DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been a vegetarian for about five months. This might not seem like a problem, but all of my family members are huge meat eaters. I haven't told anyone yet about my decision because of the backlash I would get.
The holidays are right around the corner, and I'm nervous about seeing the whole family and revealing my secret. I can't keep it from them, because they will know, and we don't have a traditional spread. Our main course consists of steak (along with the turkey)! I know they will make it a big deal and will argue with my decision.
How can I prepare for this conversation? I want them to respect me for not eating meat, not treat me like an alien. -- Vegetarian, Washington, D.C.
DEAR VEGETARIAN: I'm not sure you will have as big a problem as you imagine, largely because people do not pay as much attention to what others eat as you think. If you fill your plate with all of the vegetables your family is serving and eat a hearty meal, you will be demonstrating that you are a healthy eater.
If asked why your plate is meatless, you can explain that you have chosen to stop eating meat for a while. You can ease your family into the notion of your new eating habits without scaring them by telling them this is a several-months-old practice that you are trying. Be prepared to explain why, preferably without bad-mouthing their eating choices. For example, if you have become a vegetarian because you want to lower your cholesterol or lose weight, make sure to center your explanation on your own body rather than suggest what vegetarianism might do for them. If you are now flesh-averse, you should keep that to yourself. You don't want to offend them.
You also don't want to worry your family. Many people believe that a vegetarian lifestyle does not provide adequate nutrition. Make sure you know what foods provide which nutrients so you can describe that if asked. But please don't visit with the intention of educating anyone.
Go to enjoy time with your family. Eat well and relax. Your state of mind will help them to relax, too.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that I will not be able to take off at all during the holidays, because we just got a big new project at work and my boss wants all hands on deck. My family and I were planning to go out of town to visit my wife's parents. My wife and three kids are really excited about it. Should I let them go without me? -- Work-Bound, Flint, Mich.
DEAR WORK-BOUND: It is generous and wise of you to recommend that your wife and children continue with your plans for the holidays. In this way, they can spend time with your in-laws, and you can focus on the work at hand.
If there's any way at all that you can go, even on the weekend, that would be great. If not, be sure to talk to them each day so you stay connected.