relatives. I don’t claim to have arrived at the answers to this delimma, and I am facing the same challenge this year, but as a recently converted vegan, I can recall a little bit of what it’s like to be on the other side.

I have a friend who has many dietary restrictions, including food allergies, religious convictions, and diabetes prevention. They come to visit us for a few days occasionally, and when I was in the habit of preparing conventional American food, it was as if I were learning to cook all over again every time they came.

I would make a special trip to the health food store (90 miles away) to try to find food that she could eat. I would spend a lot of money on ingredients that we wouldn’t use up. It was a source of tremendous anxiety for me.

Before they came, she would call me to remind me of her very long list of restricted foods. She wasn’t rude about it, but I sometimes resented her telling me what I could and could not prepare in my own kitchen. It never affected our relationship, but I could see where in some cases, it could.

I would make the following points and suggestions for people on both sides of the issue:

1) Relationships are more important than food choices.

2) Before you say or do anything, consider first what you want to accomplish, and what will be the consequences of your approach. Always consider the other person’s perspective.

3) Be honest and straightforward, and approach the subject well ahead of the holiday, not when everyone is already stressed out over the pressures from all the preparations. If the person lives nearby, go and visit with him or her in person, so that you can look each other in the eye. Do not expect someone to change their entire way of cooking for one meal.

4) Keep a smiling, cheerful countenance throughout the day. Be the life of the party. This will distract from the very insignificant fact that you aren’t eating some of the food.

5) Whenever you are in a position requiring or allowing you to discuss your diet, talk about it enthusiastically, as you would if you were telling them exciting news.

6) Be aware that when people are critical of the choices of others, sometimes it is because they are insecure about their own choices. Putting down someone else is a means of making themselves feel better, or so they think. If that’s the case, there is nothing you can do except realize that they are inadvertently revealing that they believe you might be doing the right thing. Sometimes replying with a question can be a good response: “You seem to be knowledgeable about diet; where do you get your information?” If you feel you need to defend yourself: “How do my food choices concern you?”

7) Have in mind a list of positive, neutral subjects you can bring up at the family gathering. Ask people about themselves, their children, their hobbies, their jobs, their upcoming vacation, etc. Be ready to change the subject if necessary. Be a good listener. There aren’t many of those around anymore, and it’s an easy way to win hearts.

A Blessed Thanksgiving to you and all your readers! Mary Beth Akers

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2 Responses to “Have a Stress Free Veg or Vegan Thanksgiving”

  1. jhailstone says:

    Yes, Thanksgiving can be a weird time when you are the only vegan there. I think it helps to think ahead of time why you are doing this and what you will say when this question is asked. For instance, you can say, “Well, I find that if I do the vegan diet, I don’t get sick and I have better digestion. I tend to have digestive issues when I eat the regular American diet.”

    Don’t talk about anything vegan unless asked. Focus on getting along with everyone and being happy, oblivious to any food preference differences.

    Have the attitude that everyone can eat however they want. Then, everyone can relax that you are not judging them, like you don’t want them to judge you.

    Sometimes you have to just eat certain seemingly vegetarian/vegan items that aren’t as healthy, because it’s the best they can do and why not have a celebration day once a year where you are not quite so strict on your diet.

  2. kirsten says:

    hey everyone! please share this quick video with your non-veg friends! going meatless just one day a week can help save countless lives and have a tremendous impact on the environment! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpziz8cJMaI

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