Monday, November 23rd, 2009

What To Do When You Don’t Have A Lot Of Raw Choices Around (family gatherings, restaurants, and travel)

by Kristen Suzanne in entertaining, family, travel, vegan

The following was left in the comments section of my blog a while back:


I’d love to read a post about what you do when you don’t have a lot of raw choices around, such as at family gatherings, restaurants, etc. Also, does your husband or other family members eat raw as well?

That’s an excellent question and I’m glad it was brought up. I’ve been living the Raw (and/or High Raw) lifestyle for a while now, so it seems so easy and second nature to me. But, it wasn’t always like that. Before I get into ways to deal with situations and gatherings where there aren’t raw options, I’ll address the second part of the question first.

My husband was not vegan when I met him, but he was a vegetarian many years ago. However, when we met, he was on a steady diet of whey protein shakes and Taco Bell chicken burritos. While dating, I never pushed my vegan beliefs on him. The only restriction was that I didn’t and wouldn’t have animal products (or animal by-products) in my house, and I certainly wouldn’t cook them. He was totally cool with that. That meant that the times he ended up getting meat were times we went to restaurants. Over the months, he asked me hard and thoughtful questions, and I jumped at the chance to answer them. I knew he had a somewhat healthy mindset in spite of his Taco Bell runs (he was into restricting calories a bit to stay in shape, he wanted high protein for muscle growth, he didn’t eat a bunch of sugar and stuff, and he worked out almost daily), so he was open to healthy living options (so long as he didn’t have to forsake his muscle-y body). I told him that he should read The China Study for mind-blowing information about animal protein vs plant protein. He agreed and when he was done with it, a light went on for him. But, it wasn’t until we went to the Living Light Vibrant EXPO during our first year of dating (about 8 months into our relationship) that he decided he was done with animal products and by-products. He was ready to be vegan and to eat as much Raw as I wanted. He’s been that way ever since. He’s a huge advocate of the vegan lifestyle now and loves that our days are filled with so much Raw food.

Regarding my other family… well I have one other big supporter and that’s my mom. When I first went vegan about 6-7 years ago, she started testing the vegan waters herself. Then, as I got into Raw, she followed suit. She loves the lifestyle. My step-dad, who still eats an omnivore diet, loves when I prepare Raw vegan food and he happily gobbles it up. The rest of my family (who mostly lives out of state) are all omnivores, with a heaviness toward meat. The same goes for my husband’s family (some of whom live here in AZ near us).

All that brings me to the other part of the question above: What do I do when I don’t have a lot of Raw choices for family gatherings, restaurants, travel, etc.? The bottom line is that being prepared is the key. It’s the magic element. If you’re serious about the lifestyle, it’s so easy… you just have to take some time to be prepared. Being prepared means that I have food on hand, which I gladly take to family gatherings. I either have organic Raw foods stored in our freezer or I make something before we leave.

We’ve trained our family well. By now, everyone knows that when we’re invited to a function, we’ll bring our own food. Or, we’ll eat beforehand and simply bring some snacks. We love it. While our family eats plates filled with monotone colored foods that lack life, love, and nutrients, we fill our plates with vibrant, rainbow colored foods. It’s quite stark, the difference in our plates of food versus theirs. And, frankly, I love that. It’s like bragging, “Hey look how beautiful, fresh, and healthy my food is!” Of course, we always get asked questions and many people like to try a bite. I see these situations as big opportunities to show others how delicious Raw vegan food can be. I’ve brought everything from Raw pizza to lasagna (pictured) to hummus and dips with vegetable crudites to salads to desserts to green smoothies, when we’re going to family gatherings. Don’t you just want to dive into that Raw lasagna? Om-nom-nom!

I’ve found that most people want to eat healthy (at least they do some of the time), they just recognize that they lack the discipline, or the knowledge, to do it. Therefore, when they’re given the opportunity to have a tasty, healthy meal that is brought to them (meaning they didn’t have to prepare it, and that I’m providing it), they’re usually excited… even if it’s not something they’d normally eat. They usually welcome the chance to have the healthiest food in the world, which is what we Raw foodies make. Just because it’s not something they normally eat, they still like giving their bodies something healthy when the opportunity arises. Sometimes, they’re just curious.

Going to restaurants is a little different because it’s hard to bring food into a food establishment (they’ll sometimes claim it’s for health code regulations, but the real reason is financial, because they never complain when somebody brings juice for a baby, etc). Still, I’ve done it. For example, if we’re going to a Mexican restaurant, I’ll bring along flax crackers and red bell pepper strips, carrots, celery, etc to dip in their salsa and guacamole. If it’s another type of restaurant where I can get a huge salad, I do that, and sometimes I even get two.

There was a family birthday we attended a few months back held at a bar (greasy food, alcohol, etc.) and since I knew ahead of time where we were going, I made a quart of green smoothie and I carried it in my purse. I do this all the time. If the wait staff ever gives me crap about it, I say “I’m on a special diet from my doctor and I can’t eat anything grown with pesticides.” (This has never failed to shut them up… I think the medical aspect scares them in this litigious society.) Naturally, I don’t flaunt my food or drinks, and I generally can avoid confrontation. If it was ever a real problem, I’d leave the food in a cooler in the car, and just go out there a couple of times to snack, if I were that hungry. Again, it’s the training of family and friends that matter. They used to think it’s weird, now they think it’s just how we are, and it has become “normal” to them that we live our lives this way.

Travel merits a whole post unto itself, but I’ll address a few things here. When I travel, obviously, it’s harder to pack stuff to take to family gatherings or restaurants because I can’t bring my freezer filled with Raw treats or my refrigerator filled with my fresh Raw foods, with me on the plane. As a result, when we’re traveling and going to family gatherings, I sometimes eat ahead of time and then nibble on salad when we arrive at the restaurant. Other times, I go to Whole Foods to buy some packaged Raw foods (or bring foods with me in my suitcase that travel well like flax crackers, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, bars, raw cookies, etc), and I bring those to snack on at people’s houses (or have them in my purse when at restaurants).

Other times, if I’m staying at a hotel with a refrigerator or at my brother’s house in Michigan, for example, I’ll have Raw food meals delivered (see my recent post about doing this while we were in NY). This way, I can take food to family gatherings, or I simply have Raw food available if there aren’t any good restaurants around us. Sometimes, I’ll have organic produce delivered from a place like Boxed Greens. If I have a kitchen available, I can make my own stuff with the best ingredients. Or, if there is a Whole Foods, I’ll go shopping and buy some fresh stuff there. If my hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, I buy foods that keep well on counter tops like bananas, apples, etc. And, for things like the organic cherries and Norwalk juice in the photo, I keep those in the ice container with ice and water.

For our last lengthy trip, to NY, I brought along my Blendtec blender (it’s lighter than my Vita-Mix). I just packed it in my suitcase. It took up a little bit of room so my sweet husband packed my tennis shoes and makeup bag in his suitcase. We had a refrigerator in the apartment we rented, so I basically used the kitchen there just like I would at home. I made green smoothies, guacamole, green energy soup, and nut milk. I also bought things at whole foods like Raw granola for morning cereal (who am I kidding, I eat that stuff morning or night – love it!). We’ve come to appreciate the cost savings that can be had by staying someplace more expensive, but with a kitchen, meaning we eat out less and save money on meals. Even if the costs/savings cancel out, we’re still eating healthier food this way.

I also have this travel blender which is perfect for shorter trips. I love taking this when we’re going to be gone for a week or less. Last year, we went snowboarding in Flagstaff, AZ for a couple of days. When we arrived, we went to the health food store to get fresh organic produce. We also brought a cooler because I needed to keep the fresh produce chilled. I used the ice machine at the hotel and giant Ziploc bags to keep ice in the cooler. I also like to bring a couple of glass mason jars for us to use (and a knife for chopping). It all worked out very well.

Basically, what it boils down to, is that I really don’t give a hoot what others think. When I first started the Raw vegan lifestyle, I let everyone know, either by email or phone, that… “I’m doing the Raw vegan thing. I’m into healthy eating and I’ll be bringing my own food to functions.” I told them the good news is that they don’t have to feed me anymore so that’s more food for them. My health is my responsibility, not theirs, so how can I expect them to take care of me. It’s up to me to take care of myself. It hasn’t always been a breeze though… we’ve taken our fair share of dumb comments from our families. Heck, my dad still doesn’t get it, it seems. Just when I think he might be coming around, he says something like, “Well, you know, your morning sickness might not be so bad if you ate some meat.” And, to that, I usually say something smart ass back. I think my lifestyle just makes him nervous… I’m doing something right for myself and it causes him to question his own practices. Plus, um… he’s a gourmet chef who owns a restaurant in the Midwest that offers things like bacon wrapped steak (because regular steak was too healthy I guess, LOL). I’m guessing he’ll be the last person to go veg, but the cool thing is that he admitted to me recently that more of his customers are asking for veg options. Whoo hoo! (For more tips on the Raw Diet, Social Situations, and Peer Groups, read here.) Fortunately, other family members have gotten used to our lifestyle over time. The “comments” have died off for the most part. They’ve seen us live this way for a while now, and they even have respect for our discipline. Joke’s on them though… it doesn’t take much discipline because it’s fun and delicious!

And, truth be told… our lifestyle speaks for itself. We’re not only the vegans in the family, we’re also the ones in good shape physically… hmmm, coincidence? If anybody wants to get in my face about our diet, all I need to say is “it makes it easy to stay in good shape” and watch how fast they do one of two things: either 1) back down immediately, or 2) get interested and start asking questions out of genuine curiosity.

I’ll add one more thing about social situations and reacting to omnivores who don’t get it or dare to complain about our lifestyle. The following is a Washington Post article that I really enjoyed. Here is part of it:

I gave a talk in South Texas recently on the environmental virtues of a vegetarian diet. As you might imagine, the reception was chilly. In fact, the only applause came during the Q&A period when a member of the audience said that my lecture made him want to go out and eat even more meat. “Plus,” he added, “what I eat is my business — it’s personal.”

I’ve been writing about food and agriculture for more than a decade. Until that evening, however, I’d never actively thought about this most basic culinary question: Is eating personal?

We know more than we’ve ever known about the innards of the global food system. We understand that food can both nourish and kill. We know that its production can both destroy and enhance our environment. We know that farming touches every aspect of our lives — the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we need.

So it’s hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me. Our diets are deeply, intimately and necessarily political.

This realization changes everything for those who avoid meat. As a vegetarian I’ve always felt the perverse need to apologize for my dietary choice. It inconveniences people. It smacks of self-righteousness. It makes us pariahs at dinner parties. But the more I learn about the negative impact of meat production, the more I feel that it’s the consumers of meat who should be making apologies. Read the rest of this great article here.



One last note… for those times that you just don’t have food prepared or you’re out of town and didn’t bring anything or you just don’t have the money to have Raw food flown in for yourself or you just don’t feel like dealing with people’s comments… I say that it’s very much OK to ease up on the Raw food and eat some cooked vegan. Be sure to keep it vegan though! One of the perks about living the High Raw All Vegan lifestyle is that there is a little wiggle room in there for social occasions.

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