How are you handling Thanksgiving this year? Or the other food-focused winter holidays? Are you plagued with fears of political arguments and mired in post-election hysteria? Wondering how you will handle the not-so delicate political disagreements table-side?
I feel lucky that I am largely only surrounded by those who share my politics making frenzied and furiously frank disagreements disrupting dinner and digestion unlikely! That said, I can empathize as just before the election I visited my dad and we have vastly different politics.
It is challenging enough sharing meals with folks with different politics or differing views on immigration policies, women’s rights, gay marriage, and church-state separation, but to add to the mix differing diets—woah nelly! Contentious dinner conversation means nobody digests—ugh!
Strangely enough, I’ve found that how to handle being safely gluten-free at holiday celebrations and how to handle contentious political discussions share some similarities—no really!
1. Come Prepared
Politics: What are the ground rules? Will political discussions happen at the dinner table or after dinner? Will the news be on while eating? How will the disagreements be handled? GUARANTEED—you aren’t the only one worried about contentious political debates happening at Thanksgiving so come-up with a game plan and get it agreed upon by the host and some key attendees (if not all of them).
Food: Likewise, in the GF for the Holidays Video below I share the three options for safely being gluten free at holiday parties and how to navigate each of the three. Whether you are going to host and control the food prepared to ensure your food allergies are covered, you are going to attend and bring comfort foods and protein foods that are safe for you to eat, or you are not going to let anyone know about your food issues and simply eat ahead of time—get prepared! Make a game plan! Know how you are going to handle saying no to Aunt Marge’s apple pie without hurting her conservative feelings.
2. Speak from the Heart
Politics: Instead of thinking about how you will respond to the political nonsense your relative is vomiting at you while they are saying it…listen…. Wait until they are finished and then think about what they said and respond—simply listen while they are talking. Contrary to popular belief, not all Trump supporters are racist and the majority (I hope) voted for him for non-racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic reasons, so what are they? And contrary to popular belief, not all people that voted for Clinton are rabid, man-hating women. Why did your college educated, borderline brilliant, safety-pin wearing, and empathetic cousin vote for Clinton?
Look beyond the propaganda and beyond the sound bites to the underlying feelings and emotions behind the choices your friends and relatives made and from that place, have a discussion. My dad and I have vastly different politis; however, we were able to find middle-ground. Neither of us liked Trump or Clinton, but disagreed over the “worse of two evils,” but we could bond over why both were problems. I can understand why my dad had economic anxieties with Clinton and he can understand my concerns with Trump’s racist comments. I have a long background in competitive debate and so it is challenging for me to listen to someone without engaging to win or to change his mind; however it is beneficial to keeping family relationships if you engage in discussions to understand first and from there, later with a one-on-one conversation, look to illicit change.
Food: Those of us with celiac disease all probably have relatives that should be gluten free (yes, it is genetic) and often many of us have those relatives and friends who choose to ignore their symptoms, have silent symptoms (osteoporosis and anemia are the two most common symptoms of celiac disease), or cheat and eat bites of gluten here or there or splurge at holidays. Our temptation—my temptation—is to berate them into being strictly gluten-free and yell at them about the dangers of stomach cancer, inflammation, and autoimmune conditions. But, you know what? They probably already know all of that by now.
What are the underlying reasons why they choose to not pay attention to their health? Listen for those reasons—with your heart and discuss that. Commonly those folks that ignore their health issues or consciously eat things they know are bad for them don’t care enough about themselves to care about what they eat. Berating isn’t the answer, but love and support is. Likewise, there is an understandable fear from survivors of disordered eating that removing a food from their diet may spiral them back into disordered eating and they need your support and love, not arguments.
The best means to illicit friends and family to better take care of their own health is to lead by example not condescension.
3. Get Help/Team-up
Whether it is political differences or food differences, is there someone else at the table you can turn to for support? And if not, is there someone you can call for support during Thanksgiving when things get crazy and out of hand?
4. Take Care of You First
I’m not one to say—“turn to comfort foods” when things get bad, but I have to admit, for me, that when I was having political conflicts with family, some dark chocolate on hand was a welcome respite. And going into holiday parties, make sure you have safe protein to eat (balance thy blood sugar) as well as comfort foods or food that makes you joyful or speaks to you of the holidays on hand (and to be safe, you should probably make that food and bring it to the celebration)—it helps. Also, don’t try to deal with political disagreements and/or food allergies while also dealing with low blood sugar. A “hangry” person is not persuasive or enjoyable to be around.
5. Remember the True Meaning of the Holidays
Be thankful and enjoy family. It isn’t about the food and it isn’t about sports, competition, or politics—it is about togetherness. Try to keep the focus on togetherness and away from contention. I’m quite content eating before a party and just hanging-out as long as I remember why I came to the party. If I don’t eat before and my blood sugar drops and I get HANGRY and there is nothing gluten free to eat—that is when things get ugly. So yes… again… prepare ahead.
6. The Past is the Past
Politics: The election is over. You are not going to change anyone’s mind about who they “should have” voted for. You can only reach some agreements about what is possible in the future for the president that we have. That will only come through thoughtful communication and not yelling and shaming each other.
Food: If you are already at dinner, it is too late to be angry at your family for putting the stuffing in the turkey which now renders the turkey not gluten free and you can’t eat it. It’s too late to be angry at your sister for not setting aside some of the pumpkin pie filling for you to eat while the rest of the family eats pie (no, you can’t just not eat the crust and have it be safely GF). What you can do is enjoy what you can eat—even if that means only eating the nut bar or bison bar you brought in your purse (you do have back-up emergency food in your purse, don’t you?), enjoying your family for the time you have together, and educating them in a non-confrontational way why gluten is a problem for you and what cross-contamination is. Know that as a result of your educating them, your next group meal will better support you.
More, More, More….
There are more tips for handling the holidays gluten-free as well as how to avoid cross-contamination in this video. I don’t think there is any way to avoid cross-contamination of hurt feelings and stubbornness when political differences get discussed at the table but you can avoid cross-contamination of gluten (and other food allergens). So get on it! Get prepared!
If you are newly gluten free, know someone newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or are hosting a food-focused celebration with GF attendees, this complimentary workshop video recording will help ease your mind. The talk focuses on 1) How to avoid gluten cross-contamination in the kitchen and at parties 2) How to communicate your dietary needs and maintain your mental health over the holidays, and 3) How to remake some of your holiday favorites GF.
Here are some other articles for handling the holidays Gluten Free:
- Avoiding Being Glutened During the Holidays—Common Cross-Contamination Culprits
- Holiday Gluten-Free Party Planning—Tips for Attending and Hosting
- Making it GF for the Holidays: Simple Changes to Traditional Recipes
These are a couple other articles, I find especially helpful for navigating political contention at Thanksgiving:
- “The Post-Trump Thanksgiving: How to share a table with relatives whose views you abhor” by J. Bryan Lowder
- “Here’s How to Talk to Your Trump-Supporting Relatives This Thanksgiving” by Marie Solis
- If you don’t know why folks voted for Trump, this is a super helpful Facebook discussion moderated by my friend Sarah Syverson. This is also helpful to read for ideas on how to moderate a political discussion with folks that you want to keep in your life!
- “One Way to Bridge the Political Divide: Read the book that’s not for you” by Lynn Neary
Please share other ideas for how make Thanksgiving a little more digestive friendly in the comments below (whether it be for an allergen-free holiday or a political discord-free holiday).