The Austin Chronicle

Dear Glutton: Healthy for the Holidays

Finding an oasis from family obligations

By Emily Beyda, December 2, 2016, Food

Dear Glutton,

Can you help me find a good place to hide out from family obligations and eat something vegetable based/healthy without someone asking me rude questions about my dietary restrictions? I can suck it up for Thanksgiving, but I need a plan for December's holidays, and there's only so much kvetching over leftovers a person can take.

– Thankful for Seitan

I may be the only person in America who doesn't find the holidays stressful. This is partially because I have the greatest family (Hi guys! You still reading my column? How nice of you!), but also because we are a bunch of stone-cold weirdos. Our Thanksgiving table this year included vegans; vegetarians; people with wheat, sugar, and dairy sensitivities; a surprisingly large number of people who don't like turkey; and one guest who steadfastly refuses to consume anything but pie and dinner rolls. This means that no one is in a position to judge anyone else's weird food stuff and, as a bonus, there's always a dedicated audience happy to take home even the strangest leftovers (cranberry sauce with sour cream and horseradish, anyone?).

I say this all not to brag, dear reader, but to commiserate. I too have eaten my fair share of canned green bean casserole and Jell-O salad, have had distant relatives finger my bony elbows and ask me personal questions about my caloric intake. Just last weekend, a man, upon finding out that I write this column, told me that I couldn't possibly be any kind of decent food writer, skinny as I was. "Try eating some food sometime and get back to me," he said, and I honestly think he was trying to be polite. I've written before about how food is deeply personal, one of the most private aspects of our inner selves that is, somehow, totally socially acceptable to talk about in public. The question of what we eat and why carries a lot of emotional weight. So talking about it makes people weirrddd, especially when you conduct these conversations under the influence of the trauma force winds of family, confined spaces, day drinking, and enforced socialization that Thanksgiving implies.

So your idea of a personal vegetable oasis is a good one. Sit down with your family. Have a meal. Politely refuse to engage in conversations about your dietary habits by steering the conversation toward something less sensitive, like religion, say, or politics (NOTE: THIS IS A JOKE. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DISCUSS POLITICS). Then, once you've faked your way through it, wake up early the next morning, and take yourself out for a nice vegan brunch.

You may know that normally I have no patience for brunch, especially with large groups and especially in times of emotional distress that will only be aggravated by waiting in line for eggs Benedict. But I think this situation is an exception to my general rule, and that a solo brunch at Counter Culture is, in fact, the answer to your prayers. They have a beautiful patio, great coffee, and specialize in vegan comfort food, including my favorite, spicy tofu rancheros with a side of seitan sausage. Get there right when they open. Spend a few hours sitting outside with a good book, enjoying the silence, and, of course, the fact that you live in a place where sitting outside in the late fall is a viable option, letting the waitress (who will inevitably be both adorable and just a little salty) refill your coffee a few times. Don't talk to anybody. Keep your phone tucked away. Eat all the vegetables your little heart desires.

When you are back home and with your family, consider all the awkward food conversations an opportunity to exercise your anthropological decoding skills, with all the questions about what you will and won't eat and why, just misguided expressions of loving concern. And if all of that still sounds like too much, email me again next year. There's always a space for you at my table.

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