Happy Holidays from Plant Based Utah

By Jessica Cooper, RD, CD, CSSD

By Jessica Cooper, RD, CD, CSSD


In his book, Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer writes, “Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.”

 This idea rings especially true during the holiday season. Culture and tradition often override health and ethical ideals.  In addition, the holiday season can bring out a wide range of  emotions from joy and nostalgia to stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, this timeframe can wreak havoc on both individual health and the health of the planet.

 Individual Health

 Although the average holiday weight gain is slightly overstated in the media, a prospective study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on holiday weight gain indicates most people do indeed gain slightly over 1 pound during the holiday season. This weight gain is typically not lost after the holiday period and can lead to a cumulative weight gain over years. (Yanovski, et al. 2000). Most of the weight gain can be attributed to the over-indulgence in unhealthy foods and beverages along with a lack of adequate exercise.

Environment Impact of the Holidays

 Decking the halls, feasting and gift giving carries a hefty environmental impact. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the amount of trash produced in the United States increases by an estimated 25%, the equivalent of one million extra tons of garbage each week. During the holidays, Americans discard an estimated: 

  • 38,000 miles of ribbon, enough to wrap around the planet

  • $11 billion worth of packing material

  • 15 million used Christmas trees

In addition to this waste, in 2016 alone, roughly 6 million turkeys, a value of approximately $293 million, ended up in the trash.  The environmental footprint of discarded turkeys equates to an estimated 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply New York City for 100 days (National Resources Defense Council, 2018).

 At the same time while millions are feasting and letting the leftovers go to waste, some families wish they had enough food to eat. Statistics from the Utah Food Bank reveal that Utah is on par with the national average and 1 in 8 of our neighbors go hungry every day, including during the holidays.

 Although the hectic holiday season can put us on survival mode, Plant Based Utah offers the following tips to THRIVE not SURVIVE the holiday season.


Change “The Culture”


As Safran Foer says, “Food is culture.” Culture is defined by the inherited traditions, patterns and beliefs that define a group of people. During the holidays this often centers on family favorite recipes. Reflect on the traditions that are beneficial to your well-being and those that are detrimental to your health and the health of the ones you love. Start to change the ones that are not health-serving.

 Change your culture by developing 2-3 Whole Food, Plant Based holiday recipe favorites. Reinvent a family recipe or create something new. Bring them to your gatherings and make them your “traditional” signature dishes that people look forward to. It is never too late to start a new tradition or to change “the way things have always been done”. Recommendations for finding new holiday recipes can be found in The How Now To Die Cookbook by Dr. Michael Greger and The Super Fun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

 In addition to reinventing food traditions, create fun non-food centric holiday customs. A few of our recommendations include:

·      An ornament exchange instead of the typical cookie exchange

·      A WFPB recipe exchange

·      Holiday Craft or Game Night

·      Caroling with friends

·      Ice skating or snow shoeing

·      An organized group service project such as a food or winter clothing drive or volunteering at a food bank or nursing home

·      An up-cycled “white elephant” gift exchange

Habit Change

Although the nutrition science is clear that a whole food, plant based diet can prevent and reverse chronic disease, individual food habits are the single largest barrier to achieving optimal health. Even people with good habits can resort to unhealthy behaviors during the holidays due to a lack of time and increased social activities involving unhealthy foods.

 Identify one or two “anchor habits” that connect you to staying on track during the stressful holiday season. Anchor habits are good behaviors that are connected to other good behaviors. For example, research shows that for some people, a simple task of making the bed leads to keeping a clean bedroom. For others, daily exercise or meditation can lead to making healthy food choices.

 For more information on habit change, we recommend the books, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Shop Sensibly and Ethically

 Plan ahead to create a sustainable gift-giving list. Consider non-material gift items such as:

 ·      A donation to a local non-profit such as Sage Mountain, Ching Farm Animal Sanctuary, Utah Animal Rights Coalition, Best Friends Animal Society, and of course Plant Based Utah.

·      A gift certificate to a local fitness center, yoga studio or personal trainer

·      A consultation with a Plant Based Nutritionist (see information on Jesse Rich in our newsletter)

 When a physical gift is desired, think local and environmentally friendly. A few of our favorite places to get unique and eco-approved items:

·      Animalia SLC

·      Harvey Skill Shop

·      Hello Bulk Markets

 Ultimately, health is a gift and a gift that we should embrace and share with those we love. So stop dreading the holidays and look forward to truly making the holiday season a time for peace and health on Earth. Bringing people back into the kitchen and gathering around the table together is certainly something we can all celebrate.

 To learn more on how to THRIVE not SURVIVE the Holidays, Join Registered Dietitian, Jessica Cooper, and other members of the Plant Based Utah team as we:


·      Cover these tips in detail

·      Present a plant-based and eco-friendly gift guide

·      Demonstrate healthy holiday appetizers  


Date: Thursday, 11/08/18

Time: 6:00pm-7:30pm

Location: LDS Hospital Auditorium

Registration is free but required. For more details and to register: