Your Survival Guide to Holiday Conversations (At Least About Food)

It happens to all of us: it's the holidays and you have to interact with the relative(s) who may be completely off-base when it comes to the issues you care about. There are typically two ways you can deal with it: ignore them or argue with them, and - let's be honest - rarely does either tactic get anywhere. (Well, other than compelling you to run from room to room like in a cartoon chase scene.)

It's our mission to help people make more sustainable choices - and that even includes your exasperating relatives. So we're here to help you make some headway when it comes to at least convincing them that sustainability matters. Check out some of our helpful tips below!
We even made you a useful chart (Link to PDF) to help you practice how to respond to the less-than-sustainable things they say. Fun, right? 

1. Flies and Honey

Ever hear the idiom that it's easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar? It's true, so be nice! (It is the holidays after all.) There is no reason to yell, scold or demean someone just because they don't agree. We all know how distasteful that is. And, apart from all the great reasons why you shouldn't be mean, there is another reason outside of just etiquette: people may actually listen to you - maybe even the person who needs it most.

2. Pick your Battles

No one wants someone to always be on their case. At some point you'll just be easy to tune out ("there s/he goes again, talking about food..."). You're trying to get people to change their minds or even admit they're wrong and that takes time and a lot of courage. So don't expect someone to do a complete 180. Pick the low hanging fruit or maybe the issue that means the most to you and apply gentle pressure with easy alternatives.

3. Don't Speculate Wildly

Suspicion is one thing, but wild-eyed guessing and conspiracy theories are another. People trust calm, rational argument way more than fear-mongering exaggeration.  (Okay, at least they used to - and maybe they will when you're the one being calm and rational.) Always admit grey areas and fall back on the need for more study and investigation. The last thing you want to do is sound shrill or hysterical. Leave that to the folks who disagree with you. Remember: sustainable food is the way of the future. You're not wrong!

4. Use Evidence

Bring evidence, but when you do, do it right. Tons and tons of stats aren't always the best way to go - though they are definitely important. Have a few that are really impressive: like 40 percent of food is wasted or more than 90 percent of corn and soy grown in the US are genetically engineered. The most moving pieces of evidence you can use are images. Just use your smart phone!

5. Find Common Values - and Exploit Them

This one is huge! It just so happens that, on the whole, your family members are probably pretty nice people who value good things like a beautiful landscape, happy animals and healthy people. Use this to your advantage. When people are set in their ways about an issue, come at them from something you know they care about like the plight of farmers. 

6. Use Communication Tactics as a Weapon for Good

You know all those self-help books like "How to Win Friends & Influence People" that focus on making you a better communicator? A lot of the tactics in these types of books can help you be more persuasive when fighting the good fight. Basically it's about building rapport and communicating effectively. There are a ton of these resources out there. For example, here's a interesting article from a conflict resolution expert about how to build rapport by mirroring and matching behavior. It can seem a bit creepy, but it can help you be a better communicator.

7. Threaten

Just joking! Don't ever do this - unless, for instance, you're talking about collective threats to humanity's well-being, like antibiotic resistance and industrial meat production. (We kid, we kid - use the six tactics above, instead.)

A version of this post was originally published in December 2015.

Responses to "Your Survival Guide to Holiday Conversations (At Least About Food)"
The views and opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect those of the Ecocentric Blog or GRACE Communications Foundation.

Leave a Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on topic. You represent that comments submitted do not infringe upon anyone's rights including copyright, trademark, privacy or other personal or proprietary rights.


We need to make sure you're a human and not a spambot. Please answer the following question. What is 8 - 5 equal to?

By submitting a comment here you grant us a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/website in attribution.