As we go into Thanksgiving this year, I know that many of my friends are nervous about getting together with family and friends during the holiday season. It's not just the obnoxious uncle who will be spouting off political beliefs that we might disagree with, but it's also the food. There will be conflicts that arise as a result of how we eat. Some of that conflict will come as we try to choose around foods that we know are not healthy, some will come from well meaning mothers and aunts who will seem offended if we don't eat what they serve and some of the conflict could arise from those who want to challenge us about our way of eating. In other words, many following a whole food plant-based way of eating are facing this time of what should be filled with joy and love as a time of dread instead. And the holiday season is just beginning.

Thanksgiving was one of my first big tests when I went to a whole food, plant-based way of eating.  I started eating this way in late October 2013, just weeks before Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Not only that, but plans had already been made for the family to celebrate Thanksgiving at my house. That meant my mom and her husband, my brother and his wife, my step sister and her husband and my daughter, her husband and two grandchildren would all descend on my house for Thanksgiving. And they expected a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I was too new at this whole game to deny them that kind of meal. They had seen me in the past yo yo between Atkins and Weight Watchers and the DASH program and a myriad of other diets without much success. They certainly were not going to take this new way of eating seriously after only four weeks or so of my doing it.

At that time, I was fully focused on my weight and my health and not at all on the animals. In other words, at that stage in my life, I had not yet become an ethical vegan. So, I had no qualms about making a turkey on my Big Green Egg, which I've since given to my daughter and son-in-law. But I was firm about the fact that I personally was not going to eat any turkey. Instead I made a squash stuffed with quinoa and cranberries and walnuts and it turned out to be delicious. It was so much so that my mother and my brother's wife were both looking at it enviously and saying that they would have preferred that too.

Note how that worked. I made a traditional turkey as a main course for my family, and in doing so, without any preaching from me, some members of my family noted what I was eating and they were envious of it. I would never serve turkey now. I won't even let any kind of animal food come into my house now. But if I were to serve turkey or another meat again, I would probably give people a choice as to whether they would prefer the meat or the stuffed squash for their main course. It may not turn them into vegans or whole food, plant-based eaters, but it would introduce them to the fact that delicious holiday foods were available and could be eaten without awkwardness at a family gathering.

While we all know the importance of food to our own health and many of us are aware of the dangers food also poses to the environment, the economy, our federal budget, our insurance premiums, health care, disease control, the animals and more, we need to remember that most of the population has not been awakened to these conditions. And we are not going to awaken them over the dinner table at Thanksgiving. I put that in bold italics because I think it's something to remember as we get together with others this Thanksgiving.

Our getting together with family and friends is for enjoyment, both our enjoyment and their enjoyment. It's not the time for proselytizing and arguing. The truth is, each one of us can only change ourselves. We cannot force change on others. We cannot browbeat others into submission. But what we can do is be examples to others. Examples in a non-arrogant way. It does no good to say things like, "Oh, I would never eat that" or to talk about cow's milk as cow pus. But when we quietly choose foods that are healthy, people notice. And they will ask questions in a non-threatening way. Some will realize that they could have been eating like you, and will wish that they were if only they had a little more gumption to do it. After seeing you, they'll go home with new resolve to be better at their food choices the next time they are in a situation like that. You may never know that. I'm always gratified when somebody does change because of me. But I also think there's a far greater number of people who have changed because of me, but I don't know them and I have no idea about who they are or where they live.

Here's some tips I try to use to diffuse any potential negativity and to instead have fun and possibly be an inspiration to somebody at a gathering. First, I always offer to bring something. I'm going to a neighbor's house for Thanksgiving this year and I said I would bring a sweet potato lasagna and some triple berry-chocolate nice cream. In doing so, I explained to the host that I was 100% plant-based and I wanted to bring a couple plant-based dishes that I could share with the others who were coming. Right away, I established how I would be eating and the hostess told me that she is looking forward to trying my plant-based foods.

The second thing I try to do is to be a good and gracious guest. I'll be going, not only with my two dishes big enough for a meal for me and for others to try, but also with a nice flower arrangement for the hostess' table. I will find things to compliment about the hostess and her house and I will avoid getting into arguments of any kind. In other words, I want to be the perfect guest. Everybody will know that I'm the one who brought the plant-based food. I don't need to announce it loudly or draw attention to it. Those who are interested in learning more can ask me about it. And those who aren't won't be given the opportunity to argue if I can help it.

The third thing I will do is I will put on my plate a few other foods that are not part of what I brought. I know the sweet potatoes may be loaded with maple syrup or the green beans might have butter on them. But taking one or two very tiny portions of a couple items like that will put others at ease. If I just totally stuck to what I brought, people might see me as rejecting them. And I don't want that. I'm accepting of all others and I want others to know that I'm accepting of them. We're all at different places in our life's journey. Some of us are fortunate enough to understand the importance of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. But others are not. They have not been awakened yet.

Note: If small enough portions are taken, then they don't need to be eaten. They can just look like the remnants of food scraps left after a full plate of food (if you get my drift)!

And that brings me to my final thought on Thanksgiving. That is, the importance of giving thanks. A recent study found that people who are gracious and thankful are healthier and tend to live longer. No matter what our circumstances are in life, we all have a tremendous amount to be thankful about. One of the biggest things that I'm thankful for is the knowledge that I've gained about eating whole food, plant-based. I learned about it for my health originally, but I now also understand the effect that our way of eating has on everything around us. It is perhaps the single greatest issue of our time. And while I think there are too few people who recognize that, I am thankful that I have been awakened to that.

My goal is to help others become awakened to that as well. And many have. Many have changed because they saw the change in me. Many have changed because they've read what I've written and continue to write. But nobody has ever changed because of the inevitable argument that will ensue from talking about it at the Thanksgiving table. This season, it's time to remember to enjoy our family and friends. And to be thankful for all that we have, including the knowledge we have about eating plant-based.

Thank you and have a happy Thanksgiving weekend.

J Lanning Smith
November 22, 2017