#HowTo Survive Family Meals
By Francesca Alexander
Digital Publicist. Global Dreamer. Entrepreneurial Activist
Food and Culture: How to Survive Family Meals
In Mexican-American culture, getting together usually involves food. A celebration between family and friends can be an all day affair. Food in general is hot, spicy, and there’s a lot of it. Sounds great, right? Well I’m going to admit something here with you right now. It was kind of a problem for me adjusting to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle at classic, traditional, Mexican get-togethers.
This issue all came back to me as I attended a “Rich Happy and Hot Live” event last October, where I heard Kris Carr speak. Kris’s book, “Crazy Sexy Diet” helped transform my life.
At the end of Kris’s talk there was time for Q&A. A Latina came forward and asked a great question: “If I’m going to a family dinner at my grandmother’s house where she’s already cooking for 50 people, how can I ask her to make a special vegetarian or vegan option for me?”
I had to overcome this issue myself. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are — this is a perplexing question for most of us. I happen to be Latina of Mexican and Brazilian decent, and I have been on a healthy journey the past three years.
I would go to my parents’ home in San Gabriel, California, where my dad would greet me with a plate of Mexican food piled high! The calorie count would easily have been 2000. Then there were helpings of seconds, consisting of deep-fried delectables that seemed to be endless. And in Mexican culture, one makes enough for leftovers to stretch for the next few days. I would be in a food trance for days. In the beginning of my healthy journey I didn’t know how to handle family dinners, and I would avoid going to my family’s home on the weekends.
When I was transitioning to a vegetarian and then vegan diet, I’d ask my dad to serve me smaller portions of meat or no meat and the same serving size as my two-year-old nephew. This didn’t always work, but it wasn’t my dad’s fault. It was mine for not being specific. In my culture it could be insulting to ask for less food or no meat. It’s simply not honoring the family cook, who is usually a patriarch or matriarch of the family.
Something had to give, and I was determined it would not be my new healthy lifestyle!
My story is not so unusual. I could be Italian, Indian, Korean or from any number of cultures and not want to offend my grandmother just because I am changing my lifestyle and eating healthy. Eating vegan or vegetarian may bring up a lot of unforeseen issues. In many cultures outside of the U.S., eating vegan just means you don’t have enough money to eat meat! Eating vegan in front of your grandmother may alarm her. Your grandmother’s viewpoint may be that you are depriving yourself of the bounty your family is offering you.
Is it possible to get your family to lean into the idea of you not partaking in eating meat?
Many of you have seen that great scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where Toula tells her Aunt Voula that her fiancé doesn’t eat meat. “What do you mean, he doesn’t eat meat?!” The whole engagement party comes to a grinding halt until Aunt Voula says, “It’s OK. I’ll make lamb.” Everyone goes back to partying while they graciously ignore conflict and drink ouzo. Opa!
Family members sometimes have a hard time adjusting to your changing dietary preferences, and they may even judge you for your dietary choices. If you’re committed to a healthier you, there is no better way to tell your family than to just say it, “Mamá, yo ahora estoy comiendo al vegano.” “Yes Mom, I am eating vegan food now.” I did this once as a teen and while serving myself pinto beans with the utmost indignation, and then I realized that my Mexican family cooks their beans with bacon lard. Damn! I almost pulled it off.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Just do it! One of my best memories of my family is when all three generations of women in my family would cook together. This is where you come in. Show up and cook alongside the women in your family, and prepare your dishes while incorporating healthier cooking techniques and vegan options. I’ve learned that if I cook right next to my mom, talk about the food I’m preparing and have my family taste everything, they warm up to my vegetarian cooking. The more I show up and cook my own food, the more my family has gotten used to eating yummy vegetarian cuisine.