Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Holiday Heartache

question.gif - 1.4 K My best friend, who is health conscious and not completely vegetarian, invited my family to a traditional Thanksgiving celebration. I turned her down for the first time and she came back a few days later offering to have a vegetarian feast instead. When her old friends were told of the change in menu they reacted with extreme hostility and now the whole thing is off. I want so much to do something to help my friend deal with her friends' hostility and I feel lost. Any suggestions?

answer.gif - 1.3 K Holidays, particularly those that revolve around family and friends, are notoriously hard on relationships. Everyone comes with her or his own expectations of what the "real" celebration should look and feel like. Invariably, this leads to disappointment because reality rarely lives up to our fantasies.

Many people are indoctrinated with nostalgic sentiment and idealistic imaginings about the holidays. For instance, we often like to think that we'll finally get along with estranged family members, co-workers, or friends. When our hopes are dashed, frustration and anger can ensue.

It was thoughtful and considerate of your friend to offer to prepare a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. Your friendship must be very important to her, and she obviously respects your convictions, even though she doesn't share them. When the family or friends of a vegetarian are adamant about having a meat-centered celebration in spite of the vegetarian's protestations, they often are making several unspoken assertions:

  1. They are presuming that the meat eaters should not be made to feel uncomfortable and therefore they should not be forced to sacrifice their dietary indulgences.
  2. They believe that meat is central to the celebration and that it wouldn't be any fun without it.
  3. If they are willing to sacrifice the vegetarian's attendance because they want to maintain the "turkey tradition," they are in essence stating that the food or other guests take precedence over the vegetarian's company.
  4. They surmise that a vegetarian feast wouldn't be appealing, exciting, and/or satisfy their appetite.

Many vegans and vegetarians are deeply upset by the sight of a dead animal at the hub of a supposed festive occasion. For activists who work all year long to educate others about the horrors of the slaughter industries, this can be especially distressing. In a world where cadavers are prayed over and buried, not displayed, a vegetarian is more likely to grieve than rejoice.

Oftentimes meat eaters believe that vegetarians should be satisfied as long as they have something to eat. They are unaware that, for most vegetarians, watching others gnaw on body parts causes anguish and revulsion. On the other hand, a vegetarian feast offends no one. Everyone can partake because there is nothing immoral about not serving products of death. In addition, when the guests all share the same food, instead of the vegetarian being served something different, it adds to a sense of conviviality and camaraderie.

If the group had a history of spending Thanksgiving together, they may have felt that a vegetarian event would spoil their established custom. They may have thought your friend was showing favoritism and were offended that perhaps she prefers you over them. Also, the way your friend informed the other people may have influenced their reaction. Many meat eaters know very little about vegetarianism and have their own preconceived notions that vegetarians subsist on lettuce and carrot sticks -- not very appetizing fare for a feast. They may have been indignant, thinking that a vegetarian repast would leave them feeling hungry and deprived. If the gathering was to be a potluck, they may have felt overwhelmed or incensed by the thought of having to prepare something unusual. In any case, they may have felt hoodwinked into supporting something they don't understand and/or don't care about.

If the event was to be a conventional sit-down dinner or buffet where the host does all the cooking, it may not have been necessary to inform the guests in advance or even at all. When the menu is sufficiently diverse and delicious, few people notice that anything is "missing" unless it is pointed out to them.

Even though you were the catalyst for the change in venue and feel lousy about the aftermath, you are not responsible for your best friend's feelings or for the callous treatment she received from her other friends. True friendship does not dissolve the instant something goes awry. People who care about each other talk things out, try to understand the other's point of view, and give as well as take. Her fair weather pals failed miserably when their friendship was put to the test. Even if they felt that you were being given preferential treatment or that your friend favored you over them, it does not excuse their immature or insensitive behavior.

Your friend made a choice to support you and defend your beliefs. There was no guarantee that the group would be receptive. She took a risk on your behalf, but that does not make you culpable. You can demonstrate your gratitude by comforting your friend and offering solace and a sympathetic ear. However, you cannot erase the pain and heartache she feels over her friends' rancor. It is unfortunate that you are bearing the brunt of this sad situation, but the discord is between her and her other friends. They are the ones who must be held accountable for the dissolution or recovery of their relationship, not you.

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