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The Ghost of Raw Food Christmas Past

Monday Dec 9, 2013 | BY |
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Ever since I became a raw foodist, Christmas and other holidays were a bit of a problem.

I’m not a strict raw foodist anymore and haven’t always been, but healthy eating and a high-raw diet is something that’s part of my life.

Which means that I always had to deal with what I was going to eat for Christmas with my family.

In Quebec we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so that means that Christmas Eve is THE big family reunion of the year. That’s usually the only time of the year I see some of my cousins and some aunts and uncles.

I remember a few Christmas, each with very different decisions and results.

2002 – The Raw Christmas That Made Me Sick

That year I was really trying to make the raw food diet work in my life. I had tried it for almost 3 years 100%, gave up, and went back into it. It wasn’t easy, but I was trying to make it work.

That Christmas I didn’t want to give up my diet principles for just one evening of family time. So I notified my aunt in advance that I wouldn’t be partaking in the traditional dinner of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and so on. I would eat some of the items, but not all of them.

I brought a raw dish made with almond pâté, to share with every body. I ate that, along with Waldorf salad, and fruit. My brother was still a vegetarian at the time, and ate like me. So at least we could support each other.

The result: the mixture of the raw recipes with the other dishes, however healthy they may have been, made me sick. I was already a “weak raw foodist” with a sensitive digestion, but this time I was in pain. I was trying to hide the fact that my stomach was hurting badly with gas and indigestion, while listening to my aunt rave about my dish, asking for the recipe.

I got home as soon as possible and spent a few hours passing gas and feeling horrible.

2004 – The Christmas Before My Fast

In 2005 I underwent a 23 day water fast in Costa Rica. I flew there on January 1st, so I spent Christmas in Montreal with my family. It wasn’t a raw Christmas, but I couldn’t eat much because I was trying to stay clean before my fast. So I ate boiled potatoes, salad and cooked vegetables. I felt fine. Of course, I didn’t tell my family that I was going to Costa Rica to fast for over three weeks on water! And the food wasn’t too much an issue, because this is what they thought vegetarians ate.

2006 — My First Non-Vegetarian Christmas

The year before I was traveling in Bali and spent Christmas there. But in 2006 I had taken a hiatus from the raw food diet. In fact, I had stopped being a vegan all together, for that entire year. I was exploring other options, eating other foods.

I really wanted to have a normal Christmas, but as soon as I took a slice of turkey, my cousins started cross-questioning me. “What, I thought you were a vegetarian?”

“Well, I guess I’m not.”

But for a non-vegetarian, I was awfully picky about what I ate. It was kind of awkward because I wanted to have a “normal Christmas” but I couldn’t bring myself to eat certain things, like red meat (in stuffing). And I didn’t really want to get in the complicated details of my diet history. So I muttered some non-sense and ate the tiniest amount of turkey with mostly salads, and no alcohol.

2010 – Eating Bad Vegetarian Curry for Christmas in the Philippines

That year I was traveling the world with my ex-wife. We were not raw, but were trying to stay vegan. The only option at the restaurant on the tiny island where we happened to be in the Philippines was something called “vegetarian curry.”

It was probably the worst vegetarian meal of my life. The overcooked vegetables were bathing in some kind of curry-powder infused creamy sauce that tasted like nothing, and was served with white rice. I couldn’t eat more than a few bites, so I spent that Christmas essentially fasting.

2012 – My First Normal Christmas

After two vegan Christmas in a row abroad, I was back in Montreal, determined to have a normal Christmas. It was the usual dinner, but this time I ate whatever I felt like eating. And I felt fine. I enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner, some Champagne earlier, and I ate a bit of everything without guilt or second thought. It was truly my favorite Christmas in the last 15 years by far!

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

This year, I decided to do a 5-7 day fast which will end about a week before Christmas. I haven’t fasted for that long in many years, and I’ll be doing it in California at a health center.

This isn’t my best timing ever for a fast, but I always feel that cleansing and detox must happen whenever it’s possible and needed, rather than just whenever is perfectly convenient (which often never happens).

It will probably be a normal Christmas for me, but a very frugal one! I’ll try to eat as little as possible to avoid messing up my system after the fast. But because it will be a short fast, I should be okay.

Whenever we try to follow a particular diet and lifestyle, holidays with family can always be tricky. Everyone has to decide what their priorities are and what compromises, if any, they’re willing to make.

I found out over the years that I’m much happier if I allow myself to eat whatever is served, with no special request, on those occasions when I’m invited over for dinner. That’s my philosophy.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t follow certain health principles – most of the time — but I’m willing to give them up temporarily to enjoy a pleasant evening without fuss over food.

What about you? Comment below…

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998. He is the author of several books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies.

He was named Best Health Blogger of the year in 2011 by Renegade Health. Frederic has experimented with many diets and specializes in raw food, vegetarian and vegan topics, as well as how to balance a healthy diet in the real world. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

28 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Hedda Zahner says:

    Good you are fasting for the week of the Solstice, in which your body will receive exponentially more cleansing. Kryon likened it to a string of pearls, with the largest one on the Solstice, and tapering off in both directions from that centre. I will be joining you in this fast and like you, occasionally partake in a small amount of food that is not normally in my diet (raw or vegan). Fighting against something just sets up resistance in body and mind.

  2. DeniseName (required) says:

    I believe what you said is true. eating differently at the holidays is very hard. I started my vegan journey at a health institute which suggests eating 80% raw and 20% cooked. In my world, I find this very difficult so I mainly eat a cooked vegan diet. I don’t give it up for the holidays. I eat what I can eat and don’t eat meat or dairy. It took some time for my relatives to get used to it but, now they actually try some of what I eat. There’s only one person who makes fun of the diet. He constantly says he’s going to make me steak and barbecue. I’ve basically come back with some vegan jokes but, I usually just ignore him because I only see him at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I believe my health is worth staying vegan. I have diabetes and had IBS before becoming vegan and I don’t want to go back to that just for goodies during the holidays. I don’t criticize your enjoying the holidays, I’m just saying what I beleive. Thanks for the article and food for thought.

  3. I agree it is best during the holidays to not make yourself crazy about the food that is being served. I am selective in what I eat at these gathering, but I also believe the joy and the laughter of being with friends and family is the important part.

  4. jodi says:

    great article-as usual. i went over my relative’s house for thanksgiving this year and was very careful about what i eat since just like you when i was there last yr and i ate w/abandon (or maybe u didn’t) i got sick afterwards- not pleasant. my aunt had stuffing separate from the turkey and lots of vegetables. i skipped dessert because to tell you the truth, nothing tempted me. seriously, an apple pie from costco? i work in the bakery at whole foods and would rather have one of those. i brought the chocolate mousse so i didn’t really need any of that- have to admit though i licked the bowl when i was making it. :) moral of the story? be balanced?

  5. aaron says:

    “I’m much happier if I allow myself to eat whatever is served,”….if they are serving human?

  6. Annie says:

    I became lacto-vegetarian for humane reasons, along with my whole family. We simply love our fellow beings and can’t bear the thought of causing their suffering and death. It was years later that I realized a good vegetarian diet (i.e. one full of fresh and cooked plant foods) rewards you with so many health benefits – feeling well, no aches or pains, sharp minds, and longevity (my vegetarian parents are in their 90s, still ‘with it’ and walking miles without sticks. They have outlived all their meat-eating siblings who spent decades deteriorating in pain.) Most of my family is now vegan or nearly vegan, some eating just a little cheese and butter. I feel lucky that we haven’t had a “normal” festive meal for 50 years or more. I couldn’t eat any animal now – the thought of it is stomach churning and the thought of some poor creature being murdered for my taste buds is heart-wrenchingly abhorrent – probably akin to a meat eater being asked to kill and eat a human baby. I can’t stop millions of animals being slaughtered and eaten every day, but I can set a good example and share the benefits of a plant food-only diet based on decades of experience.

    • Cath says:

      Annie, you are so lucky to have your entire family on board. I’m vegan, and like you, just couldn’t eat an animal no matter how many Aunts and Uncles I may offend, or how little else their was to eat. Here in New Zealand our meat and dairy industry is ruining our environment – both soil and water ways, so I object on those grounds as well. I do find it unpleasant to be around people eating meat. I do my best to tune it out by focusing my attention on the conversation (until it turns to how delicious the ham is) and my own food, that I make and bring myself. I’d like to share this quote from David Coats in “Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm”. “Isn’t man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife such as birds, kangaroos, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice, foxes and dingoes by the million in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billion and eats them. This in turn kills man by the million, because eating all those animals
      leads to degenerative and fatal health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year, sends out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”
      This is the best time of the year to practice peace on Earth, for ourselves and all members of the Earth community, not just humans. Our Christmas meals should embody peace, love, goodwill and be a celebration of optimal health and longevity. This year I’m going to prepare the most delicious, nutritious and loving meal I can create as a celebration of life and share it with my family as an offering of love. It’s none of my business what they then do with that offering, but I intend to enjoy every mouthful.

  7. Rhonda says:

    Hi Frederic,

    Thank you for sharing your past Christmas celebrations. I think most health conscious people attend some of these family get togethers and have to make the best of them. If we go to one I make sure to bring a salad and a side so I have something to share and that I feel good about eating. I also try to have the get together at my home at least every other year and then I get to provide a healthy vegan with some raw foods. I did the Thanksgiving meal this year and it was funny as our good friend recently was diagnosed with a condition requiring her to go gluten free. So I chose to make foods gluten free and our friends enjoyed our vegan and raw meal.

    I hear what your message is saying and I do think it is important to be kind and not demanding of our dietary wants at get togethers. Make your best choices and enjoy the company.

    Have a great Christmas celebration ~ Rhonda

  8. Christine says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Great post and timely as many of us are thinking about what we eat over the holidays for a variety of reasons. it may be ‘special’ diets – raw, vegan, gluten free – or overeating on too many rich foods that we always say we wont do again next year but often do, or for some families worrying that they don’t have enough food this year to give the children a traditional Christmas feast.

    For me I am vegan at home but will be having Christmas dinner with family and will be happy to just be vegetarian. I don’t compromise on the meat as I cant personally stand to have that on my plate. After 20 years of no meat I cant go back and my family are used to this and don’t expect me to. But I am happy to not ask about whether there is dairy in anything or any other animal related ingredient. Its not worth causing the family (and myself) any stress during the one time we do all get together each year. We are not a strongly religious family as such so we don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas by church attendance but we do see it as family time and a time of gratitude that we are all be together again another year and gratitude for what we have. My choice of eating is not as important to the overall picture and it would be selfish to make it a big deal.

  9. leileh says:

    I have FINALLY decided not to make a fuss at holidays and just go and have fun. I am tired about obsessing about my diet. I do avoid red meat, dairy, wheat, sugar and alcohol. So this year at Thanksgiving I ate what was served except for the stuffing and the pies. I felt fine and made sure not to over-eat. I had no stomach distress and actually felt great the next day. I no longer call myself a vegan but tell people I eat a plant based, high nutrient diet. I occasionally eat a bit of salmon or turkey and once in a while a free range egg spinach omelet. I try to eat at least 60-70% of my food raw, in the winter maybe a little less. I eat more than 2 pounds a veggies a day and modest amount of fruit. It has taken me 15 years, after trying every diet out there to finally relax a bit. I am much happier and healthier, I believe, as a result.

  10. Aime says:

    Amen! I’ve been there so many times in the past 6 years since starting our journey in health. Our family thinks we are crazy & holidays have become so stressful. We’ve had to just let go on those “special occasions” & focus on the reason we are together – togetherness vs food. So I always bring a dish or two that we CAN eat heartily, that others can try out & hopefully like. We eat a bit of whatever else interests us they have made & pray for serious ramifications from such sampling. Also we have had holiday celebrations in the past with others that eat the way we do & it’s been lovely. Knowing you can eat nearly everything & sample delightful, healthy foods is a true joy. Not to mention the fellowship is great as well.

  11. fran says:

    This Christmas Eve, in order to avoid gastric upset.
    I will stay home with my 3 cats and dog to avoid a Polish Christmas Eve with my family.
    Polish Christmas Eve is Meatless, yes but consisting of all white flour dished, perogi, noodles, etc.
    I will see my family the next day.
    But, I had to stop the Polish tradition and/or bringing my own food. I felt very isolated.
    And I am thrilled this years
    to make a fantastic meal and share with a neighbor or two.

    And I am grateful to read your article as I can relate. But I cannot throw caution
    to the wind with eating anything anymore. I have Auto Immune issues.

    Maybe veggies, wild salmon & asparagus with sesame seeds will be part of the menu.
    Burdock root is on my list of Stocking Stuffer, too
    for this season :)

    Wonderful Celebrations to all! Thanks again

  12. IH says:

    For me it is relatively easy to eat healthy during the holidays since I’m always in charge what is served. I make exceptions when I go to parties around this time of the year but for this year we haven’t anything planned so far. In my house everyone including the guest that visits every year is health conscious so no refined sugar or anything. I may overeat a bit but I blame that on myself, not on my environment. There is usually turkey for Xmas but it always has been pastured. I don’t eat that with (mashed) potatoes or anything starchy because that means digestive trouble and to me it just isn’t worth it. We also eat oysters at that time of the year and one meal is enjoyed at a good restaurant since our guest is very appreciative for the food that I prepare. A couple of years ago my husband visited a living food institute and he went raw vegan for 2 years. I tell you this: I love raw, living foods and everything fresh, you just name it but the first Xmas after he came back from there SUCKED. You see the word sucked capitalized so I guess you understand how I really felt. I swore to never do this again. Xmas and all the other holidays are there to celebrate. That doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself but having had a European upbring it means also enjoying some traditional foods. I did not grow up with turkey but I think it is a wonderful tradition. This is not the time of the year to fret about food. If you are health conscious, there are plenty of ways to do that even in the holiday season but it should not be something you stress about. And for those who what they call “fall of any diet wagon” I would say: jump back on in the new year.

    Santé and bon appétit

  13. Tropical Ted says:

    Re the fast: I have always adhered to the principal of only fasting beyond three days as taught to me by John Fielder. He uses this very successfully as did his mentor Kenneth Jaffrey. This is to undertake a longer fast only when there is a healing crisis, best indicated by a raised temperature. In this case the fast is continued until true hunger returns and the tongue becomes pink and clear. So with this method it is impossible to set aside a set time for the fast. It could be a week or a month depending on the condition of the faster. Or course a fast like this should only be done under experienced supervision.

  14. Dana says:

    Glad to see your best Christmas was the “normal” one, even with a bit of the bubbly! ;)
    Have a beautiful holiday season this year.

  15. Daniela says:

    I really love your sincerity. I also went 100% raw vegan for 3 months and ended it up with a 10 day water fast, then came back to raw vegan for a short while and started to add boiled veggies a bit, then years later a bit of fish. That was back in 1995~6.

    It was a great healing diet and since then I haven’t been sick, at all. But to tell you the truth, if I go now all raw, the gas is a problem. I try to be 70% or so raw. Some days more some days less.

    Being all raw back then looked weird and worried all my friends and family. Now I have them all back. They saw I did wonderful healing and that I have been healthy.

    Let’s face it, food is delicious, especially if you live in Japan! I don’t say it’s the safest, but Japanese and Korean high end traditional food is the most delicious in the world, with a wide palate of tastes that do not exist in western cuisine. I would miss the world if I did not have the really amazing food here (mostly vegetarian). But if I am served just one bite of meat prepared by my friends or as part of a course in a fancy restaurant that I forgot to warn them ahead about not eating meat, I might have one bite sometimes and enjoy it if I think meat is free range but, for humane reasons, I do not want to become a consumer. I don’t buy meat or order in restaurants.

    Thank you Frederic!

  16. Cam says:

    I am a 70 yr. old high-raw eater, but when with family/friends, I eat what is on their home-cooked menu, or if we are eating out, I find something on the eatery-menu that I not only can eat but will enjoy eating. At home, my hot meals & smoothies are prepared in a couple of high-speed blenders. I try to eat dark greens before they lose their nutrient value (got a lot out of the book,’Eating On The Wild Side:’ A Field Guide To Nutritious Food by Jo Robinson) … health is my reason for eating, but when with family/friends, I cannot always eat my preferred way. I am healthy, at least I feel and look healthy.

  17. Pamela W., Cedar Park TX says:

    Frederic, I applaud your transparency here in dealing with a touchy issue. I was in my mid-fifties when in 2006 I learned about eating healthfully to feel better. My journey parallels yours in many areas. I think I alienated just about every family member I have in one way or another with my insistence on certain foods, avoidance of others, and my endless comments on what this food or that can do for you or to you. In the end, it’s about relationships. Food is comfort, food is nourishment, I approach every meal with gratitude for what I am given, and I don’t say anything about food and nutrition unless it is asked of me. I bring a healthful dish with me to gatherings, and I allow myself bites of some things and helpings of others. If I need to, I eat something before I come or after I return home. The proof is in my skin, my ability to continue to be more active and fit than most of my age, and my acceptance of all for where they are in their journey.

  18. Linda says:

    I have also had many of those “interesting” holiday experiences and have found that I agree with Kevin – I have found that if I eat a little of everything that appeals to me (except the meat) I enjoy the day more. Food is emotional for many people – the people eating and the person who made the dish and I have found this strategy to make the day pleasant and warm for all. Holidays are not the time to make a “point” about my life choices – I prefer to focus on the people and the day with love and be thankful for the food that is there.

  19. Issa says:

    I have only one thing in my mind when it comes to eating during the holiday season, how can I enjoy myself the best without compromising the Earth and our marvellous fellow creatures. When I am okay and feeling great about being who I am, other people sense it.

  20. Patrick says:

    Hi Frederic thanks for the article, this all sounds very familiar. I dig the philosophy about eating whatever’s served for you on special occasions. Unless someone has a health challenge or religious conviction this makes perfect sense. I’m on day 2 of a 5 day fast, which I realised shortly after starting would have to be 7 days to get the most benefit, so we’re in synch on this! It feels really good. I was dreading it but now I’m on it, feels great, it’s the perfect way to clean myself up before the holidays as well as to cleanse some of the stress of this period out of my system (my head is already so much clearer!!). Good luck with your fast, and Happy Holidays to you and Kevin!!! Cheers, Patrick :)

  21. Marilyn says:

    Hey Frederic,

    I no longer put a label on the way I eat. I used to call myself a raw vegan but now, if anybody asks, I just say I eat an organic plant based diet. Sometimes I’ll eat raw all week and the next week, eat cooked veggies. Living in canada in the winter, I sometimes like warm veggies. I learned a long time ago that Christmas is a time to be with family and not stress over food. So, although I wont have turkey, I’m not opposed to a small piece of pumpkin pie. And the next day, back to a regular routine. Food should not cause a person stress. We get enough of that in everyday life. Have a great holiday season Frederic, Kevin and AnneMarie and family.

  22. Patty says:

    I can agree with you if the food is clean and free of chemicals. But I have a hard time seeing highly processed, chemical laden, GMO food a normal Thanksgiving. Why is it not normal to eat healthy on Thanksgiving. Makes no since to me. With me its not about guilt it is about choices and not letting others influence those choices.

  23. Gina Kray says:

    I have very happy Christmas’s every year with my family.I am at least 80% raw and 100% vegan in my regular life.If turkey or other meat is served I just don’t eat it. There are always plenty of veggie dishes and salad and I avoid the things with dairy. I never ask for accommodations and my focus is on catching up with people, food is a sideline…. and on Christmas day I do not compromise being vegan and if I go down to 50% raw for one day who cares? Food is important but relationships are also important. My experience is that most people don’t pay that much attention to what you eat unless you broadcast your preferences…

  24. Kathy says:

    I feel terrible for you! What a wanna be life with food. Sounds like you cannot make up your mind.

    I am trying to be a good flexitarian . Trying to stay away from anything proocessed. That is hard.

    Let me know where you land.

    Ps. I will not eat meat that is not grass fed ever again. And I do hope I can deliver myself from my favorite. A bison burger.

  25. Ivy says:

    Yes, having a set time to do a yearly detox is a great idea. I think I will be integrating a planned detox for myself each year, but I will be allowing a pillow of time between the full omnivore diet and my detox so my body eases into the detox with full benefit to my health. I think it’s best to give a pillow of two weeks or more between major gatherings, which can be as described, and sometimes make an individual sick.

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