The following scenario offers a way to bridge the gap between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. And if you or a family member follow a particular diet for health reasons or because of allergies, you can replace the word “vegetarian” with the specific term for your diet while still using similar reasoning.
You are part of a social group in which most members know each other fairly well. One evening, someone makes a friendly, light-hearted comment about your food choices. A new member suddenly becomes aware of your vegetarian diet and blurts out “You’re a vegetarian? I can’t believe it. I hope you’re not an animal rights activist too. All they are good for is putting the farmers out of work.” The group falls silent. What should you say?
In these situations, it can be tempting to ignore the person, leave the group or respond with an equally tactless remark. When we feel criticized, we easily become defensive. Yet some responses will further convince the person that you are some sort of unpleasant extremist. This person has had certain life experiences that led to their current perspective. They may be trying to compensate for guilt around the issue. Most people are aware of the suffering of animals in factory farming systems and at the slaughterhouse, even for “free range” animals. You might offer a quick response, but it can be hard to come up with one that is free of sarcasm.
A good option is to respond with confidence, conviction and respect. You might say, “In answer to your questions, yes I am a vegetarian and I do believe in animal rights. My choice of a vegetarian diet began as a response to the heart disease in my family and my own symptoms. I believe that my diet saved my life. As I learned more, I discovered that vegetarian diets help preserve the environment and reduce animal suffering. I see my dietary choice as being similar to your…” (Here, you could mention their volunteer work with children or whatever they do that is compassionate). “I eat this way because it is something I can do to make this world a kinder, gentler place.” With these kinds of responses, you build a bridge instead of a barricade. As another bridge builder next time your group meets, you could bring a sweet treat like the Nutty Date Cookies featured here.
Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Raising Vegetarian Children, the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visitwww.nutrispeak.com
Nutty Date Cookies
These cookies (from Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis) are a delicious holiday treat without added sugar, butter or eggs. The sweetener is dates. Ground flaxseed acts as a binder. Use fresh walnuts as they have no bitter aftertaste.
2 cups pitted dates, packed 1/2 cup water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sunflower or safflower oil
1/4 cup soymilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt 1 cup walnut halves (3.5 oz/100 g)
Preheat the oven to 325F. In a small saucepan with a lid, bring the dates and water to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until dates are soft. Remove from heat and mash. (A potato masher works well for this). In a large bowl, combine oil, vanilla, soymilk, lemon juice, ground flax and mashed dates. In a bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, mix the flour, baking powder, soda and salt well. Pour these dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir to mix (do not over-stir). Fold in the walnuts. Drop by tablespoonful onto an oiled cookie sheet.
Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack or on the pan. Store in an airtight container. Makes 24 cookies.
Per cookie: calories: 129; protein: 1.8 g; fat: 8 g; carbohydrate: 16 g; dietary fiber: 2 g; vitamin E: 1.2 mg; omega-3 fatty acids: 0.8 g.
Low Fat Nutty Date Cookies
(4 g fat per cookie). Add 1 large grated apple or 1/2 cup applesauce, decrease oil to 1/4 cup and decrease walnuts to 1/2 cup. Add apple to the date mixture before adding flour.
walnut photo © Konstantin Sutyagin | Dreamstime.com