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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Odd One Out: At Home For The Holidays

To be Atheist, Pagan, liberal, and feminist in my family already sets me apart as the Family Oddball; to be vegetarian-going-vegan is just the icing on the cake of my freakishness. I can hardly wait to drop the news: As long as my vegetarianism was for "health reasons," that was acceptable, if eccentric. To declare myself a vegan, on the other hand, is to admit that I think that animals are not simply "things" put here for human exploitation and consumption. Nobody gives up leather clothing or beeswax candles in order to cut down on cholesterol or drop a few pounds.

Am I ready to face the whole family as a vegan? To socialize with the members of my family as individuals is quite manageable, because then we are relating to each other as the individual personalities that we are. But to attend one of our big family gatherings is to be sucked into the vortex of the Family Personality -- Christian, conservative, traditional, and, above all, dogmatically certain that the family's is the One True Right and Holy Way to believe, whether the issue is religion or politics or what should or should not appear on the dinner table. It's not a lot of fun to be the odd one out when the ball gets rolling on one of these occasions.

My response over the years has been a gradual drift away from this tightly-bound family identity. I love the people in my family (well, I'm not so sure about a couple of them) and want to maintain connection with them. But I also have a healthy survival instinct, and my survival instinct inclines me to avoid occasions in which group ridicule and no-win debate sessions thrive. So I attend all-family functions selectively, in the interest of keeping the peace, and have learned to simply decline to bite the argumentative bait that is inevitably dangled during these events. My true celebrations of the holidays have become the ones I conduct in the peace and quiet of the life I have created for myself, apart from my extended family. Over the years I have been developing my own traditions, celebrating the turning of the seasons with personal, informal observances and rituals.

Rituals of food and drink: sipping a cup of hot spiced apple cider and nibbling a spicy pumpkin or carrot bar when the first brisk day of autumn arrives; savoring a thick, vine-ripe tomato sandwich in mid-summer; simmering thick bean and potato soups as the weather turns cold; welcoming the delicate first vegetables of spring.

Rituals of connection with the earth's ongoing changes: walking out in the winter's twilight and greeting the return of the constellation Orion to Minnesota's evening sky; watching the departure of the geese in the fall, and the return of the geese in the spring; strolling through the woods right after a greening spring rain; standing on the shore of Lake Calhoun, immersing myself in the sensations of wind on my face and sunlight glittering on the waves.

Rituals of creating sacred space in my home: playing music that evokes the mood of the waxing season, the year's cycle of albums corresponding to the cycles of leaf and light ever-visible through the windows that span the width of one living-room wall; decorating with pumpkins and corn, with holly and pine, with pastel flowers and baskets, with bright and sunny colors and deep blue watery images; lighting a candle in the colors and scents of the season; lighting a stick of sandalwood or rose or cedar or cinnamon or cherry incense; meditating, reflecting, taking stock of that day, that season, that year, my life as a whole.

In my own home the holidays have become what I always yearned they would be, even as I was surrounded by chaotic, loud, cacophonous family celebrations in my youth: a time of quiet contemplation and attunement with the seasons and cycles of the life around me, and of my own life. To read a favorite meditation or poem or bit of prose at a peaceful holiday meal; to sing seasonal songs in the starlight, or in the sun and wind; to have someone to share these quiet celebrations of life -- these are the things that make the holidays meaningful to me.

So I celebrate the holidays primarily at home, according to my own design, improvising as the mood of each singular season inspires me. And I make space to visit the rest of the family sometime during each holiday season, and, misgivings aside, will likely continue to do so, bearing my own vegan potluck dish in hand. As long as I don't consider these big, noisy get-togethers my primary observance, I can handle them in peace -- and in small doses -- as a purely socializing occasion, knowing that I have my nice, quiet apartment to retreat to before I reach critical mass.

Karyn M.
Minnesota

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