Family Food Fight

I’m generally a ‘glass 3/4 full’ guy.  Why debate half empty, half full when I can just remind myself the glass has more in it than I actually think does?  The reality is that if I look close enough, my glass is usually way more than half full and any whining I do to the contrary is just me forgetting the wonderful, full life that I have.

When I plunged in to the cool, vegan waters last October, I did so with the loving support of friends and my very understanding family.  I claim that my transition was rough because of the cravings and old habits that I had to fight through.  It was me against my food history- and I won my battle and was then able to bask in the warm cheers of family and friends, unaware of how lucky I was or how easy I had it.

Then a comment from last week’s Gateway Compassion post made me take a closer look at my glass of water and once again find that it is well over the half-way mark and on the verge of spilling over the top.  Erin is a brave veganaut who is encountering problems at home while she tries to lead a compassionate, animal-free life.  Her comment reminded me of what a lucky jerk I am.  It also contained a question that stumped me for hours.  Honestly, I still may not have  a very good answer, but that wont stop me from sharing it.  Here is Erin’s comment:

“I have been oscillating between omnivore and vegan for a long time. I make all kinds of excuses for eating some sour cream or cheese or a chunk of meat here and there. Usually, my excuse is the fact that none of my family is vegan, and so I just have to eat whatever delicious food they cook. I feel too sheepish to ask for no animal products, or I’d rather avoid a debate about it.

My question is how do you convince your family to accept your choice to be vegan? Some of the feedback I get from them is that I’m being “elitist” or that I “don’t know the facts.” I am kinda sick and tired of debating all the time, and I’d rather just peacefully eat my vegan food without being questioned about it all the time.

On that note, thank you for your post about changing your name to a Veganaut. I really liked it, and it really helps to take the pressure off when you slip up and eat some animal product (as I often do).”

I never considered that the veganaut umbrella could be used by people who are almost forced to eat non-vegan grub.  I never thought that people yearned to be vegan but faced such overwhelming opposition in their omnivore homes that it was inaccurate to call themselves perfect vegans.  Having now met Erin, I am amazed by her bravery, humbled by the challenges that she, and others like her face, and proud that she finds solace among the veganaut community.

To the Erins of the world, I applaud you loudly and often since you are not getting it at home.  I am joined by millions of others who cheer for you and your desire to live a compassionate lifestyle- because we know that every time you avoid eating meat or dairy or eggs or wearing leather- you are voting against the butchering industries that profit from their once living inventory.

Applause comes easy though.  This question, however, is a tough one with hundreds of solutions that all come with a price of one kind or another.  The answer I’ve come up with isn’t so much of an answer as it is an accounting homework problem that will need to be solved by the individual veganauts facing the challenges.

For this homework problem, lets pretend that as healthy vegans we get 90 years on Earth, and that as an unhealthy SAD omnivores we get 60.  Lets ignore bus crashes and other freak accidents and lets also set aside the quality of life offered by both options.  Just by focusing on the numbers you are gaining 30 years of life living plant-strong.  Next, factor in ethical beliefs which are more difficult to quantify.  Add a clean conscience to your long life span or attach some shame and half truths to your shortened existence on the planet.

Now comes the most difficult part of the homework problem.  Divide all of your previous calculations by the family you surround yourself with.  What do you get?

It is easy to ignore co-workers and neighbors when they tell you how to live your life.  They are not your family.  It is possible to ignore old and new friends who disagree with your choices.  Friends show you who they really are over the years and we all make adjustments in who we consider to be our friends as we age.  But family…

Family is also a choice, but it is a much more complex and serious choice.  Some veganauts may be defending themselves against nuclear families that they have been nurturing for decades.  Harsh comments like “elitist” must hurt hundreds of times more when coming from people who you have cleaned up after and nurtured back to health.  How you decide to proceed depends entirely on the family situation you are in and the future you want to have for yourself.

Some people may spend a week calculating this homework problem and realize that their fiance of six months might not be the sweet girl they though they knew so well if a dietary change causes friction in the new family.  Others may take mere hours to realize that 30 years of marriage and a gaggle of grand-kids may require a different approach when considering an herbivore lifestyle.  In any case, veganauts need to add the pros of healthy, compassionate living along with the cons of living an unhealthy lie… and the answer is not always veganism.

The honey agave nectar coated answer is to lead by example, show the benefits without being preachy, and wait for common sense to come to your loved ones.  This type of a sitcom solution is cute but unrealistic.  Some families are going to be almost disgusted with your choice to live without harming others.  They will be so brainwashed by mainstream media and the USDA propaganda machine that they wont believe what you believe no matter how many times you make them watch Forks Over Knives.  It is in situations like this where being a veganaut is so useful.

The Erin’s of the world need to make some calculations and then embrace a solution if they want to find any peace.  Is ditching your family over lifestyle choices the answer?  In some unfortunate cases, yes.  Is hiding your compassionate belief system in favor of the family you love the answer?  In some unfortunate cases, yes.  Is there a middle ground available when balancing your family roots with your heart and soul?  Of course there is- it just requires varying levels of sacrifice to make it jibe with who you are and who you want to be.

The most important part of the equation is to accept the answer you come up with.  If you decide that Sunday night fried chicken night with the family is more important than constant feuding, then embrace than decision.  Guilt, remorse and shame are worse than smoking.  Free yourself from these poisons after you have calculated this homework problem and always give yourself the right to be content with your decisions, knowing they came from heartfelt reflection.

There’s always the hope that the ‘sitcom solution’ will work for you- your energy and health and vitality will be all that your loved ones need to see to be convinced of your wise decision.  However, there are hundreds of different family situations, wrought with variance, and no single solution- but there is also a place of proud acceptance and unyielding support when you need it.  The Veganauts will always have your back.


About jasongillett

I'm Jason Gillett, 2 year VEGAN, and a 41 year old family man. My wife & I teach in a FL school. I am using a blog to chronicle our family's new life. View all posts by jasongillett

22 responses to “Family Food Fight

  • Karen

    Well said Jason. I rarely comment, but I love your posts. For me right now I’ve 99.99% of the time not eaten animals that have hoofs, horns or feathers for almost 7 years. Occasionally eggs, fish and seafood, but less and less. Cheese less than once a month now and no other milk products. Almost totally gluten free and sugar free as well. Arthritis of 20 years? Gone. High blood pressure? Gone . Extreme hay-fever? Gone! OH, and I have only been sick once in that 7 years. I got food poisoning from eating scallops out at a restaurant! Enuf said.

    Love what you do. Rock on!

    • jasongillett

      I love your health stats! I am amazed at how quickly sick can turn into saved. You are a new person because of your veganaut ways! The scallop irony was so thick, my sister and I spoke over the phone about it. Thanks for sharing and reading 😀 YOU rock!

  • Jennifer

    Oh, poor Erin! I count myself lucky that my family veganaut issues stem from ignorance and not flat out hostility. It’s true, sometimes as much as you want to sit and eat in peace, you need to make concessions or face some sort of food conversation. There are as many ways of dealing with family food issues as there are people. May we all remember why we are veganauts, support each other and share any helpful tips we pick up along our journeys!

    • jasongillett

      Perfect! Well said and awesome all at the same time! It is good to thank our lucky stars sometimes. We shouldn’t forget how good we have it. Once surrounded by supportive helpful people it is hard to imagine dealing with the rest of the world. Thanks for being there for Erin, me and the veganaut crew : )

  • Melanie

    I appreciate this post, Jason. I too had read Erin’s comment and it echoed a bit of what I feel. Part of my reason for renaming myself a “mostly vegan” is because there are those times when family issues just make it uncomfortable. In October my son and DIL are visiting from Tennessee. We are going to have an early “Thanksgiving” dinner her at my house for them and her family. Already, her grandmother has bought a “turkey, ham and goose” for the festivities and my DIL is a fantastic, gourmet cook who uses everything butter, cream, etc etc. I’ve been almost dreading the day until I finally made peace with the fact that I can make a couple of vegan dishes, a salad and maybe have a small piece of turkey. That is my 2% wiggle room I talked about in my post from yesterday. That still leaves me 98% of compassionate, healthy eating. On the whole, my immediate family (meaning kids) are supportive of my decision. My mother is too but she has mild dementia so she doesn’t count. (smile). May I also adopt “Veganaut” as my identity? Then I would feel like I belong somewhere.

    • Jenn

      I vote that you can be a Veganaut and bring a friend. My brother has always been great at accepting folks and I am sure you are no exception. I would tell your DIL about your new title of Veganaut, as a gourmet cook she might have fun making several of the traditional Thanksgiving sides vegan. (He accepts me and I *gasp* have five pet chickens who make me eggs and eat my kitchen scraps.)

    • jasongillett

      PLEASE add veganaut to your personal identity! This label is like a warm blanket to wrap yourself in if you ever feel like you need to explain your 2% non-veganism. Because, hey!! 98% is HUGE! You deserve to feel good (I mean GREAT) about your accomplishments and NEVER feel like it isn’t enough. Compassion for yourself is equally important. I am so glad you are finding your footing in the “new world.” You are an inspiration, even if you are feeling like you aren’t from time to time. Plant Power!!

  • erin

    Jason, Thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my question. I’ve read it twice now, and I continue to ponder my personal equation. I still have not gotten an answer yet, but I think exploring this equation is an important step to transitioning into a better version of myself, who will be Vegan more than not, and who will set a quiet example for my family. Speaking up hasn’t worked to this point, so I imagine setting a quiet example will just have to do for now.

    • jasongillett

      Hi Erin-
      You are 100% right. The process of exploring the equation is an ongoing process as the variables change and situations settle down. I love hearing that you are willing to stick with it and slowly effect change in your family. The great thing about setting a quiet example is that people see the benefits and improvements for themselves and then approach you about the change. People who approach you want to hear what you are saying, as opposed to all the people who do not care what we have to say who can be dismissive, rude, and condescending (their favorite defense mechanisms). I have also reread this piece several times since it was posted and I know it is a tricky topic because I alternately agree with myself and disagree with myself from reading to reading. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. It is a very eye opening story and one that I continue to think about. Peace. -Jason

  • Melanie

    Thanks, Jenn (and Jason). Veganaut it is!! It’s good to have a name and friends!

  • Debbic C

    I’m lucky that virtually everybody I know is pretty accepting of my food choices, but I have been impressed by the suggestions of Doug Lisle, coauthor of The Pleasure Trap, which I highly recommend. In it, he suggests using a “seem” statement when folks are negative about your choices, as in “It may not be for everbody, but it seems to be working for me.” It’s a nonthreatening response and can help diffuse the situation. When they try to press food on you that you don’t want just tell them “Thanks so much, but I’m trying really, really hard to keep to my eating plan. It all looks delicious, though!”

    The Pleasure Trap explores why we overeat or why we fail to follow through with a healthy eating style even when we know, when we are *convinced* it is the right way to go. It also explores why family and friends can be so upset when we begin to change. Again, I highly recommend the book.

    I’ve heard Dr. John McDougall ( speak and he says to tell people that your doctor told you to eat that way. If your own personal physician won’t actually tell you that, there are plenty of doctors who would and you can just say “Dr. McDougall (or Fuhrman, or Esselstyn, or Caldwell, etc) says to eat this way to help improve my health.” So what if you’ve never actually met them!

    • jasongillett

      Debbie- The seem statements are a great way to broach sticky situations with sticky people. I am checking Amazon out for a Kindle version of Pleasure Trap ** ** and I can’t wait to dig into such a relevant book.

      On top of that, I have been using the “My Doctor Told Me To” line for a long time. Supremely good point to share! It is so much easier to claim that doctors orders are ‘forcing’ you to live this way. Obviously, it is only for situations where defending your choices need white lies because reason and rational discussion aren’t an option. Great example! Thanks : )

      • Debbie

        I am especially lucky because I attended Dr McDougall’s residential program a few years ago and he actually did tell us to consider him as our doctor (and examined us and adjusted our medications and gave us real medical advice in addition to dietary advice) for the rest of our lives. So it’s not even a white lie when I say it. Though I would say it even if it weren’t literally true and I have since gotten my day-to-day doctors to at least support it — at least nobody opposes it– so I could easily say “my doctor’s on board with it” with a clear conscience.

  • thecrueltyfreereview

    Thoughtful reply Jason. I stopped to think about my own family situation when I went veg. Last Thanksgiving was the first as a vegetarian and I told my aunt (who pretty much raised me) almost a month prior to the big Turkey Day. Fast forward a month and as I am loading my plate up mostly with the quinoa salad I made, my aunt was pointing out the peices of dark meat turkey she had set aside for me (I would only eat dark meat prior to my veg-conversion). I said I couldn’t eat it. I still remember the moment when just about all of my family sort of stopped and looked oddly at me. “But you can still eat turkey,” my aunt said. That’s when I realized that their idea of a vegetarian was someone who didn’t eat animals with 4 legs, but the 2-legged, feathered variety were just fine. So I kind of laughed and said “No, vegatarians don’t eat any meat.” “Oh. Okay.” was her reply. A month ago when I was visiting her I had to explain what eating vegan meant, and that yes, I was getting enough protein 🙂 She was very receptive to the idea of making plant-based substitutions and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw all the Silk milk in her fridge! She said she had been drinking it for quite a while but had no idea that it was vegan.
    I learned that it is important to not assume everyone will know what you mean by vegetarian or vegan and that might be where some of the ‘elitist’ thinking comes from. Soometimes just a little education can go a long way towards understanding. I know that won’t work in every family, but you never know. Good luck Erin!

    • jasongillett

      I love that! We have a similar friend who only recently came to believe that we were serious about chicken not being meat- and now all but refuses to call fish meat. I’m glad your aunt is receptive to facts and listens to explanations. And the Silk is an unexpected bonus! Education is completely and totally key. There are always points during my week when a real-life conversation or question gives me an opportunity to correct a misconception or add relevant information. They pop up through the week naturally and I enjoy taking advantage of them. Thanks for sharing this story- I love transition stories!! Cheers~

  • Ellen

    Hi Jason, I’ve been reading your entertaining blog for a while, but have yet to post until today. Lurker no more, this particular subject caught my attention.

    After I watched Forks Over Knives, I knew I wanted to make the change to a plant-based diet immediately, but I’m not the primary food preparer in my home. My partner has always done the bulk of the cooking because he was better at it and he gets home from work earlier than I do. I knew that I couldn’t ask him to make that huge of a shift in meal choices on my whim.

    I decided to dedicate myself to learning how to cook this new way, and learning how to fit food preparation and shopping into my schedule. Now I often spend my evenings making tomorrow’s meals instead of sitting and watching TV, and I occasionally pick up a few groceries during my lunch hour. Four months in, eating all the new recipes that I’ve been making, my guy is becoming a changed man. We’ve both lost scores of pounds and have more energy and a calmer demeanor. His BP dropped from scary to perfect. When we go out to eat, he orders meat, but when I cook, it’s all plants, fruits, nuts and beans. My solution was to just do it myself and let the kale chips fall where they may, they’re falling exactly where I’d hoped. May all your readers be so lucky.

    • jasongillett

      Lurker no more!! Love it : ) We share a similar beginning~ during my first 2-3 weeks I bought and prepared all my own foods. It was exciting and became a ritual, as you describe. I understood why people took pictures of their food- PRIDE! I was so proud of my food and how it tasted and what it represented. It was this enthusiasm that we shared that helped our households better accept and even join in the change (at various levels). So glad to meet you! Plant Power~~: )

  • erin

    Hi Jason,

    I just wanted to report some positive trends in my family-vegan balance! My hubbie has fully embraced that our daughter will be a vegetarian and is actually bragging about it to strangers! At the farmer’s market he was telling all the vendors that baby girl is vegetarian and we got a positive response from the hummus vendor who said, “Thank you for making a conscious positive decision for your daughter.” Instead of the usual response I get when I tell people she’ll be raised vegetarian, “Why are you forcing your daughter not to eat meat?” Hubbie gave me kudos for getting the vegetarian patty at the burger joint yesterday too. Feeling more support from the home front these days, and from strangers too!

    • jasongillett

      This is a real ‘lump-in-the-throat’ report for me. Your husband is awesome. It is not easy to support people when you don’t fully believe their choice is correct, but he seems to have taken it a step further. Kudos to you and he for being so open minded. This is the first of his many steps to complete acceptance which will make living your way easier and easier. Thank you so much for reporting back to us and sharing the heart-warming news! *happy*

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