A lot of us have been there, I know I have...you decline a traditional holiday meal staple, and somebody else feels upset. Sometimes they don't say anything, and sometimes they really, really do! Regardless of whether it comes in the form of looks, comments, questions, or judgement, you know that your choice is not always well received.
This happens all the time, but I still struggle to understand it. Why does somebody else feel so strongly about what I am eating? No matter what the reason...they just do. I have some very negative feelings about this, and also very little patience for it after years of experiencing it. It can be a major source of stress during the holidays, which really bums me out. My very last goal at a party is to feel nervous and uncomfortable about my personal choices. I am generally pretty lucky; most of my family is very, very cool with my eating habits. Part of that is that they are used to it by now; part of it is that they are super awesome, and part of it is that I have learned how to deal with it over the years. Quite honestly, I have a tougher time with work events than I do with family/friend gatherings anymore. Below are my best coping methods for staying true to your food choices & values at a family dinner or holiday party. Try them out if you are feeling nervous about how to approach the holidays this year!
1. Bring a Dish (or 2) of Your Own - This is the number one best thing you can do. It assures you will have something to eat, and something to share. Pick a favorite dish of yours, preferably one that is a crowd pleaser. I almost always bring a baked almond feta cheese w/seed crackers, and a dessert item...usually my Pumpkin NiceCream Squares recipe in the form of a pie (recipe is on our blog!) I do not make a point of telling people it's vegan. I just give it to the host/hostess or ask them where I should put it. Of course, if people taste it and ask about it, it's always fun to let them know they are enjoying a plant-based recipe!
2. "Thank you so much for thinking of me!" - I can't tell you the number of times I've used this phrase when someone offers me something that doesn't fit in with my dietary choices. It is nice of someone to make an effort and want to share their cooking. However, that doesn't mean I'm a jerk if I choose not to eat it. Saying, "sorry I can't eat that; I'm vegan" has not been the best response in the past. It just invites more conversation around the topic, and people tend to roll their eyes or act like I am being difficult. On top of that, I do want to be respectful and appreciative of someone who is hosting. So, when someone says they made a pie or something for me, I just say, "Oh my gosh, thank you so much for thinking of me!" The trick is to stop there. You don't need to specifically say that you're not going to eat the dish. It sucks to say that. I will generally follow that statement up by immediately noticing the next closest person and bringing them into the conversation on a completely different topic. I simply don't say that I'm not going to eat the particular item, or offer an explanation. I thank them for their offer, and then I just dish up my plate with what I want to eat, and move on with the conversation. Most often, people don't pry further. People either 1.) aren't looking for a conflict, or 2.) if they were, you didn't give it to them.
3. Be Up Front About It - This isn't always a good option. It depends on the person hosting. You'll just have to gauge it, based on how well you know them. A lot of hosts would be really happy if you gave them a heads up in advance. Let them know you're vegan ( or gluten free or paleo...etc), tell them you're happy to bring a couple dishes or send over a recipe. Basically, if you let them know what to expect, they won't be caught with their pants down. Some hosts would love to have the opportunity to be prepared for everyone at their gathering. And if it seems like they don't quite know what to cook for you, just let them know you don't expect special accommodations and you'll be happy to bring a couple things to share. This way nobody is surprised, and everyone has something to eat.
4. Do NOT Apologize for Yourself - This isn't so much a strategy or tip, as it is a confidence booster....and a request of mine. No matter how the evening or conversation goes, do not apologize for yourself. If you eat a certain way, that doesn't mean you owe someone an apology. Apologizing does not help; it just perpetuates the view that an alternative diet makes a person a nuisance. That isn't true. If we want to respect ourselves and help build a culture that is more accepting of alternative diets, socially obligatory apologies need to take a hike.
5. Do Not Engage - Talk About Something Else - If people are genuinely interested in your eating style, or nutrition, or morality-related topics, then great. But if people are more interested in highlighting a restriction or noting that you "have to suffer" or you "can't eat" something...those conversations go nowhere. They only bring attention (and potentially negativity) to the fact that you are different. I have found that this distinction is always very clear. You will know if someone is curious & interested, or if they are irritated by you and trying to make a big deal of it. If it's the latter, don't engage in the conversation. It will not be productive, and it will just draw attention to the topic. There are so many things to talk about when you gather with family and friends at the holidays. Even saying exactly that is fine. "Let's talk about something else. How are your darling kids doing in school?" Talk about your family, work, hobbies, Netflix binges...literally all the other things in life besides food. There is plenty of material there!
6. Find Something You Can Genuinely Compliment - Maybe the table setting is gorgeous. The wine or beverage might be really delicious. Oftentimes, there will be a side dish that just happens to be vegan or gluten-free (or whatever dietary values you follow). No matter what, you can always compliment the work and effort a host went through to put on a holiday dinner or party.
7. It's OK...You Can't Control Other People's Opinions - Most people mean no harm. But, there are certainly some people who will always be looking for a reason to be annoyed with your diet. And that's ok. Make sure you are comfortable with your own choices, intentions, and actions. Beyond that, f*ck 'em. Excuse the implied profanity...it just feels right here, ha.
I hope something here will help you navigate this holiday season feeling confident and positive. Remember, living your life in line with your own personal values is an amazing thing to do. Be strong and proud to be yourself.
Let us know your your best tips for surviving the holiday parties in the comments below. Or, if you have a holiday party horror story you want to get off your chest, vent away! And...Happy Healthy Holidays from CocoGlow!