I recently called a friend to ask how his Thanksgiving was. He is a pretty healthy guy who practices a vegan diet and recently has been leaning towards raw foods. He told me that his Thanksgiving was fine and proudly told me about the raw food dish he made. Of course I expected to hear details about the social part of his holiday as well, but it turns out he ate his Thanksgiving meal by himself while his family celebrated at his sibling's house.
This was sad and frustrating. My friend eating all by himself was only taking in secondary nutrition. Secondary nutrition is what you call the nutrition most people think of - food, beverages, and nutritional supplements. Primary nutrition is what gives our lives meaning. It's what feeds our soul. It is relationships and hugs from people we love. It is careers, spiritual practice, physical activity, and leisure time - fun, hobbies, entertainment, and rest. Getting together with people we love and nurturing relationships is a vital part of life and benefits us in many ways.
"They don't like my food, and they eat turkey and I don't like to be around that," is what he told me. I could relate to this because that was how things used to be in my house. I would get up on my high horse and preach to everyone that they should eat a certain way. I was frustrated that people didn't like the organic whole food vegan dishes I cooked because I knew they would make them healthy, and that what they were eating was killing them. Of course, there were family members who would comment kindly about the vegan dish brought to the table - but the reality is that they were thinking that it was nothing more than a poor protein vegetable side dish (a dish that does nothing to stimulate any consideration of giving up meat).
The solution to the problem is to lose the "rabbit food" and go with meat substitutes.
Meat substitutes, also known as meat analogs, are vegan food products that look, smell, feel and taste like meat in practically every way. This can be a shock to people. Someone who is used to eating a meat-centered diet, like most Americans, is ok trying meat substitutes, but is turned off by anything that strays from the norm (and appears healthy).
Meat substitutes don't threaten one's culture, identity and traditions, or alienate taste buds with something strange or foreign looking. What's more, they frequently have more protein than the meat they are trying to replicate. There are companies that produce meat substitutes - Garden, Yves, Light Life, Tofurky, and Field Roast to name a few. They make everything from Italian sausage to pepperoni and deli slices - all 100% vegan. They can be found in health food stores, Trader Joe's. And now, more and more traditional food stores are carrying these products. There is also Veggie Brothers which features chef made gourmet vegan dishes, delivered to your door anywhere in the USA and Canada that include meat substitutes like Vegan Chicken Pot Pie.
So how does this solution really work?
Meat substitutes are not extreme. They are not threatening. People try them, and that's a big hurdle. If you are a traditional household holding a festive holiday dinner, a macrobiotic dish or raw food dish is typically not in sync with everything else on the table. Meat substitutes on the other hand can rival the meat-based focal point of the meal. I've seen it many times, and many people have written to me telling me so:
Now, let the magic begin
When people try meat substitutes for the first time they are often amazed. It challenges their old way of thinking: vegans and vegetarians just eat salad.
I have found that when you couple meat substitutes with great information there is a very good chance that a person will make better dietary choices like consuming less meat, or eliminating it completely. Most people are aware that consuming less meat improves health, offers relief to animals, and helps the environment.
If you are on a super healthy diet and adding meat substitutes to your holiday dish is a step down from your nutritionally superior throne, just remember, it can be a step up for the people you love the most. No one says you cannot also bring your super healthy dish. In fact bringing both to the table provides people with a demonstration of where they can start, and where that may lead. I don't know about you, but if someone I love who's been getting F's on their report cards suddenly gets a D, I'm happy for that progress, and I am happy to support them reach an A+ level - at a pace they can handle. But if they never get beyond a D, it's better than an F.
It is my prayer that we recognize the good karma and the good dose of primary nutrition that comes from encouraging people in our lives to move towards a healthier diet. We just need to offer vegan alternatives to the foods they already know, love and enjoy. My friend who had Thanksgiving by himself missed a huge opportunity to help open closed minds and possibly heal a relationship that needed healing. Using meat substitutes, I recently enjoyed my 4th completely Vegetarian Thanksgiving with my slowly converting Italian American Family.
If you are a vegan or an extremely healthy vegetarian, consider bringing foods that are not so extreme to the people who really need to improve their diet the most. And please don't ignore the power that meat substitutes can offer. Let us make an effort the next holiday - whether it is Christmas or the Fourth of July - to use meat substitutes as fun, enjoyable, ways for family members to enjoy the same food, even if its not all the time.