Vegan nutrition blog

Talking nutrition at Christmas, educating the family on veganism

06 Dec 2016

With Christmas just a stone's throw away, I look forward to returning home and indulging a host of plant-based treats. Having been overseas for so long, last year's Christmas marked the first in a while back among familial company, bringing a watershed moment or two with mum and dad's embrace of my diet. While we hardly opened a forum on the pillars of the vegan lifestyle, and why I feel so vindicated in avoiding animal products, mum's excitement in helping prepare a curried chickpea and kale main was more than a cursory gesture.  But things weren't perfect then and won't be this year. I expect nothing less but to find my brother carving ham the moment I arrive, more whipped cream in proportion to strawberries, eggs and cake galore, milk chocolate advent calendars lining the floor, and an abundance of Xmas mince pies. But knowing I have the power to bring some incredible plant-based recipes to the table offers encouragement.  The plan this year is to bake and prepare three or four plant-based dishes before loved ones, leading by example in a calculated but understated manner. With transparency in what we eat such a staple of the vegan lifestyle, it's important to focus attention on the plant kingdom just as much as the abattoir, with diversity spelled out in the word 'kingdom'. Too commonly those transitioning to veganism after being exposed to pictures of slaughterhouses and agricultural malpractice don't fully understand the sheer variety of plant foods, or the meaning of phytochemicals (plant nutrients). Indeed I didn't initially.  Without necessarily citing the nutritional profile of every single ingredient, the idea of educating siblings on the goodness of plant-derived food is an exciting prospect ahead of Christmas this year. While my brother dismissed the power of antioxidant rich foods last December in what became a heated debate, I'm better prepared this time around after pouring through seminars on nutrition, many of which weren't necessarily touted as vegan but nonetheless carried the same sentiment - that our nutritional needs are satisfied through what sprouts from the Earth, without the need to go through an animal.  With a young uncle in his late 40s battling heart disease, there's a very sobering subplot to my diet too - the realities of our eating habits hit close to home in my family's case. The challenge now is to encourage loved ones to change, at least by way of turning their meat to veggies ratio upside down. Since my dad is a scientist, I don't underestimate his appetite for truth, hoping he'll take heed from the evidence I've put before him - even when the message is as succinct as 'beans instead of meat, for fibre over disease'.  I'm getting there, and not out of my own personal interests, but in the interests of everyone. For now though it's important to educate the family in instalments, focusing on the positives - i.e. the power of tasty plant foods, and the health promoting qualities found therein. The message is to prevent and protect against disease, rather than conceding to genetics and adopting a fatalistic attitude, bemoaning 'bad luck' once something untoward surfaces. We're surely more enlightened than this - prevention begins with lifestyle, and namely diet.    So what's your biggest headache ahead of Christmas with an omnivorous family? How do you plan to speak about veganism with loved ones, if at all? What if your uncle grills you with an inquisition? What if your brother makes a condescending remark?  Advice: think positively and have the some information prepared in advance - focus on the most plausible hypotheses within plant nutrition, or conversely within dairy consumption etc, and you'll find a receptive audience.  Example: cows milk is designed for baby cows to speed up growth. Being a species so removed ours, cows grow at a much faster rate than humans, so the hormones in the milk are not healthy for the human body. Particularly adult humans who don't need to grow any further. This inevitably gives rise to complications.    By all means make a judgment call as to how specific you want to get, but, if it helps, I explained the above to Dad recently during a long car ride and he agreed with me. While you needn't go out of your way and memorise every scientific account in favour of veganism, it pays to learn up enough prior to prevent reaching for your phone during discussion in a desperate bid at restoring a half-formed argument. But there is ample evidence out there, so take heart. Just be sure to pick out the bits you're most comfortable saying, which are usually the most plausible and memorable bits anyway. Aim to remain neutral, conversational and non-aggresive in your tone and, above all, don't feel bad for educating loved ones - one day they'll thank you.   Berry Christmas!    - Stefan