Going Vegan for the Holidays

Most weight gain, studies show, happens during the holidays. But you can stuff your face, not stuff a turkey that had to die for stuffing (Google it) and eat to your healthy heart’s content.

Starting with the day before Thanksgiving, the phone rang with a request from a Tampa TV station to do a story about what to make for vegans who to come for dinner. I had come back 12 hours before from speaking at the Miami Seed Food and Wine Festival, their VegFest. It was a bad hair day, but I clipped it back, remembered that from 18 years in TV news, nobody remembers what you look like in a potent 10 second interview, and within an hour the crew was there.

To my surprise, the story that aired at different times on two different newscasts were long and full of multiple sound bites. No money in broccoli, but I definitely see signs that the interest in getting off animal agriculture is snowballing. The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference is the umpteenth time the world has tried to figure out how to address the growing body of scientific evidence that climate change is human-caused. An even larger snowballing movement is trying to get the world to sign on to what the United Nations has said for almost a decade: giving up animal agriculture will do more to reduce greenhouse gasses than giving up driving altogether.

As a result, vegetarian, vegan or not, the interest in trying to reduce dependence on meat for protein is almost overwhelming. On Thanksgiving Day, I had the great pleasure of beginning the morning prepping a quinoa veggie stir-fry and then driving an hour to Tampa to a vegan potluck dinner where more than 260 others brought beautiful main courses, sides and desserts. One of my friends made 15 chocolate pies. Although I had been asked to give a short talk on my work, I jumped at the opportunity to serve vegan faux meats or meat analogues, as they are called. I had the extreme pleasure of volunteering to serve people for the very first time, an alternative to turkey. One of the greatest paychecks of all time was watching their delight as they came through the line realizing that this deliciously prepared fake meat could actually work for them.

We served three varieties: Gardein chicken scallopini, Field Roast and Tofurkey. The latter two were stuffed. All of these companies donated huge amounts to the Tampa event, which was the 10th year at the Unitarian church.

My closest animal rights and environmental friends, who are also national speakers and authors are often very impatient with programs like “Meatless Mondays.” They say it encourages people to believe one day a week is fine to dump animals, but the rest of the week it’s OK. Over the weekend, organizers in local chapters of Direct Action Everywhere staged peaceful protests at Whole Foods around the country protesting recent investigations which found that animals kept at supposedly “humane raised” farms were no different than the gruesome conditions found at conventional farms. As a former consumer reporter, I can say that charging more for humanely raised animals may be problematic if the conditions are not as advertised. Even at “humane farms,” beaks are trimmed without anesthesia so that the animals don’t peck themselves to death. These videos are so prolific on social media that mainstream consumers are reconnecting and reassessing food choices.

Not long after my book, “Paleo Vegan” came out, National Geographic last year had a cover story, “The Real Paleo Diet,” and practically quoting out of my book in a dozen places said, “The world can’t sustain a diet based on meat and dairy.” For athletes, getting enough protein is easy on a vegan diet. Even though I placed first in my age group last year in Florida in the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meters, I don’t view myself as a great runner. I started competing to show that you can do fine “just” on plants.

If you put on a few extra holiday pounds, know that a plant-based vegan diet can get you results. You can easily lose or gain weight on it. And everything in between. More importantly, you can sleep at night knowing that even indirectly, you are doing something to help the planet. As I am fond of saying, along with longtime activist “Mad Cowbody,” Howard Lyman in the spectacular movie “Cowspiracy,” “Don’t even begin to call yourself an environmentalist if you aren’t vegan.”

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