From: Howard Jacobson <>
Subject: Grease Them Strings

How to navigate holiday meals

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"Let Buddy play his violin with you in the talent show," Ella told her teenage sons, Larry and Travis.

The year was 1941. Larry and Travis weren't happy. Both accomplished musicians, they were counting on winning at least a few bucks, which was nothing to sneeze at in depression-era Lubbock, Texas.

Five-year-old Buddy did have a violin. More precisely, a toy violin that he just sawed on, unconcerned about the nature of the sounds produced. There was no way the boys were going to ruin their chances to make bank just because their spoiled little brother wanted to be part of their act.

But Mama had spoken. And so Larry sprang into action. He greased the strings of Buddy's toy fiddle, so the sawing could commence without making a sound.

The act was a hit. According to Buddy's biographer, the judges "were so taken with the cute kid sawing away and singing alongside his big brothers that they won a $5 prize."*

The experience could have been a disaster. Larry and Travis could have refused to let Buddy join them. Buddy could have scratched and screeched his way to boos and jeers.

Instead, some judiciously applied grease mitigated the potential harm of Buddy's inclusion, and gave him a first taste of a life that ultimately changed the course of popular music. 

That was the first time the world saw Buddy Holly perform.

And My Point Is...

You may also be called on to perform over the next few days.

Your role might be, "Former glutton who's now trying to eat healthy at a table where all the decadent stuff is piled tits-high," or perhaps "Over-sensitive vegan Debby Downer who's gonna try to make us feel guilty about eating turkey," or maybe some variation of "Exhausted peacemaker who may just shove Uncle Bill's pipe up his ass if he starts talking about the good old days when there wasn't such a thing as gender."

Lots of my clients face the first scenario. They're in the early stages of lifestyle change. Maybe they've lost 20 or 50 pounds, and they're feeling really good about their choices and their self-control.

But here comes Thanksgiving, and all bets are off. How can they say no to all those classic dishes: the butter-mashed potatoes, the marshmallow sweet potatoes, the pecan pie, the stuffing and gravy, and of course the big bird in the center of the table?

I've had a couple of clients pointedly tell me that they're going to ignore all their rules this week. Just go with the flow, not think about it, and begin their recovery on Monday morning. 

Now that's fine, if it's what they really want. I don't make the rules; my clients do. I support whatever is going to help them achieve the goals they've shared with me. 

If a 4-day binge is really the best way to deal with the holiday, then let's go for it. 

All or Nothing

When I gently question the rationale behind joining the gluttony, however, my clients don't actually believe that bingeing is the best way forward. They typically dread the prospect; first of giving up all control and agency; and second of the damage on the scale or the glucose strip or the blood pressure cuff the next time they check. 

So why do they want to let go of all their standards and rules and practices, if they've been working so well? What is the rationale?

Because, they tell me, they don't think they can be perfect, so they don't want to risk failure by trying for perfection and not reaching it. 

It's like they want to headfake their Inner Glutton by giving in without a fight. As if that's going to accomplish anything.

That's All or Nothing thinking, wrapping itself in the shroud of perfectionism. 

So rather than create Thanksgiving-specific standards and rules that may deviate from your daily practice, they don't let their striving self show up at all.

"This week is going to be a challenge," they tell me. As if "challenge" were synonymous with "no flipping chance of success whatsoever."

Grease Your Strings

What if you thought of your eager, proud, developing-standards-of-eating self as five-year-old Buddy Holly? So excited to come out and play, to self-express, to participate in an important family event.

And maybe, like Buddy, you aren't ready for the big show. Not quite up to demonstrating your health-promoting, environment-respecting, animal-saving lifestyle in the face of family members, traditions, and binge-inducing dishes sitting just inches from your face.

The solution isn't to shy away from the contest. 

Instead, it's to get creative with harm reduction. 

Creative Harm Reduction

Larry greased the strings, as a form of harm reduction. Buddy could then participate, win the hearts of the audience and the judges, and gain a piece of the self-confidence that would turn him into an international star. 

How can you grease your own strings?

  • Maybe decide on a couple of dishes you're going to omit from your plate - turkey and pecan pie, perhaps? - while allowing yourself to enjoy the rest of the fare.
  • Maybe get one heaping plate and then DO NOT go back for seconds.
  • Maybe decide in advance on the portion sizes you'll allow yourself.
  • Maybe bring a healthy casserole and eat it first, so you're not making decisions on an empty stomach.
  • If you know that alcohol disinhibits you and makes self-sabotage more likely, then decide to abstain or go real easy.

Lots of ways to grease the strings. To show up fully while reducing the negative consequences of your actions. 

Show up with intention. Do something on purpose. Show yourself some of the love you deserve.

Do it day in, day out. Even on "challenging" days.

Do it every day.

Every day,
It's a-getting closer
Going faster than a roller coaster
Love like yours (your own) will surely come your way.

Happy Holidays!

Can Your Relationships Survive Your Veganism? Listen to Melanie Joy, PhD, on this week's Plant Yourself Podcast

A timely pre-Thanksgiving conversation!

Melanie Joy, PhD is a social psychologist, vegan activist, political strategist vs all the oppressive “archys” out there, organizational consultant, and relationship coach. She joins the podcast to talk about her book Beyond Beliefs – essentially a merging of the political and relational.

How can we advocate for human health, environmental sanity, and ethical treatment of animals without wrecking our relationships with family members, friends, partners, and coworkers?

Do we have to surround ourselves only with vegans to have a good time? (Spoiler: see “in-fighting” to figure out that answer to that one.)

When our veganism leads to relational conflict, Joy asserts, it's not because of the veganism. It's actually a lack of relational literacy, a much more fundamental and global issue. And when we gain and practice relational literacy, the specifics of our conflicts can become fuel for growth and depth in those relationships, rather than ticking bombs that could go off at any moment.

In our conversation, she offers perspective, hope, and tools and strategies for sustainable vegan advocacy and living.

To your good health!

*Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly, by John Gribbin