The Kitchen Wars
September 28, 2010

Happy Tuesday, friends. This week promises to be a little non-stop, so my meals may have nothing more to say than “hi, I’m a salad, aren’t I pretty?” In the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts I had at Chloe’s grandparents’ memorial this past weekend.

If there’s one theme that Chloe, her sister, her aunt, her mother, and her cousins continually returned to in their memorial addresses, it was how surely their family comes together over food and drink. Chloe’s grandmother – Mummum, as we all called her – was a consummate baker, so it goes without saying that many of her grandchildrens’ fondest memories involved warm snickerdoodle cookies, pie crust, shortbread, or homemade jam—as well as toboggans, sewing machines, and lovingly tended gardens. It all sounds  too wholesome and all American to be true, I know, but it is true. Even I remember bounding up the hill to Mummum’s kitchen with Chloe and her sister, frozen solid from hours of sledding, and bursting through the door to find Mummum with a tray of fresh-from-the-oven cookies and an apron stained with flour.

Chloe’s family keeps the spirit of culinary togetherness alive and well. Holidays and family gatherings are celebrations not only of good company, but of food. A family dinner in Chloe’s home is always a feast: it’s as if the ghost of Christmas present has let you clasp his velvet clad elbow and taken you to another place and time, where dining tables are long, relatives are plentiful, and food is bountiful. Conversation before, after, and during dinner often involves food and cooking. Have you seen Ina Garten’s latest recipe for pear tart? Have you made your recipe for tomato bread pudding recently? Remember the soup from last Christmas?

Of course, Chloe’s family isn’t the only family that communicates in the language of food. Many do. But I think the reason it’s always so notable to me when I’m upstate is because I have almost no memories of family and food that don’t also involve discord. This is not because my mother’s family fights: they don’t. It’s simply because I’ve never eaten like the rest of them, and because my choices were often a source of tension.

Remember the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Aunt Voula (responding to the groom’s assertion that he’s a vegetarian) says, “You don’t eat no meat? That’s ok. I make lamb!” Things like that were actually said in my Yaya’s home. To all of you Americans who think that traditional Greek food resembles what we call the “Mediterranean diet”—all fish, olive oil, and fresh veggies—think again. Greek home cooking is often very heavy, full of cheese and meat and animal fats of every variety. At least it was when Yaya (the Greek word for Grandma) was cooking.

I never saw eye to eye with Yaya on the topic of food. Long before my vegan sensibilities were formed, I had a tremendous squeamishness about animal foods. I stopped eating red meat early, and was wary of other flesh: I wouldn’t touch chicken unless it was 100% breast meat and as unrecognizable as an animal part as possible; fish always tasted too “fishy”; I didn’t like the texture of pork, I wouldn’t eat anything with gravy or “jus” (I really shudder at this expression and what it signifies) on the plate. The smell of cheese turned my stomach (this is still true; I won’t stand near a cheese plate at parties). In short, I had some fully formed vegan sensibilities as an eater before I had considered the ethics of animal consumption.

Needless to say, my tastes were a source of constant family scrutiny, and very often some family debate. To avoid red meat was, to my grandmother, absurd. To minimize the use of butterfat or sugar was also seen as preposterous: why would one, if taste might be compromised? (And it was always a given that more fat meant more taste.) Even when Yaya’s cholesterol climbed, the notion of “healthy” cooking—or even preparing meals that didn’t involve a kitchen full of butchered meat and melting kaseri–was dismissed. Our battles were intense, and my patient mother watched with exasperation.

If life imitated movies, the story would end this way: one day, I made a vegetarian dinner for my grandmother, and she loved it. So much so, that she realized why I eat the way I do. Or perhaps it would go the other way: over time, I realized that those big fat Greek dinners were my grandmother’s way of passing down love and culture and tradition; I would appreciate them as such, and maybe even partake now and then, just to make her happy.

As it turns out, neither of those things happened. That is, she didn’t taste vegan food, and I didn’t eat bend on my veganism. My grandmother slipped into dementia before we could come to a detente. My family likes to joke that, if she realized I were vegan today, she would probably be horrified!

But isn’t food supposed to be the glue that binds families together? Aren’t grandmothers supposed to pass cherished recipes down to their granddaughters, who pass them on to theirs, and so on? Isn’t food a language spoken by generations of women in the kitchen—as it is in Chloe’s family?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be. As I write, I find myself curiously elated by the retelling of my childhood food battles, and I know why: nothing could have exemplified my grandmother’s and my personalities better than our kitchen wars. We are both spectacularly stubborn women, and we can both be a uncompromising to a fault. My grandmother’s refusal to humor my vegetarianism without a fight was, for better or for worse, the perfect expression of her character, in and out of the kitchen: strong, unyielding, and traditional . Her refusal to cut down on butter or cheese was an expression of her character too: my grandmother is a true sensualist, a lover of food and drink and taste and pleasure, and she cannot be bothered to compromise any one of those things simply in order to be sensible. Meanwhile, my refusal to compromise my eating habits simply to minimize family tension was a perfect expression of me: equally stubborn, individualistic, and often anti-traditional.

Had we conceded to each other, we’d have created a set of memories that were a little more harmonious than the ones I carry around today. But we wouldn’t have been faithful to our convictions. So while I don’t have memories of digging into The Joy of Cooking with my grandmother, or rolling out Christmas cookies with her, or serving as her sous-chef as she passed along the secrets of a perfect pot roast, I have memories that are even more important: I remember learning to define myself and my views. And I learned those things in part because my Grandmother set such an excellent example.

Now, twenty years later, I’ve found a way of eating that gives me joy. Of this, at least—my long and determined quest to find a style of eating that was spiritually and physically rewarding—my Yaya would be proud. She’d say, “Brava, Genaki!” and pat me on the back for having stood my ground.

One day, if I choose to have a family, I’ll do the best I can to pass my favorite foods along to my children and grandchildren. I can’t guarantee that they’ll like everything, or that they won’t have other things they like more. The best I can hope for is that they have the courage to eat thoughtfully, just as I do.

What about you all? Is eating an act of communion in your family? Do you and your relatives speak the same culinary language? Are you sorry, or glad?

xo

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    64 Comments
  1. I’m so glad I found this post! I am experiencing a similar situation right now bc my appetite and taste buds are polar opposites of my aunt, uncle and cousin and my aunt criticizes my current eating habits, while I stare at hers in awe. I tried to bend their way last weekend and my stomach has been on “cleansing” mode desperately trying to eliminate those harsh foods. I was really sad and felt completely alienated, but this post reminded me that my eating habits are mine alone and they suit my body and mind! I will be seeing them again tomorrow and I have a feeling a heavy debate will be inevitable. Oh well, this post gave me strength! Thank you!

    And your grandmother’s strength reminds me of my Lao Lao (grandma)! It’s great to have grandmoms that are strong and loving!

  2. Ginna this was great!
    I’ve just become a vegan in the last year and am still defining what i eat and sometime i still succome to old favorites — alas chocolate i don’t think ill ever really give up for something dairy free!!! but the main point i wanted to write to you was – I’ve been going through my recipe box my mother made for me(not having the joy of knowing my grandmothers long enough to remember them or thier cooking) and re doing her recipes to the vegan and sometimes gulten free version! as i do this i remember when we always enjoyed the favoite dish and the fun times of making it with her and my sisters. She also often encluded who she got the recipe from which adds another dimention to the memory- my children do not yet enjoy my new way of eating but I am recording the old and the new recipes for them to enjoy someday when they have kitchens of thier own. thanks for your website and wonderful recipes!! they make my week !
    Martha J.

  3. This was beautiful to read. I love how truthful you are about how things really are. When someone is comfortable enough to be real it makes everyone around them feel safe to be themselves too. Your Yaya sounds like quite a character! 🙂

  4. So sorry for your loss, Gena. Loved hearing this story about your Yaya and her Greek eating traditions. My Aunt’s family is 100% Greek, so I can definitely understand what you’re talking about. 🙂 Sending love your way. xo

  5. I loved this post…isn’t it interesting what food represents to people? Even within the same family, traditions are so varied – whether it has to do with individual preferences, generational changes, or whatever – it’s definitely a fascinating subject.
    your open mindedness likely stems from your frustration with others not respecting your personal choices. i think its admirable. but you already know that i think you are the definition of a role model. accepting, inviting, non-condescending. aka i love you, haha.
    personally, i was raised in a family with “hippie” values, and while i have established my own preferences since leaving my parents’ roof, there are definite overlaps with my family members. my parents both went to berkley in the 70s and my mom (was) is a vegetarian, so theres that, and then the eco aspect has always been a thing in our family, too. i can relate to you in your memories of the feelings towards eating animals in your youth, but for me that also has to do with being raised with minimal meat. unlike other foods i developed a taste for with age (i.e. nuts…kinda), meat was not one of them. i cant recall ever trying pig (ever, ew) and i have always had zero interest in most other animal meats. if something could have a negative appeal factor, it would be eating cows/pigs. i ate fish, chicken, and turkey (organic deli meat) growing up for convenience, but nowadays its much easier to avoid those products. my mom tells me all the time about how she had to MAKE her own tofu and soymilk back in the day. i guess we are lucky that vegetarian lifestyles and more diverse diets are more mainstream now…we can raise our kids with the open mindedness that we wish the rest of the world would adopt.
    wow comment novel. sorry!

  6. What a great post! I think we can all relate to being the odd one out at the dinner party, with or without vegan/raw lifestyle. The writing on this piece is really top-notch! i really enjoyed it

  7. This is a great post that has sparked great comments too! I’m enjoying reading some of other people’s experiences as well (though if I read all of them, I’d be here all day–Wow!). I’ve only identified food as a touchy subject in my family in recent years…or perhaps it’s mostly me that’s touchy about it? I would be willing to entertain the idea.

    Anyway, I would say that any rich culinary tradition comes from my dad’s side – the southern influence is definitely there. While my mom does the majority of the cooking in our household (and does quite well, at that), my dad has this innate ability to take things up a notch – something sort of subtle that can’t quite be taught. I hope I have inherited at least some of that cooking sense.

    That said, my parents don’t have a perfect track record of being sensitive to weight and health issues–Mom is still on a lifelong quest to be thin and Dad is a little too quick to tell you when you’ve gotten “too thin, eat something,” or just be late to the discussion altogether and end up saying something unsavory. That combined with my sister’s obesity makes food something we basically don’t talk about when we’re all together, perhaps made worse by me as a contrast, having become the family authority on health and nutrition…for better or for worse. At the very least, despite our obviously different eating/health habits, my sister and I now share a general squeamishness about meat, so compromise over what to make for dinner is easily reached between the two of us.

    Sounds like the opposite of your family dynamic around food! We’re much quicker to close our mouths than open them, but that’s not always a good thing.

  8. Hi Gena!! I am so glad that you posted this. My husband and I have been spending the good part of a year weaning ourselves off of meat and dairy and introducing substantially more raw and cooked fruits and vegetables into our diets. We are currently about 95% plant based. However, we are African-American and both from traditional African-American families where, like your family, fat and sugar abound in our recipes. My side of the family is mostly okay with our transition, because we have a number of family members who are transitioning as well. However, on my husband’s side of the family, there is almost zero understanding, especially considering we are raising our two young children to eat in the same manner. Our children are not deprived, and in fact, love our diets. I make our meals from scratch, and have introduced everyone to a variety of different dishes. However, my in-laws insist we are eating rabbit food. His mommom insists that our daughter MUST eat meat and expresses a sincere concern for her health (our son is still an infant) if she does not increase her intake of meats. When our daughter stays with my husband’s family, she is fed Chef-Boy-R-Dee (sp?) and everything instant you can imagine, along with traditionally prepared soul fod. When we are not around, we can’t prevent family members from giving her certain things, however, when we are all together we control what she is able to have and we are admonished for it in front of the family. Nevertheless, our daughter is thriving on our diet while her cousins of similar age are overweight and developing at alarmingly early ages. Sorry this is so long, but all of this is to say, I completely understand. I understand when family members are unbending and unflinching in their loyalty to the Standard American Diet and unwillingness to hear otherwise. However, hopefully the choices we are making now will have an overt impact on future generations as they learn from us, with the possibility of a silent impact on older generations as they observe us and our increasingly healthy habits!

  9. oh my. tension still exists in my house about how i eat! however, due to my health being compromised they are more thoughtful/embracing my way of eating. my family lives on bread and cheese. they don’t eat veggies or fruit much at all! i don’t eat grains/dairy. hence the problem! after i got hives this fall from gluten, my mother was more sympathetic and accommodating to my dietary needs than ever. she’s currently experiencing some health issues as well and i have advised her to drop the dairy because of it’s inflammatory/mucous forming tendencies. she’s finally willing to listen!

  10. we definitely do…i love eating and cooking with my family, and we are all on the same page. we love to eat healthfully as much as possible, but indulging is all part of it too! i’m thankful that we all agree…if we didn’t that would be hard!

  11. Amazing post as usual! I have always been the odd eater in the family, since going vegetarian at age 6 since eating animals didn’t feel right.
    My family has always been accepting, but I never felt like I was able to form memories because I was usually just stuck eating the sides at holiday meals.

    Over the past few years things have gotten better, mainly because I became more knowledgeable about cooking. And last year I was able to help my mom veganize every single dessert at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    I think my memories are going to be kind of opposite, teaching my family about vegan cooking and helping them to make vegan things for me on holidays!

  12. Ha! This post made me really, really smile. My grandmother was very domineering and matriarchal too.

    Growing up, I lived off hamburgers, French fries, and ice cream (at my dad’s), and fatty roast beef, buttery mashed potatoes, and even more ice cream (at my mom’s). “Chinese food,” to me, was Sweet and Sour Chicken with fried rice.

    I totally changed my freshman year of college. How my parents have reacted is striking. My dad, though not changing his own diet, is utterly respectful and supportive of how I choose to eat. He despises anything green but just chuckles when I dive into a plate of steamed broccoli. And he loves it when I make him raw desserts!

    For my mom, different story. I got home for Thanksgiving and promptly learned I’d “gone off the deep end,” now that I hated using lots of butter, wanted my veggies steamed or roasted (and not from a can), and thought Pop Tarts were gross. When I saw what was really in a holiday favorite dish — two sticks of butter, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a carton of sour cream — I was repulsed, and my mother was very angry.

    Now, my mom doesn’t object when I cook her “Mimi meals,” like stir fries and whatnot. But she’s quick to get huffy if I pass on sugared-up baked beans and only take an appropriately-sized serving of steak (instead of a whole friggin slab of meat), or turn down a third cookie. Sometimes I eat more or taste some to calm her down, but I’ve gotten past that now that I’ve gained more confidence. It’s anecdotal, but my dad is in good health despite his cheeseburgers and Type 1 diabetes, whereas my mom’s in very questionable health due to her stress levels and dietary/exercise habits.

    Ultimately, I guess family gets you down the driveway, then it’s up to you on where to go.

  13. Oh gosh, your Yaya sounds a lot like my own grandma, stubborn but lovely somehow.
    When I was a kid, I mostly ate what I was served. I still ate meat, but only the dry, nearly fat free parts, like chicken breast or filet, because I simply hated the texture of animal fat. My family was fine with that. But when I became a vegetarian four years ago, things became more difficult. My family just doesn’t understand why I refuse to eat any meat or fish. I always tell them that I just don’t like the taste anymore, which is partly true. Our first Christmas dinner was hard, lots of discussion going on, but I think they’re used to my strange food preferences now and kind of accept them. These days my aunt prepares a vegan potato salad (without mayo, sausage and fish – yes, her “normal” potato salad contains all of it!), I bring my own tofu sausages instead of having one of their “real” sausages, and so we can all enjoy our dinner.
    But sometimes my grandma just has to make a snide remark like, “Are you still into that nonsense?!” Yes, granny, I am. And I love you, too!

  14. hey! just recently started reading your blog and it really resonates as i’m finally comfortable w/ my veganism and now wanting to explore more raw foods! i’d like to remind everyone that you should never apologize or feel bad for your food choices, ever. if someone has a problem with it, then it is exactly that, their problem. this is liberating!

  15. oh my gosh gena this post really resonates in my life, i couldn’t believe how much of this post resembled the thoughts in my brain about family eating.

    my family is from the philippines and everything there starts with meat as the base. growing up i didn’t enjoy any of it and i was naturally a vegetarian. my (progressive) father raising me alone after my parents divorced, allowed me to think freely and make my own options when it came to practically everything so that translated into my diet and lifestyle choices.

    i went vegetarian when i was 12, and the thought alone made everyone in my family think i was crazy. when i was 16 i went vegan and seriously they just couldn’t keep calm about it. it’s still common for the jokes, and fighting about my veganism to be at the table when i get together with them. it got to the point when i was 20 and just said:

    “This is who i am, i respect you all for who you are. I am here to spend time and love with my family and would appreciate the respect to be mutual. If we can’t even agree to disagree then I will happily go home with all of my beliefs until we can be mature adults.”

    needless to say, its still brought up every time i have conversations on the phone or visits with them… oh well. i guess stubbornness runs in filipino blood to.

    I am so blessed to have my father because his parenting skills allowed me to make my own decisions and from there i have become a lot healthier person. i still think about traditional filipino foods, and sometimes i veganize them. but in many ways i think about what you said and thats about new traditions with friends, and family alike.

    when it comes down to it, i’m the only vegan in my family.. but the only person that doesn’t have diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, etc.. i am the only truly active (happy and healthy) person that doesn’t suffer with an addiction of over the counters to aid in a wide spread health problems.

    i really love your perspective, it’s true and beautiful. it’s good to hear!

  16. Wonderful post. Most of the time my veganisn isn’t a problem, but my grandma questioned it at the last gathering insisting meat was the only way to get protein and telling an awful story of a lady in her retirement home on a vegan diet of only veggies and too weak to walk. I got the awkward task of explaining other sources of protein and clarifying that lady had an ED. Anyway, big meals and family gatherings have always been a tradition in our family, thankfully what’s on each members plate is not a big deal and hardly comes up.

  17. I don’t have a large family but gatherings with friends or family have always included food. I am very blessed to have 3 out of 4 of my family eat high raw, it makes eating healthy so much easier. My aunt is raw also. I actually wish we had more family to talk about health with but we have to work with what we have. I can imagine it would be difficult for me to not want to eat yummy cooked food if there were great cooks in my family and if we were italian or greek!

  18. I actually think the huge disparity in diets has made my family closer, if you can imagine that. I think because diet was such a touchy subject for several years, we learned to not rely on it as the “glue” for our family or the centerpiece of our family gatherings. I think we appreciate the conversation and each other more now that we’ve taken the focus off of what is on each other’s plates.

    I’m grateful you shared your memories with us. 🙂

  19. I’ve been viewed as the odd eater in my immediate and extended family since I was 14, so now it’s part of my identity so to speak. It is a struggle for me- trying to balance keeping the peace and eating in a way that follows my convictions. I, like a previous commenter, have come on way too strong and, in doing so, caused a lot of tension and did a bit more harm than good. So now I’m trying to show them that healthy food can taste good and slowly regain trust.

  20. Omg just today I posted about saying No Thank You to certain foods that you know are going to make you sick or feel less than ideal on any multitude of levels. For me this example was cheese quesadillas when out. Gluten + dairy = no way, tummy ache!

    And I also linked a back post I wrote 6 mos ago about Saying No Thank You to pushy people, people who mean well and want you to eat what they want you to eat, the “just a bite won’t hurt” people. No! Those people are not in the bathroom with me as I am doubled over about to die of GI trauma or who have to live with my skin rashes or other irritability when I eat my allergens. Yes, one bite can hurt.

    My mother doesnt really fully “get” my choices. I think she thinks that I make it up; I think sadly many ppl without food allergies think many of us w/ them are making it up. No, they are REAL!

    So for whatever one’s reasons for eating differently than others, I think it’s always like forging a path thru the uncut forest: dense and difficult! I have yet to be a member of a family or a community where high raw vegan GF soylight is embraced or “common”…LOL

    Great post, Gena!!!

    🙂

  21. My family definitely speaks in the language of food. There are foods each of us dislikes and likes, and we each differ from one another in where we are situated on the veg-omni spectrum. But we bond over garlic bread, salads, pies, fruit, and ethnic cuisines. The language of my taste buds is very much my family’s. The language of my choices is somewhat different, and overlaps to a different extent at different points in time. A year or two ago when I was insisting on veggie juice and nothing but veggie juice for breakfast, that sparked contention. Now my parents have finally bought a juicer, and embarrassing, I have cut way back on juicing and am trying to include protein at breakfast. It’s definitely an exercise in humility that my passionate nutritional beliefs change and I strive to talk about it in terms of “what I believe is best for me now.”
    The main contention when I was a kid was that I overate bigtime. My parents let me get away with more than they probably should have, but it certainly wasn’t their fault. I also fought to eat foods that my friends ate now and then- particularly candy. These days the main contention is when my mom cooks and is frustrated with my changes nutritional beliefs. She is vegetarian with a strong focus on dairy and she can tell that my turn from dairy is about health and weight rather than taste. I think she is slightly offended and concerned that I don’t conform to her beliefs about what is healthiest and that I turn down foods I like. There has been an undercurrent of tension since my eating disorder that reflected my trying to break away from my family’s over-protection and our family’s dangerous level of passion for eating.

  22. Such a wonderful post! This reminds me a bit of the beginning of Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, where he talks about his grandmother being always found in the kitchen cooking meals for her family, not only feeding people but “growing people,” as he called it.

    I know a lot of the sentiment of meat-rich meals being viewed as healthy comes from previous generations having less or little food in general, let alone something as calorically rich as meat. I know my own grandparents have a very strange (in my mind) relationship with food that stems from simply not having had much as children.

    I haven’t had the occasion yet to fix myself a vegetarian plate at a family holiday, but that time is coming soon and I’m actually not that worried about it. I may not be able to convince my grandfather that a diet without meat could possibly be healthy, but I don’t think he’d fight me on it either. The real hard part is not trying all 12+ dessert selections!

  23. This was a wonderful post Gena, one that I can relate to on so many fronts. But first, let me just say that in the months I’ve spoken with you, never once have you NOT seemed open-minded. In fact your ability to be open-minded was a trait that stood out for me from the get-go.

    While my family and I certainly do not have the same views on food- my Mother is adamant in the opinion that cow’s milk is essential to a diet- they have always been accepting of my eating habits so long as I stay healthy. Food has always played an important role in our family traditions and I do have fond memories with my Mom and Grandmother in kitchen. Though my eating habits have changed, my Mom and I still manage to have fun in the kitchen- even if she’s making fun of me for diligently pressing my tofu with her massive cookbooks. So I’m happy that I’m still able to participate, even if I don’t ask them to pass me the turkey :).

  24. What a great post. I can relate. When I first tried to become a vegetarian my dad sat me down like I was in 10th grade biology class and lectured me on complete proteins, right after handing me “Nourishing Traditions” and telling me to read up. Now my family occasionally jokes about my health habits (my brother gave me a slim jim for Christmas. Not funny), but mostly they are accepting. I wish I had more people in my life who not only understood why I eat how I do but also wanted to eat that way, too. I do feel like I always need to defend my choices.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  25. I’m relatively new to your blog but feel I need to comment on this anyways. First of all, I love the comments made thus far, they have really struck a chord with me.

    I continually struggle with my eating habits and the morals behind killing animals for food/fur. That said, I still haven’t managed to become a vegetarian but do try to eat locally and as responsibly as possible. I’m realizing that I haven’t significantly changed my eating habits primarily out of fear of the judgment from my family and the idea, as April said, of turning my back on my roots.

    Hopefully finding this community will help me learn to stand up for myself and start making better food decisions.

  26. i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, the tension and influence my family has on what i eat when i’m with them. i was a vegetarian for a long time and my mother *always* acted like what to cook for our occasional family meals was a huge mystery. inevitably she’d say to me with exasperation, “well, i don’t know what you eat.” really? 10 years of lacto-ovo vegetariansim and you’re still stumped?

    six months ago i started some serious experimenting with my diet to root out some sensitivities and to do a little gut healing. i’d love to keep it up – vegan, no gluten, no sugar (even most fruits) – which isn’t too hard when i cook for myself (which is most of the time) but is more challenging when i’m out with friends, and down right burdensome when i’m with family. i’m tired of my mother always being in a tizzy wondering what i could possibly eat at the table. i’m tired of being with extended family members who think it’s weird to prefer veggies to over-processed foods and meat. i’m tired of being apologetic when i need to ask about ingredients. i’m not doing it to challenge anyone else’s values or health. (i’m horrified by what some of them eat, but i’m not there to convert anyone.)

    but… as much as this weighs on me, it fires me up to find more people who make the same basic assumptions about food that i do (should be whole, organic, plant-based, etc). finding blogs like this, even though i’m not raw and not all the way vegan, has been so helpful. thanks, gena.

  27. I can totally relate to this! Nobody in my family eats the way I do. My mom is pretty much used to it, but we can’t get through a big family dinner without a million questions about why I’m not eating the turkey etc. They are all so loving and accepting though so I can’t complain too much!

  28. Food and families–tricky stuff. I was actually just looking back at some pictures of my last thanksgiving with my grandmother. I had no kitchen to prepare in so my aunt just ordered Chinese food for me. Sad that no one would bother to leave a little potato without dairy for me or make the veggies without butter.

    I know what you mean about Greek food. Chris’s side is Greek too. Lots of fatty rich food.

    My grandmother was actually quite tolerant of my choices when I made the food at my parent’s house–it was in her upbringing to eat what she was offered and accept it. So we tried to meet in situations were I could cook.

    My other grandmother was quite intolerant and bugged me about what I was eating all the time even though a lot of it was due to allergies. She and I did prepare food together–she showed me how to make gravy out of flour and meat stock. A skill I will never put to use. She now has dementia too.

    Thanks for sharing this. I don’t feel comfortable writing about much of this on my blog as a lot of my cousins claim to read it.

    As for you comment about judging about cooked food on raw blogs–I can’t think of any specific blog, just that I did it silently. Something I can look back and be embarrassed about.

    • Well, B, there are a whole lotta judgy raw blogs out there, and for what it’s worth I never got so much as a whiff of that on yours. And to quantify everything I’m embarrassed of, I’d need an accountant!

      I think some of my cousins read my blog (Kenny? Elizabeth? Kath? you out there?) but they know I live my life like a big, open, filterless book…;-)

  29. Beautifully written post! I think food, family dinners, dinners out etc. are SUCH a huge thing in our society that it definitely causes conflict with families. I am not Vegan or even Vegetarian, but I don’t eat pork, beef or poultry and my family does NOT understand this and insists on arguing with me. It really is frustrating!

  30. Reading this made me realize how lucky I am that my family is as open-minded as they are. They don’t agree with me but I am grateful that my older relatives like my grandma have not questioned me but instead help me find foods that fit my diet whenever there is a family gathering, like they cook beans separately for me and make sure to provide lots of fruits and veggies so I can enjoy food while everyone else is eating meat or other things I don’t eat.

  31. Food was certainly contentious in my household growing up. There were a lot of banned foods since my Dad recognized the non-food like nature of McDonald’s right off the bat. Fast food and “junk” food was completely banned, including sweets and crisps. That’s hard for a child, although, I have ended up mostly avoiding processing food and wholly avoiding fast food so I obviously took it to heart.

    What is more interesting to me, though, is that food is such a celebration in my household. We love the business of food. The process of it, the social aspect of it. I love baking, purely for the fun and experimentation of it – and to see others enjoy it. I love cooking to explore new cuisines and ingredients and try out exciting-sounding recipes. None of this was the case in my house growing up. My mum hates cooking. It was always a case of cooking out of necessity and the desire to provide well balanced meals for me and my sister. She hated the actual process of doing it.

    I wonder if that’s why I have taken such a pointed interest in food – in exploring, celebrating, and enjoying – as if to break free of any of those negative feelings I grew up around.

    Great post!

  32. literally, i almost cried reading this post. coming from a jewish family, food is just as significant for us as it is to yours or chloe’s or many other people’s. that shared act of eating is incredibly important, powerful and special to me, and it’s a huge part of the pleasure i take in food. it’s interesting to see it from the perspective of someone who is stalwart in her vegan lifestyle (as you have every right to be!).

    i think i’m very lucky though that my immediate family was very accepting of my transition to a vegetarian-heavy lifestyle – my corned beef-loving dad in particular. i’m sure part of it is that he’s glad to see me eating well and enjoying food, but i also think it’s because he has an open mind. i got him hooked on okra after ordering a dish of it at an indian restaurant last year, and he loved your raw stuffing last thanksgiving. that non-judgmental attitude is 100% tied into my food memories, the way your grandmother’s stubbornness is with yours.

    even so though, to this day, my aunt asks me every.single.time we have a family gathering if i really don’t want some beef-stuffed cabbage. it’s like she assumes, somehow, even though i have never eaten it, that i must have finally realized what i was missing. i appreciate the beauty in the history of that dish – it is one from my great-grandmother back in poland, and carrying it on is a special thing. it’s a time-consuming recipe, and my mom and my aunt always get together for a day in order to prepare it before the holidays. i love how much family is tied into that dish. but i’ve never eaten ground beef in my life (seriously can’t understand how it’s appetizing), and i’m certainly not going to start with the conventional, packaged, supermarket chuck they use. my aunt also commented at rosh hashanah that she doesn’t want anything but traditional food at thanksgiving this year (which is at her house) – which is a basically a way of saying, “leslie, don’t bring that vegan stuffing and that butternut squash and that cauliflower again.” we will see what actually happens.

    i do have to say though, that after years and years of barely eating at family gatherings for various different reasons, it is nice to participate at the table – even if a little tension still exists.

    • Thanks, m’dear.

      It’s worth saying that, for a long time, the tension in my family was also my refusal to eat, period. I think that the ED was both its own thing, and also a reaction to not having been raised with foods that appealed to me or made me feel wholesome when I ate them. But of course a part of me regrets — will ALWAYS regret — that my Yaya surely must have conflated my veg*nism with my eating disorder. What can I do? I hope that by setting a healthy vegan example nowadays, I can sort of make up for that karmically.

      And as much as families ought to share food and celebrate it together, that celebration is compromised when tastes and beliefs aren’t respected. So, stick to your guns at Thanksgiving this year 🙂

  33. I love National Geographic Channel’s “Taboo.” There’s a great article summarizing the show that I think relates well to this discussion (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/04/0419_040419_TVfoodtaboo.html). Here are a couple quotes from the article (that I think really echo your post) –

    “Food symbolizes many aspects of everyday culture and is a vehicle for social relations.”

    “Food is a window into culture, and in many ways our comments on what other people eat says more about us than them.”

    I know that differing perspectives are what lead to kitchen wars, but I love the universality of food being a tangible extension of one’s culture and beliefs. Eating is most definitely an act of communion in my family (I’m half Persian, after all) and it’s also a meaningful way I experience the places I live and visit.

    • Hi Saba,
      Thanks for that amazing article and it reminded me of the many grimaces I and my loved ones made when we watched shows like Bizarre Foods. I remember one episode when the host showed peanut butter to children of Brazil, I think, and how strange it looked and tasted to them. Another occasion was when I heard someone, maybe my anthropology professor, saying how strange indigenous people would think when they see us eating “bird embryos” (eggs) and factory-processed meats (deli meats), while we disgust over others consuming bugs (one of nature’s purest protein sources) as if it’s nothing. I’m sorry for bringing up meat in this comment for i respect that this cruelty-free-themed blog, but these examples stuck with me ever since and I realized how foods can be viewed by different cultures.

    • PS I want to add that my favorite thing about this blog, besides the amazing recipes, is that you are both confident in your beliefs and respectful of others. I cannot imagine a grandmother not loving that! 🙂

      • PPS (sorry for the excessive commenting, but your post sparked so much good food thought) I want to say that I’m sorry raw/vegan/vegetarian is sometimes considered taboo, and I think you set a really great example for people to find food that is “spiritually and physically rewarding.” Brava, indeed!

        Okay, I think I’m done.

  34. My family is mostly Indian and they are big on meat, chicken, and fish. Even if I could get past the fact I am vegetarian, it drives me nuts that everything they cook literally has an inch of grease on it.

    They don’t get the fact that I don’t eat any of those things! Actually, they are often offended that I won’t eat what they cook. I guess you could say they are the least thoughtful eaters I have ever encountered. I’ve learned that it’s a culture thing and I just have to forgive them for their closed-mindedness!

  35. I love this post!
    My eating and food tastes differ greatly from my parents. In particular my Father. He confuses my preference for plant based foods as a means to lose weight or diet. He’s often telling me “Eat some chicken honey I made it with no butter or oil!”
    This is not the issue at all…
    I just don’t care for animal protien for ethical, environmental and personal reasons. I’ve explained this many times – but perhaps it’s no use 🙂
    I feel a pang when he says it hurts his feelings that I won’t have some of his famous steak – which I did enjoy for years.
    But I know as you eloquently wrote I know I’m being true to myself – and at the end of the day he’s likely proud to have raised a daughter with conviction.

  36. I lived in Athens last fall and people never believe me when I tell them that authentic Greek food isn’t always that healthy!

  37. My family is interesting in that we grew up eating everything from well-balanced, clean simple meals to fast food. I have seen my family follow my influence in choosing fresher options such as fresh vegetables over frozen and spinach over iceberg. I am always shocked to come home and find that quinoa has replaced white rice in the freezer. Will they become vegetarians, never, but they find a balance that works for them.

  38. I really enjoyed this post. I too grew up in a household a lot like Chloe’s it sounds. My mom was a great cook. As were my older sisters. My mom baked fresh bread and cookies. My grandma was a baker too. The extended family would get together on weekends in the summer for a cookout with food, beer, etc.

    I grew up on a SAD. Meat and potatoes, though we did have a garden. And now I’ve gone the other direction. It does cause some conflict. My mother, when she eats, still eats crap. And I remind her that growing up, the meats we ate weren’t filled with hormones. And we had one meatless day a week. And we actually ate vegetables. But it seems the SAD has drifted from meat-potato-veggie to processed food, fast food, fried food, and no vegetables. At least in my family.

    I seem to have struck a balance. The vast majority of my meals are vegetarian, and a fair % are vegan. I don’t see husband and me going vegan, simply because I start missing certain foods from a physical standpoint. When I am a guest in someone’s home, I eat what I am served (for the most part). There’s a line I won’t cross. I do like sweets, but at my age, I have to be careful. So, I don’t really LIKE cake or pie. I don’t want to waste calories on cake or pie. I’d rather have dark chocolate, avocado, or extra main dish for the calories. Or wine.

    When I visit my mom, I do most of the cooking. That’s how I am sure that I can eat the foods that I like. My mom doesn’t necessarily understand my eating all the time. “What kind of meat do you want with that?” But we don’t preach to each other. When my brother went off on his “I bet vegetarians just hate hunters like me”, I said “actually, most vegetarians I know think it’s way too easy for people to eat meat killed by someone else. They are MUCH more understanding if you are willing to kill it.”

    My mother in law will actually say “Food isn’t important to me, I just eat to stop hunger.” But in reality, she has SUCH a strong food culture and is a GREAT cook with a lot of healthy meals. It’s just funny that our perspectives are so different.

  39. Funny, the other night I was at a holiday dinner at a friend’s house. She has a few family members who are vegan or vegetarian so it wasn’t a big thing food-wise, but everyone kept calling me “the Vegan” and at one point her father said, “You don’t eat meat? That’s okay, I make lamb!” and jokingly passed me a plate of chicken.

    Sometimes I get stressed out by family eating situations. Growing up in a Jewish home with very strong and clear eating customs as well as being in a serious relationship with a guy from a Persian background with their own personal and defined eating customs, I feel like I can’t connect all the way because I’m not eating the same thing as everyone else. To ME, it’s just food, but to everyone else it looks like I see myself as separate so I deliberately separate myself by not partaking in the communal meal. I don’t want it to be that way, I don’t want relatives to feel like it’s a “hassle” or they have to go out of the way to prepare something because “Ilana doesn’t eat meat or dairy.” I always feel like I *will* be able to find something I can eat. It’s just food – I don’t feel like I need to garner so much attention over it…but I will. Communal and holiday meals are a HUGE part of both my familial life and my culture and I have family members who take certain traditional foods very seriously, and I just don’t want to offend or make them feel like I think I’m ‘better.’ I have other family members who are completely openminded and understanding and love to ask me questions because they’re curious about it, and I love to answer them, but sadly I don’t get to do this with everyone.

    Separate from that (maybe not?), the other night I had a tiny mental crisis while contemplating my future. Although I am vegan by my choice I have no problem cooking meat for others who choose to eat meat. I just can’t comprehend putting something like chicken soup on the table for Shabbat week after week without ever tasting it! I mean it’s such a noncrisis but it is a conflict I’m going to have to learn how to reconcile for MYSELF because maybe when I start to feel more comfortable about the “difference” I’ll be able to better lead my family to that same comfort zone.

    Ahh this comment is kind of all over the place but this post really resonated with me right now!! Also, it’s such lovely writing as ever. Your posts are such a pleasure.

  40. Man, I hear ya, I hear ya, I hear ya! I have ALWAYS been under fire in my family for my food choices. I was a vegetarian at 15 and boy did I hear it. “You need iron, where are you going to get iron without red meat?” Or my younger cousins telling me my veggie burger looked like vomit and I should eat like a normal person. Sigh. After the crohn’s diagnosis it got worse. Until they realized I was doing better being vegan. Now they don’t question it at all. But they still forget to make me food on the side before adding cheese and what not. Some things never change! 🙂

  41. It’s hard to say at this point in my life. I’m from the South, and here even vegetables are spiked with meat. I was raised on traditional country cooking, and when I started a family of my own that is how I cooked as well.

    Today? I’m in a time in my life where I’m trying to figure out myself. I am not a vegetarian, but lately it has been rare for me to eat meat and when I do it’s seafood. My family has been surprisingly supportive at get togethers when I turned down certain things.

    This post really struck a chord with me, because this is what keeps me from being a vegetarian..the ties between food and family and roots. I reckon I feel like I’m turning my back on my roots if I completely reject the traditional foods.

  42. That’s the best movie ever. I could watch it again and again(OK, I actually DO do that). It never gets old, and even though my family isn’t that ethnic, I like to think we’re just as crazy.

    In my family, I’d say I’m definitely the one who speaks with food. The rest of my family eats a lot simpler and would rather get things taken out or from a box and I’m OK with that. If anything, it gives me a chance to show off being unique and introduce them to a whole new world(OK, now I’m going to start quoting Aladdin)…

  43. This is such a beautiful and well written post! Growing up, I ate a very traditional diet (middle america, meat & potatoes, fast food), but then I went off to a liberal college in CT. I remember coming home for fall break that first year and refusing to eat any of my old favorites. I turned my nose up at my mom’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and white bread not for health reasons, but because I wanted to assert my independence, to show everyone how much I’d changed in the last few months. While everyone else ate their supper, I dined on sushi, hummus, and tofu (previously unheard of foodstuffs in my family). At the time I think I confused my family a bit (and maybe even hurt their feelings). They couldn’t figure out why I was trying so hard to break from my past.
    These days I’ve struck more of a balance in my eating habits. 90% of the time I eat whole, healthful foods (I actually really like tofu!!), but during the holidays I still partake in my Mom’s homecooking and family culinary traditions. I really do think that food = love for so many families and cooking for and eating with each other is such a great way to demonstrate that love.

    Sorry for the book of a comment! This post just got me rambling 🙂

    • GREAT comment. I too have sometimes shoved my dining habits in other peoples’ faces just to prove a point about my own individuality, and in looking back I’m a little mortified. Way to be self-aware.

  44. This is a beautiful post because it speaks to experiences to which almost everyone can relate: familial food disagreements and the nagging feeling of unresolved business are nearly universal in the distress that they cause to those involved. Thank you for sharing your story. My relatives and I do not yet speak entirely the same culinary language; however, we are all rather open-minded people, and I have found that the understanding and sharing of different foods and related philosophies continues and seem to be an ever-evolving process as we learn more about various cultural and geographic traditions, health discoveries, green-ness, and other important dynamic variables.

  45. Beautiful story, and beautifully told.

    I grew up in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother, and I have many many fond memories learning how to cook family favorites. I also have that discord though, even today, as my nonna tells me to eat more meat or that I should eat pasta every day. Different diets work for different people, but in her stubborn way she insists her diet is the best one. I am lucky that my cooking memories are completely separate from those fights and discussions, but I have to admit that both make me smile.

    P.S. I hope you don’t mind me correcting, but I feel the need to tell you that it was Aunt Voula who had the famous phrase, and that famous phrase is “You don’t eat no meat? That’s ok. I make lamb!!!!” I only know this because the movie pretty much IS my family (PB’s aunt is exactly like Aunt Voula- even in looks) and we quite the movie all the time!

  46. Wow – LOVE this!! Thankfully my family and I are all on the same page when it comes to food and cooking, though occasionally my mom thinks that white bread piled with butter is healthy. 🙂 Even though my grandmother cooked with lard and bacon fat, she lived to be 90 – not because of that, but because of her theory of moderation and the plethora of other healthy foods she included!