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Hold The Butter! Modern Diets Meet Holiday Traditions



Rich, heavy food is a major part of the end of the year holidays in the United States.

People in the US celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. People around the world celebrate Christmas on December 25.

Both holidays involve traditions of cooking large meals. The food at these meals usually has lots of sugar, salt and butter in it. Turkey and pie are some of the most common foods at these holidays.

Terri Price has hosted a holiday party on the last Saturday before every Christmas for 30 years.

"It started when my children were very, very small. In fact, there was only one of them. And it's sort of my Christmas gift to me. Many of the dishes I have been preparing for most of the 30 years."

But over time, some traditions do change. The Neveldines are a family who hope to be healthier by changing what they eat. Mick Fury, the Neveldine's oldest child, said this change is important during the holidays and the rest of the year, too.

"The holidays are actually, sort of, the most exciting time because it's a chance to see if we can achieve traditional dishes in a way that is organic and healthy and fun. And maybe, we don't tell people. Like, 'Hey! Here's turkey dinner!' But then, it turns out, if they love it we tell them, 'It's organic. It's great.'"

Mick and his girlfriend, Michelle, try to eat only organic food. Organic food is any plant or animal food product made without the use of unnatural chemicals or processes.

The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, is the part of the U.S. government that creates laws about food. The USDA began identifying which foods are organic in 2002.

Mick chose to eat only organic food after his girlfriend found she felt sick when eating gluten. Gluten is in products which include wheat. Mick began looking more closely at the ingredients in the food he bought. The amount of unnatural ingredients in most food surprised him.

But, Mick is not the only Neveldine who changed their diet. Felicia Neveldine, Mick's sister, decided nine years ago to become a vegan. A vegan is a person who does not eat or use animal products of any kind.

Felicia became a vegan because of her concern for the treatment of animals and the environmental effects of animal farming. She said that her change in diet also improved her health.

"I used to have a lot of problems with my stomach and digestion and since I became a vegan, I feel just better every day."

Choosing these special diets means the Neveldines choose their foods carefully. Mick grows a garden behind his home where he gets fresh vegetables. They also make traditional holiday food like mashed potatoes without milk or butter.

This may seem like a completely new method for traditional cooking. But, Mick does not agree. He says agricultural companies began using chemicals because organic farming costs more money.

"For a long time they used great food and they used great products. I hope, 20 or 30 years from now, the tradition is exactly the same, it's just done with better quality stuff."

Ruth Kava is the Senior Nutrition Fellow at the American Council on Science and Health, or ACSH. The ACSH is an organization that studies issues involving food and health. Kava said that being vegetarian is also not new.

"Vegetarianism has been around for probably centuries. And the thing about a vegetarian diet is that it can be lower in calories."

Studies show that high calorie diets can cause people to become overweight. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, is the top national public health organization in the U.S. A 2014 report from the CDC showed 69 percent of adults in the U.S. over 20 years old are overweight.

Being overweight can lead to health problems like heart disease and cancer.

But, Kava does not think modern beliefs about different diets are correct.

"These diets are getting a lot of press now. And so people think that maybe they're healthier or better for you, which is not necessarily the case. A balanced diet where things are eaten in moderation is probably the best way to go."

She also said that the current system for identifying organic food is not what it should be.

"I think that the organic program that the USDA runs was really set up as a way to market foods and it has nothing to do with health."

Faunalytics is an organization that collects research to help protect animals. A 2014 Faunalytics report said that only 2 percent of people over the age of 17 in the U.S. are vegetarian or vegan. But Google reported that people searched the word "vegan" more than ever before in 2015.

Felicia thinks the more people learn, the more popular these special diets will become.

"At first I would make my own things and bring my own things to holidays. But, now as other people are becoming more educated and know what it means, people really go out of their way to make sure that there's always something that I can eat"

Holiday traditions may not change, but the way these traditions happen just might.

I'm Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported and wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Now it's your turn. Is being vegetarian or vegan becoming popular in your country? Will modern diets change holiday traditions? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

richadj. tasting good and making your stomach feel full

turkey n. a large American bird that is related to the chicken and that people hunt or raised for its meat

pien. a food that consists of a pastry crust that is filled with fruit or meat

dish(es) – n. food that is prepared in a particular way

achievev. to get or reach something by working hard

girlfriendn. a woman that someone is having a romantic or sexual relationship with

glutenn. a substance in wheat and flour that holds dough together

ingredient(s) – n. one of the things that are used to make a food or product

digestionn. the process by which food is changed to a simpler form after it is eaten

mashed potatoesn. a dish of potatoes that have been cooked and pressed, usually prepared with milk and butter

stuffn. used to refer to something when you do not need to name exactly what it is

vegetariann. a person who does not eat meat

calorie(s) – n. a unit of heat used to shows the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body

overweightadj. weighing more than the normal or expected amount

in moderationn. in a way that is reasonable and not excessive

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