In my family, ever since I was a little girl, we have always had the tradition of birthday breakfast.
The best parts about birthday breakfast?
The good ol’ days, celebrating birthdays with Mom.
Ready for birthday breakfast
Waking up to a festively set table, time together in the morning when no one is rushing and, of course, a far more elaborate breakfast than the average day.
As a chef, I can’t help but remember each of the foods that my family members likes and dislikes.
We celebrated my Mom’s birthday a while back, and in honor of her special day I decided to use all of my mom’s favorite sweets — hazelnuts, chocolate, coconut and “dry, Italian almond cake” as inspiration for one, crumbly, delicious birthday cake.
This cake comes out with a deep caramel flavor from the coconut sugar/hazelnut combination, the nutella is the perfect complimentary icing, and I highly recommend topping it all off with some coconut whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Needless to say, my mom loved it and I think you will too!
I have such fond memories of the stew that my Mom would cook for every birthday, of the local burger joint that we used to go to on the last day of school, of leaving campus at lunch with my best friends to grab lunch at Taco Time.
And then there are the holidays.
I’ll never forget driving down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas. We would open presents and then sit down for the traditional meal of ham and Grandma’s famous (and very weird in retrospect) green jello.
Who doesn’t equate those beautiful, serene, and happy holiday moments with the smells wafting from the kitchen or sitting down with loved ones around an abundant table?
Every single one of my most cherished memories has a dish, diner, smell or taste associated with it.
Can you relate?
On top of personal holiday memories, we often have family traditions that go back generations. Our very heritage and deepest identity is tied into the foods that we eat.
And these feelings run deep.
So when we make the decision to take our health destiny into our own hands and start living the veggie-centric life, we have to make our way through some treacherous territory.
The everyday challenges we all face pale in comparison to the holidays — when family dynamics, old memories, travel, and stress all come together to create the perfect storm.
It’s hard enough to separate the memories from the food, and stay on plan when faced with so much temptation.
And then there is the real difficulty is taking our personal decision to change our diet into a the public arena.
Best case scenario, you stand out like a sore thumb and feel awkward turning down dishes and explaining the decisions you’ve made to wonderfully supportive family and friends.
Worst case scenario, your mother-in-law, dear ol’ Dad, or obstinate uncle take your decision as a personal affront.
They decide to spend the entire holiday making vegan jokes, loudly worrying about your looming protein deficiency, feeling sorry that you can only eat rabbit food, and trying to get you to have “just one bite” of the Turducken.
I first went plant-based around June of 2009, and I was pretty set on my new lifestyle when Thanksgiving rolled around.
But I sure didn’t have a clue how to travel, talk about what I was doing, or prepare any semblance of a holiday themed plant-based meal.
I spent a ton of money buying and preparing food that I could take with me to North Carolina to visit my Mom.
And while I was committed, it didn’t mean that I didn’t have any cravings for my old ways.
Did some part of me want to be chowing down on turkey and stuffing, laughing with everyone around the table and falling into the post-meal food coma?
Instead I sat in the middle of the table, eating my wimpy salad, and defensively attempting to sound like I knew what I was talking about, answering questions about protein, enzymes, heart disease statistics and so on.
Luckily, I happen to have a very supportive and understanding family. They are always there for me even in the midst of my craziest adventures.
But I was so protective of my baby lifestyle, that I even turned down the baked yam that my Mom made for me — her super sweet gesture of support and acceptance.
So continues my proclivity for making things more difficult than need be.
But I survived. In fact, I even remember enjoying myself. But it certainly wasn’t the old relaxing Thanksgiving that I used to enjoy.
And with each passing year the holidays have gotten easier and easier.
My family now knows what to expect, that this is part of who I am, and they know that I’m not judging their choices.
We are just happy to be in each other’s company, and we don’t let our differences get in the way of that.
I’ve found the more that I can take a relaxed and joyful attitude, do everything that I can to participate and share my lifestyle without being evangelical, and let everyone how happy I am just to be there, the more things go smoothly.
In fact, I asked my mom proofread this article, and she made a very interesting comment.
I don’t think either side knows the best way to extend and accept the changes that a new lifestyle brings, so they try to cover it up with jokes and too many not helpful offers that can get annoying and make the plant-based eater defensive.
One of the parts I thought was particularly significant to emphasize is the part about your own “relaxed and joyful attitude”, because it appears to have the potential to be a landmine kind of experience, but really people just want to be sure you are fed and cared for (of course this is a mom speaking).
Confidence carries a lot off. I think it would be really helpful to let people know how hard the holidays are and will be and that you’d love to be eating that stuffing and mysterious green jello concoction, but you are committed to this lifestyle.
Along with confidence, not taking ourselves too seriously, and a little vulnerability goes a long way.
Difficult social interactions will happen. Learn to laugh at them, and keep the focus on what is most important — having a good time with the people that you love.
A Little Prep Goes A Long Way
Photo Credit: Faith Goble
If you are getting ready for a Thanksgiving away you might be wondering if there will be anything for you to eat. What is the proper protocol? Do you bring your own food?
If you are hosting others, what will they be expecting? Is it your duty to cook up a turkey even if you won’t be eating any?
What about the temptation of Grandma’s famous stuffing? Do you indulge once a year? Make a plant-based substitute?
You used to impress everyone with your famous pumpkin pie, what if they hate the plant-based version?
Is it even worth it? Should you just go along with the crowd and get back on track once the holidays are over?
Fortunately, as our plant-based whole foods community has grown, so have the resources available for us choosing to celebrate both the holidays and our health.
There are delectable Thanksgiving recipes, travel tips, ideas on what to bring to a Thanksgiving gathering, and even how to host your own.
Today, Regan and I want to showcase some of the best resources out there, so that you can have the best Thanksgiving possible.
After all this is important!
As I’m oh so fond of reminding you, the lifestyle works, but for the lifestyle to work you have to stick with it.
And for it to be sustainable it has to be easy, it has to be joyful, it has to be abundant. It is very possible to thrive not just physically, but emotionally, and socially.
So take a few moments and invest in yourself. Read a few of these fantastic articles and plan how to navigate the challenges presented by the upcoming turkey centered holiday.
How can you make it easier on yourself?
We wish you a very happy plant-based Thanksgiving surrounded by friends and loved ones. We’re hoping it’s the best one yet.
The Ultimate Plant-Based Thanksgiving Resource Roundup
Matt Jager is a wellness activist, yogi and co-founder of True Wellth. His life mission is to transform the healthcare and food system in this country, so that every single person has access to the tools and support they need to look and feel their best, control their health, own their happiness and revolutionize their well-being.
https://www.truewellth.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/VeganThanksgiving21.jpg315600Matt Jagerhttps://www.truewellth.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/TrueWellth-HorizontalSmall.pngMatt Jager2014-11-14 19:22:312016-02-08 22:00:49The Ultimate Guide To A Healthy and Happy Plant-Based Thanksgiving