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DECEMBER 2013: If the old holiday food traditions leave some of your company out in the cold, maybe it's time to invent new ones.

Come All Ye Eaters
Holiday menus for all food faiths

At holiday gatherings when I was young, food was the glue. Argue as we might about politics, we agreed on the menu. Same as last year's, of course!

It wasn't important whether the dishes reflected our personal way of eating or not. What was paramount was maintaining our shared traditions. As long as we did that, we could keep the clan together and still go our individual ways—which is to say, belong and express ourselves or have our cake and eat it, too.

Society seems to have done a 180 degree turn since those days. Now, food is more likely to be the schism than the glue—the fault line on which the gathering crumbles.

The main divide is typically over meat—and, increasingly, eggs and dairy. It is not just that some of us do, or do not, eat animal products or only eat them if the animals were raised under certain conditions. It is that some of us believe in our way of eating so strongly that we feel alienated if we do not see our food beliefs legitimized at the table.

In other words, food beliefs are in danger of becoming the paramount thing.

Now, far be it from me to say food beliefs are unimportant. I have quite a few strongly held ones myself. I just think that when we get together with family and friends for a holiday, it's not to focus on what separates us but to reinforce what we share.

If traditional fare is no longer something we can share, let's change the menu.

There are several ways to go about this if you are the host. The first is to serve separate, but equally appetizing vegetarian main dishes alongside your meat entrées. (This assumes that you are a meat eater. If you're not, there's no need to have a meat dish just to please the carnivores. No one expects a host to serve food he or she doesn't eat.)

If there will be vegans at the table, make the vegetarian dishes vegan instead. You can serve cheese or other dairy toppings on the side.

Come to think of it, you can relegate meat to side dishes as well and have only vegan entrées.

A second approach is to go 100% vegetarian. This is the route I tend to take, as it's more inclusive and simpler. It's quite possible that traditional eaters in the company will grumble that it's "not the holiday" without the familiar roast. If that happens, acknowledge their sense of loss and then explain that you feel including everyone in the feast is the best way to preserve the true holiday spirit.

A third alternative is to make the meal potluck. If each guest brings a dish he or she eats, no one can complain about the choices.

See below for a seasonal vegan dish that has met with great success at my own table and visit my blog for more inclusive holiday recipes.

Happy holidays to you all—and keep exploring ethical and sustainable ways to eat in the year to come!

—Sheryl Eisenberg

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On This Topic


Vegan holiday dishes
INCLUSIVE, SEASONAL HOLIDAY RECIPES can be found below and on This Green Blog.


Recipe

MAPLE SQUASH FOCACCIA
A variation on Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Squash on Toast

Focaccia
For the focaccia bread, get pre-made pizza dough from your favorite pizzeria, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or the freezer section of your local supermarket. Alternatively, get a pre-baked Boboli pizza crust. Note: If using frozen dough, remember to defrost it in advance.

Topping Ingredients
• 1 medium kabocha squash (2 1/2-3 lbs) or other sweet winter squash, such as butternut
• 1/2 c. olive oil plus extra for drizzling
• 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
• 1 yellow onion
• 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 c. maple syrup
• Coarse sea salt
• 4 tbsp. fresh chopped mint

Condiments (optional)
For dairy lovers: ricotta cheese. For vegans: creamy cannellini bean puree made with 1 can of beans, 1/4 c. of olive oil, 1-2 tsp. of lemon juice & salt to taste.

Directions
1) Bake the pizza dough, following the instructions provided. When done, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and return to the oven for a couple of minutes. Set aside.

2) Turn the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3) Peel and seed the squash and cut it into pieces, 1/4 inch thick or less. Toss it in a bowl with the olive oil, pepper flakes and 2 tsp. of salt. Then spread it out on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or more until tender and slightly colored. Set aside.

4) While the squash is cooking, prepare the onion mixture. Peel and thinly slice the onion and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of salt. Sauté in 1/4 c. oil over medium-high heat for 15 minutes or more until limp and deeply colored. Stir in the vinegar and syrup and cook for another 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Watch for burning and lower the heat if necessary.

5) Mix the squash and onions with a fork till they're well combined and season to taste. Spread on the bread and sprinkle with the mint. Serve any extra in a bowl at the table along with the optional condiments.

Note: If not serving till later, hold off on the mint and wrap loosely with wax paper. Just before mealtime, warm for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven and then add the mint.

Time: 1 hour plus 30-45 minutes to roll out and bake the dough.
Yield: 1 focaccia (8 servings)




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Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Brooklyn, where—along with her family—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.