By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
November 14, 2012
from our panel of staff contributors
An elderly relative went to some extra lengths to provide foodstuffs for a younger vegan relative one recent holiday. The relative read the fine print on a cheese package labeled "vegetarian" and told our elder — apologetically — that it contained casein, which is an animal protein, and therefore she couldn't eat it. For that reason, it is good for the vegan (or her guardians) to bring some provisions and offer in advance to prepare and share them. Ideally the host also will prepare some items that meet the vegan's standards. That said, we all learned what casein was and it provided conversation fodder. Nobody cried or fell out over it.
Because the hosts are family, it's not at all unreasonable. A lot of Thanksgiving side dishes are vegan anyway, or can be so with a little adaptation. Portion off some cooked potatoes before adding butter and milk and mashing the rest, or toss a foil-wrapped sweet potato in the oven to cook as the turkey does. And you can make at least some stuffing without giblets or butter. Just be sure the relatives know what vegan means.
In an ideal world, the host every year would inquire after the dietary habits and restrictions of Thanksgiving guests as tastes and dietary requirements change. In this real world, you must be prepared to provide for your daughter yourself. I'd call the hosting relative and say something like: "Now you know, Uncle Beefy, Little Suzie Seitan is a teenage vegan now. So, we'll bring what she can eat with us." Hopefully, whatever that is will need a quick zap in the microwave at most. Don't assume the ideal host has the ideal number of free burners or ovens for your use.
As with so many things at the intersection of your own kids and everyone else, a balance must be struck between honoring your daughter's ideals and respecting your larger family's feelings.
"I think the overarching priority is to be sensitive to your host," says Homa Sabet Tavengar, author of "Growing Up Global: Raising Children To Be at Home in the World" (Ballantine/Random House). "But you also want to honor your teenage child standing up for something she believes in and wanting to do something rigorous."
Thanksgiving, after all, does not belong solely to the host — or to his or her guests. Ideally, it's a coming together of the two.
"I see it as an example of unity and diversity and honoring and celebrating each member of the family," Tavengar says. "Especially as your family grows and more in-laws enter the family from different backgrounds. You want to be open and accepting to new traditions."
Tavengar suggests alerting the host family ahead of time and preparing a few vegan dishes to share with the group.
"If the host wants to make something completely vegan, that's wonderful, but that's up to the host," she says.
Neither should the host take offense at your daughter passing up the turkey and dairy-laden sides.
If your daughter is committed to strict veganism, praise her for her tenacity. If she's open to setting her diet aside for special occasions (and it's not doctor-imposed), you may want to take a moment to extol the virtues of experiencing other people's bounty.
"Many people I know who studied abroad, especially in developing countries, say their biggest regret was sticking to a strict diet rather than experiencing more of the culture and the whole gamut of food," Tavengar says.
Have a solution? Your tween daughter only wants cash for her holiday gifts. Should you oblige? Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.