Kermit said it best. It’s not easy being green. I guess I’ve been “different” than my family and friends for such a long time; I’m used to not fitting in when it comes to food. I’ve had allergies since before I had teeth, so not always being able to eat what my friends were eating became pretty standard right from the get go.
As I look back at being vegetarian since high school, gluten free for the past 13 years and now vegan for the past three, I realize I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms to survive social situations. Food is such a big part of our social life and is often the centerpiece of gatherings. I have to admit that holidays are still some of the hardest times to be different than your family and friends. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a social network that eats mostly like you do, prepare for some awkward and uncomfortable social situations.
It’s not about the food – or is it?
I think the most important coping mechanism I use is to disassociate food from the function. Ask yourself why you’re attending the social gathering. Are you going because you care about the people? Maybe you feel obligated? Your boss said you had to go? Whatever the reason, keep in mind you have choices. Do you really have to go? If you don’t want to be there and don’t have to be there, than say “no”. If you just need to make an appearance, disappear before dinner or arrive after dessert to say your hellos and goodbyes. Just make sure the host or hostess knows you have other obligations and will stop by, but will miss the meal. If you do need to or want to go for the entire event, remember the reason you’re there and look for all the positives you can. Focus on the social interaction, the networking, the conversation – anything but the food.
Don’t be shy – get something to eat.
If you’re going to a restaurant or hotel, let the organizer know you need a special meal and then call the establishment to make sure they understand your needs a day or so before the event. Eating establishments should be able to accommodate. If you’re going to someone’s home, offer to bring a few dishes to share that will fill you up. I don’t expect people to cook something special for me but I am happy to bring something special to share and I know I’ll have something to put on my plate. I can’t tell you how many family dinners I’ve gone to where all I can eat is what I bring. I’ve even gone to a few vegan potlucks where my dish is the only one that’s gluten-free. To cope, sometimes you have to be OK with that.
It’s Your Right to Eat the Way You Do
You don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself for your dietary and lifestyle choices. You’re an adult and they’re your choices. Don’t put up with being bullied or harassed. If people are offended by what you’re eating, (or not eating) it’s their problem not yours. I’ve had people ask me about my diet during dinner when it becomes obvious I’m not eating what they’re eating. I try to keep the conversation lightly informative. If they are genuinely interested in why I’m vegan or gluten-free, I give my animals, planet, health trifecta; talk about how much I love being vegan; and suggest some great resources, books or movies they can explore. I avoid the gory details of slaughter houses or intestinal discomfort while people are eating. If someone is rude or nasty about what I’m eating (and sometimes this happens) I do my best to ignore them, stay positive, stick up for my choices and change the subject or excuse myself if their negativity continues.
You’re Not Alone
Sometimes it can get downright depressing to find your holidays filled with food centered events where you can’t or don’t want to eat. If you’re vegan, it’s hard not to think of all the animal suffering that seems to be amplified and glorified during the holidays. Scream into your pillow and sucker punch the air. Cry. Call a sympathetic friend. Better yet, donate to or volunteer for an animal rights, sanctuary or vegan charity. And most importantly find a friend or group where you can enjoy the food together. I’ve been saved by MeetUp.com and the many vegan dining and social groups where I live. Hubby and I attend potlucks, dinners and other fun events to make sure we can break gluten-free, vegan bread with others. And we have each other to lean on. For years, as a vegetarian, I was on my own and hubby really didn’t understand my issues with family dinners. Having a vegan spouse now is wonderful. Having vegan friends is too. Find your peeps. They’re out there. And if you live in a remote part of the earth where there are no peeps living nearby, find them digitally. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, even LinkedIn have vegan groups where you can chat and participate in dialog. It really helps to know you’re not alone.
Take time to go out and smell the fresh air. Bake some vegan cookies or your favorite vegan dish and take in the aroma. Dance to your favorite song. Draw a picture. Play a game. Do yoga. Do what you love. Be kind to yourself and make time for yourself. Make your choices wisely. Pay attention and question all the “shoulds” you think you need to do during the season. Find the happy in holiday. It’s out there if you look!