Keeping the Focus on Friends and Family
Over the summer, I had the privilege of hearing the amazing Doug Lisle speak at the Engine 2 “Plant-stock” Retreat in upstate New York. His talk, “Getting Along Without Going Along,” covered the topic of navigating social situations. Towards the end of his talk, he shared a personal story about his brother-in-law, “Big D,” who always ridiculed him for his diet and lifestyle. It was something that often caused tension at family gatherings, but Doug never fought back or pressed the issue. Doug is an advocate of downplaying things in order to keep the peace. He advises us not to defend our case or fight back in any way, but rather to shrug things off and in many cases just let others feel that they are right. Odd as it may seem, people can get very upset about what we choose to eat. But in the end, debating the issue is often not worth it. And personally, I feel that this is especially true when it comes to family and friends. Anyways, eventually, after many years, Big D ended up going to see the doctors that Doug works with and making the change to a plant-based diet. But it is important to note that this didn’t come from any pestering or pressure from Doug. Doug laid low and let Big D come around to it on his own.
Doug’s non-confrontational approach to social situations is something to keep in mind as Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach. During the holidays, we often find ourselves at a lot of social gatherings and spending a lot of time with our extended families. While these events are filled with fun and festivities, they can sometimes bring uncomfortable encounters where food is involved. However, such conflicts can for the most part be avoided. Although a lot of holiday traditions involve food, what is most important are the friends and family with whom you celebrate, not what you choose to eat. Do your best to focus on the people you love and the true meaning of the holiday season. Try not to let food get in the way of this, and hopefully your friends and family will follow suit.
I remember my first Thanksgiving eating a plant-based diet. I was so nervous about how things at the dinner table would go and how people would react. And to be honest, although many people were accepting, some weren’t. But as hard as that can sometimes be, I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be such a big deal if we don’t allow it to be. The important thing is to preserve the relationships and not let dietary preferences—or any other small nuances, for that matter—get in the way of things. These days, I don’t worry much about social situations like that anymore. Looking forward to Thanksgiving this year, of course I am excited to cook up delicious holiday dishes, but I am even more so looking forward to being home with my family, and seeing my cousins and extended family that I don’t get to see much, and that is what really matters. Food will be present, but it doesn’t need to be the center of attention.
Going back to something I mentioned above, some people have been more receptive to my dietary/lifestyle choices than others. In most cases, Doug’s advice is right on target—it’s best to lay low and not make a big deal of things. Just focus on all of the other aspects of your relationship and don’t let food get in the way. Sometimes it can be hard not to take things personally or let it upset you, especially if being plant-strong is something that you feel has become a fundamental part of your identity (and I can totally relate to this). But concentrate on embracing the good in what you do share with that person. Even if you disagree on this one aspect, there are many other things to fall back on and there is no need for a relationship to fall out or suffer. I have a number of close friends or family members who do not partake in this lifestyle or have any desire to, but this is just a small detail and we are still as close as ever. Furthermore, eventually, with time, many people will come to at least accept your dietary choices, and often respect them as well. People are learning that this is part of who I am, and it is becoming more and more normalized as time goes on. Some of my friends and family have even ended up reaching out to me for advice or out of curiosity, wanting to learn more about it. When this happens, it feels really good and makes me happy, but it’s not something that I’m holding out for. Much like in Doug’s story, I feel that it is best not to push people or wait around for them to change their opinions. They will come around to things when they are ready, and it is much better if they come around on their own time and their own terms. But even if they never do, this does not mean that any relationships will be ruined.
What we choose to eat can be a topic as heated as politics or religion. But just as democrats are friends with republicans and Christians are friends with atheists, so too can the plant-strong population maintain their relationships with omnivores. As the holiday season approaches, remember that there is much more to the celebration than food. Keep the focus on friends and family, and enjoy sharing the holidays with the people you love.
Giving thanks for all of the amazing people in my life <3