Dietary Dilemmas and Diplomacy

Will you share holiday meals with family and friends who range from turkey-loving carnivores through to vegetarians, vegans, or raw foods entusiasts? With such diverse tastes to satisfy, creating a festive menu presents a challenge. Here\’s a typical scenario, plus a few possible solutions.

Each year, a different member of your family takes a turn in hosting the big holiday meal. This will be your first year as a vegetarian host. Your brother has informed you that he expects the traditional turkey dinner. Your sister is trying to cut her family\’s intake of saturated fat and cholesterol; furthermore, she hopes to avoid her past pattern of gaining a few pounds during the holidays. You don\’t want to cook a turkey. Yet you want to have a pleasant and fun-filled celebration. You decide to:

a) Give in and cook a turkey.

b) Tell your guests that you aren\’t comfortable cooking a turkey, but you are happy to prepare other foods and have one of them bring turkey.

c) Refuse to have turkey in your house. Tell them that they can cook what they like when it\’s their turn, and you\’ll do what you want when it\’s your turn.

d) This year, enjoy a celebration that is not solely centered on food.

e) Escape to Mexico or Hawaii.

Note that there is no “right” answer to this dilemma. Different solutions suit different people, or work for the same person at one or another time in life. With each choice, what are possible outcomes?

a) Make a turkey:

It\’s important to respect others’ traditions and beliefs. Yet your values are no less important. Diplomacy is the fine art of honoring your own ethical principles and social consciousness without judging, condemning or otherwise injuring another person. It is highly dependent on effective communication and could involve some soul searching. This may be a year when you discuss what really matters to those involved, listen well, and become much closer to those you love, regardless of the meal.

b) Have someone else bring a turkey:

This solution works for many people. You don\’t have to cook a turkey, yet your brother gets his traditional favorite. You can prepare a big stuffed squash and gravy (see recipe in last month’s Common Ground), a nut loaf, or an “unturkey” (from Capers or Choices). Add cranberry sauce, a gorgeous salad, side dishes of veggies, and desserts. The vegetarian dishes often become the more popular items in the feast. After sharing a banquet table that includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian food for a few years, the attitudes of many family members toward vegetarian foods change, and new solutions become possible.

c) No turkey in your house:

Sometimes it isn\’t what you say that creates a problem; it\’s how you say it. For one person, gathering around a turkey is linked to happy traditions and memories; for another it is an outdated ritual derived from barbaric sacrifices and cruel farming practices. The words you choose to share your perspectives can convey a message of judgment and create tension and distance. Alternatively, you may be able to communicate while building a bridge at the same time. People tend to be open to hearing your reasons for being vegetarian (compassion for animals, concern for the environment, or health) when they also sense your compassion for them. Keep your caring at the forefront, take the time to talk, and recall how long your dietary changes took to evolve.

d) Celebrate in a different, healthier way.

This is another solution for those who do choose not to host a turkey dinner. There are many ways to enjoy family and friends apart from stuffing yourselves to the point of discomfort (which is a typical holiday scenario for many people). You can offer a games night at your home and serve delicious appetizers and baking. You could begin new, healthy tradition such as a day of skiing, a skating party, or a winter walk through your favorite park. Precede the event by brunch or follow it by an evening of hearty snacks and desserts.

e) Escape to sunnier climates.

Flying off to relax on the beach can solve the immediate problem–and while you’re enjoying the sun, you can ponder your options for future family gatherings.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian, internationally known speaker and consultant, based near Fort Langley. She is author of seven books including the new “Food Allergy Survival Guide”. In “Becoming Vegetarian” and “Becoming Vegan” (co-authored with Brenda Davis), the chapters on dietary diplomacy are among favorites with readers. For consultations, call Fort Integrated Health Clinic at 604-888-8325 or her home office at 604-882-6782. Vesanto’s website is www.camd58.sg-host.com.


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