Holidays are a time of family and a time of fellowship with those we love. So they are with my family, and me too. Until recently, holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even Halloween and Easter have had certain set traditions. On Halloween we would have chocolates and York Peppermint Patties. On Easter, our baskets would be filled with Cadbury cream eggs and jellybeans. Thanksgiving we would have turkey and ham, with vegetables that had animal-flavored bouillon in them. Christmas morning would see my family's well-known breakfast casserole (containing almost every sort of non-vegan thing imaginable). These are traditions that for the first time I will have to change.
This Thanksgiving, I will be visiting my grandmother. My father, sister, and husband will be accompanying me as well. This might sound grand, but here enters the problem. My father and sister are "vegan-phoebes." That is, they are afraid of vegan food. Though they would never admit this, I am certain it is the case. Let me introduce some proof. For Fourth of July, my mother, sister, and brother came over for a typical grill-out. Obviously I did not have hamburgers, though my mother brought four for her, my sister, and my brother. There was no "regular" mayonnaise, but I had some Vegannaise. My sister did not want to use this, despite my claims that it tastes like "real mayonnaise" to me. A few weeks ago, my grandmother came to visit my father at his apartment. She, unlike the rest of that side of my immediate family, is open to the concept of my veganism. I had some Vitasoy soymilk in the refrigerator. I insisted that it tasted like a vanilla milkshake type of drink to me. Interested, my grandmother tried some, and to her surprise, liked it! Then she tried to get my father to try some. This mission failed miserably. I asked him why he wouldn't try it and his answer was that he did not like soyburgers. Well, as most vegans likely realize, soymilk and soyburgers taste NOTHING alike. They taste as much alike as soymilk and vegetable oil (also made from the soybean). Well, I pointed this out to my father, but he held steadfast to his anti-soymilk claim.
This Thanksgiving, my grandmother has agreed to prepare a nice meal that even I can eat. Doing this will, of course, use those "scary vegan foods" that my father and sister seem adamant on avoiding. The mashed potatoes will contain vegan butter and soymilk (or rice milk). The butterbeans will contain vegan beef bouillon or chikin cubes. The pecan pie will use vegan ingredients. The gravy will be vegan. There will be a vegan alternative for almost everything, except, perhaps, the turkey (and my grandmother was even researching a vegan turkey!). I am afraid, though, that if they know these dishes are vegan, they will either not try them or they will insist that the dishes "don't taste right." fact, that was my father's argument for the standard family dish of butterbeans. Traditionally, it has slabs of bacon cooked in it. This year, it will not.
Needless to say, visiting my relatives for holidays is going to be a challenge. I think it is a challenge for any vegan. I must admit, though, that I am surprised it is my immediate family that opposes such a "radical" change and that it is my "old-fashioned" grandmother (I use that term liberally) who has gone so far as to purchase vegan butter and mayonnaise for my visit! I will establish new traditions within my own home for holidays, and I hope to avoid any serious conflict between my family members and myself. Still, I cannot help but wonder what their opposition to such minor differences is. My husband, previously a staunch omnivore, bound and determined not to be "converted," has accepted my personal challenge to him to give up all meat products for the remainder of the year.
Sometimes I wonder if my family's insistence on the "same old way" goes deeper than dietary preferences. I know that I attach certain values to my former diet. Even though I am vegan now, a turkey will still instantly bring up thoughts of Thanksgiving to my mind. It is from years of brainwashing -- from kindergarten to when I became vegan. And although I would not eat it, I still find myself craving a spiral cut ham when I think of Christmas. Also, I definitely will have to veganize the breakfast casserole because that simple dish brings memories of a happy childhood back to me. I think that certain foods bring back memories to my family as well. These memories are of a time when things were simpler -- and happier.
My family means a lot to me. I am grateful for all of them every day. Though I often find myself wishing that their views on eating would suddenly magically match mine, I know that this is not so. Still, I also find myself at those times wishing that they would give my vegan dishes a chance. I will be the first person to admit that I cannot cook. I also will readily admit that if I do not like something, I will not eat it. Yet I have not withered away from starvation in these four months since becoming vegan, so I must be doing something right. Also, I am insisting on trying all of the dishes I plan for Thanksgiving before the event comes. I already have tried several and have discovered a few of them to be, well, disgusting. Most of them, however, are quite tasty and I know that if my family would give them a chance then they would like them, too. They will not taste EXACTLY like their counterparts, but, for the most part, they will closely resemble their non-vegan alternative. Some items more than others will taste almost indistinguishable (such as mashed potatoes and baked beans).
I conceal my disappointment well, I think. When my family insults me for my dietary choices, it hurts, but I hide these feelings. Of course, they don't intend to hurt me, but it does hurt nonetheless. They do not understand why I have made this choice and that confuses them. Also, in the case of my father, I think he feels somewhat flustered because he doesn't know exactly what foods I can eat. I hope that this Thanksgiving I can demonstrate to him that as a vegan I am not starving, nor are my choices of food limited. I also hope to show him that vegan food actually tastes good. He is of the mindset that food, even vegetables, taste better with meat drippings in them. Hopefully this Thanksgiving will convince him otherwise. I am truly not sure what the holiday will bring, but what I hope it will bring is fellowship with my family. I also hope that it will help them better understand me and realize that I am not deprived. Instead, I am healthy, happy, and loving being a vegan!
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