This series of posts will be about my journey from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) diet. It is also a series on do as I say, not as I do. Or rather, don't do the same dumb stuff I did because I simply didn't know any better! It's my hope that this series will help you on your path, as well as give you a chuckle at my expense. Let's jump back in!
I want y'all to come to Sunday supper, but can y'all eat any of my food?
"Hell yes, Mamaw! I will always eat your food!" Of course, that's what went through my head. You don't talk like that to Mamaw! However, for my Mamaw, I'm the perpetual fat kid in need of sustenance.
Whether you're trying for flexitarian, vegetarian, or straight vegan, you'll run into the fact that others want to cook for you (especially here in the Southern US, where it is a love language). What do you do when presented with a food that doesn't fit in your regimen? Really, that's up to you. However, let's talk about what that looks like.
Mamaw's sentiment is echoed by parents, siblings, friends, and potential suitors across the world. People's diets are an ingrained part of their lives. So, when someone makes you a dish that isn't on your diet, please remember that. Your diet is really yours, alone. People may share the same dietary title as you, but tastes and cooking styles vary wildly among the same dietary groups.
Around here, most recipes are heavy in condensed soups, russet potatoes, butter, farm critters, greens, and love. So, when I go and visit my family, and they offer me food, I have been taught to accept that food. For example, I am not a huge fan of buttermilk and cornbread. However, every time my father-in-law offered me a big glass of buttermilk with cornbread mixed in, I ate every last bit. That's just how I was brought up, and it wasn't seen as entirely polite to kindly decline. However, citing dietary restrictions does seem to be able to soften the blow of refusal. Wield this power wisely.
However, that leads us into some shaky grounds with two different types of plant-based eaters. Those focused on the health aspect (like me) and those that are focused on the moral dimension. If you're worried about both, that's perfectly fine as well—no shame in wanting the best for all creatures.
The Moral High-Ground
If you've gone plant-based due to the abhorrent treatment of our furry friends at the hands of Food Inc, then I applaud you. Documentaires, testimonials, and books have called out the food industry for the mistreatment of their money-making fauna. The sanctity of life has been reduced to a business transaction, and that's just not cool.
However, shout out to the small farms making it work. Treating their animals with dignity and continuing on in the face of factory farms. Y'all are the real MVPs! Due to your efforts, sustainable, maximally humane, and naturally raised animal products can be purchased at nearly every local supermarket. I used to pay the higher prices (be smart about packaging, all as not as it appears) for truly local and natural animal products!
What you need to remember as a moral vegan is that Mamaw don't care. Neither do the ones sitting at the table with you chowing down on a steak. While they are masticating a glorious mouthful of perfectly marbled beef is not the best time to pontificate on how much that particular animal suffered for their sustenance. I used to be one of those very omnivores. I'd nod, roll my eyes, and take a bigger bite next time. You weren't going to change my mind that way, and you probably won't be able to change theirs either.
Now, am I saying you have to suffer in silence? Nope. What I'm saying is, don't lead with that. Don't open a conversation that way. Wait until someone asks why you don't eat animal products. Then you can respond... simply. Something like, "Through experiences/documentaries/reading/life, I realized that I don't want to contribute to how animals are treated. So, I eat a bit more sustainably. Plus, it's healthy to boot!" That's all you have to say. Seriously. You'd be surprised how often that starts a conversation, and how seldom a lecture starts a conversation.
So, you get invited to Mamaw's and don't know if you can eat anything on the menu. Perfect opportunity to bring your own dish and introduce it to the fam. Chances are there is a side dish you can have, and if you're not too squeamish, even bend your rules for a couple of bites.
The Healthy High-Ground
I was way too fat, way too unhealthy, and way too sick and tired of it. So, when I read How Not to Die, I decided that plant-based eating was the way to get my body back. Then, the first week of my new journey was when Mamaw called. In all my other ill-fated dieting attempts, I had gone flat out the first stretch. I stuck to the diet like glue. Then, Mamaw would call. After having a mouthful of any of her cooking, I would spiral into a marathon of cheat meals, and then I would finally just revert to cheat meals for life (Shout out to all my homies still living this life. I hope you find your way to fitness too!).
This time, however, I asked Mamaw what all she was having. Since she had asked if there was anything I could eat. It turns out there were three sides that I could have. So, I brought my own main dish, shared it with any family member willing to give it a try, and had a great time with no further discussion on it.
Then, after a while on plant-based and seeing some fantastic results, Mamaw had us back over, and I said yes to a serving of her hashbrowns casserole. It was absolutely blissful! You know what? Then I was over it. I had my serving, and I kept going on my merry plant-based way. I realized that a serving of something does not a cheat meal make.
We all have our proverbial Mamaws, but don't let one time of eating someone's cooking that contains "forbidden" foods stop you from having a meal with friends. One meal's worth is not going to be what tips your body over the edge. Enjoy food; that's the whole point. However, keep on plugging along afterward and don't let the cheat become the norm. If you're worried about your willpower, then skip trying things. Stop trying to should yourself. However, never ever miss an opportunity to gather together with family and friends at a table. That'd break Mamaw's heart.