When I first became vegan it was the beginning of December, so it was less than a month before I was faced with two family Christmas dinners. My family wasn't used to vegans. Foodies, chefs, butchers, and hunters sit around our table. So to say that this didn't go over smoothly at first is putting it lightly.
Me going vegan was the big news, so I was asked a million questions, to which I desperately tried to sputter responses. I fumbled over my words, couldn't remember the facts, I didn't know the answers to many things, and I constantly felt like I had to defend myself. It was kind of the worst, but I made it through, and I made a mental note to be more prepared for next time.
Whether you are a new to a vegan lifestyle, or you have been vegan for many years, the holidays can be tough. You're out of your comfort zone, and into the festivities with relatives and friends who are bound to be curious. Not to mention that there will likely be a large meal centered around a turkey, ham, or a roast of some kind.
I do have good news for you, it gets easier! As time passes, your family will start to realize it really isn't just a phase, you haven't died of protein deficiency (and are likely looking and feeling great), and that you really don't crave meat. My mom now always makes sure there is plenty for me to eat, and my family is more or less used to it. I still get the questions, but now they come from a place more of interest than of judgement.
I have learned how to navigate the holidays pretty well by now, and I hope no one has to be the stumbling mess I was at first. So to help you out, here is my guide for How to Survive the Holidays as a Vegan.
1. Prepare for the Questions.
Especially if you are a new vegan, but even if you aren't, there is often an endless stream of questions. Some totally reasonable, and some pretty ridiculous. While you don't always have to know the answer to everything, it can be helpful to prepare in advance for some of the questions you are likely to be asked.
Common questions are: Where do you get your protein? Iron? Calcium? Why did you go vegan? What about "humane", "organic", or "free range? While you don't need to give a full on lecture, it's a good idea to have some quick basic answers to these questions. Here are some quick answers to nutrition questions, and here are some answers to common ethical questions.
That said, it's ok if you don't know all of the answers. Don't feel like you have to try and recall some statistics you heard, instead just direct them to more information. Try saying "I don't remember exactly, but I highly recommend watching the documentary Forks Over Knives", or recommend what movie, book, or person influenced you, or tell them you can send them more information later. (I love sending people information!)
2. Bring a dish everyone can enjoy!
Cooking vegan can be challenging for someone who isn't used to cooking that way. Don't expect the host to make everything vegan. I always bring a hearty dish that everyone is welcome eat, and if all else fails you will be able to eat all on it's own and still feel satisfied. If you feel like putting in the extra effort bring a dessert as well. Desserts often aren't vegan by default, but trust me, show up with Easy Vegan Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread Cupcakes or Salted Caramel Maple Nut Clusters and no one will have a problem scarfing those down.
3. Offer to help the cook.
First off, be clear to the cook about what you can and cannot eat. Many people don't know what veganism is exactly, so being clear is helpful.
It's also a great idea to offer a hand in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. This is not only a good gesture, but it means you can help veganize a lot of the meal taking the stress off of the host, while making sure there will be plenty of options for yourself.
I bring vegan butter substitutes such as Earth Balance, non-dairy milk, and vegetable broth with me, so that I can help veganize things easily. Many side dishes are practically vegan with a few substitutes. If you are able to bring your own recipes here are my 8 Traditonal Thanksgiving and Christmas sides made vegan.
4. Be enthusiastic and supportive about any little effort people make.
They don't eat bacon for breakfast anymore? That's so awesome!!!!
They only eat chicken. That's great!! The cows will be happy to hear that.
They didn't put cheese on the salad so you could eat it? Take a big serving and be super thankful (even if it's a lame salad).
If you start telling people what they are doing isn't good, they probably aren't going to try any harder. Any little step is a step in the right direction. Be encouraging and supportive and you might just find yourself surrounded by awesome vegan cousins. (I know I am now!)
5. Don't turn your nose up at the turkey.
Sure it might not be the prettiest sight in your mind, but telling people that their food is gross isn't going to make them jump on the vegan bandwagon. If anything they will probably take offense and run in the other direction.
Chances are you probably ate turkey at one point in your life, so don't forget where you came from. You don't have to ooh and aah over it if you don't want to, but rudeness will never win the game. If someone makes a joke about it to you, or asks if you want some, just keep it simple and say no thank you.
6. Vegan talk at the table is a no no
For some reason as soon as you sit down to dinner, this is the same moment that people love to ask you why you don't eat meat. While you may be eager to talk about it, this is not the time to bring up slaughterhouses, heart disease, or deforestation. If they ask, just tell them you would be happy to discuss it with them when you aren't eating dinner. They will get the hint.
7. Make New Traditions
It might be a little upsetting to you or your family that you wont be taking part in some of your families traditions. Be empathetic about it. If your mom always made the best casserole, then let her know you love it, and ask her if she can help you make it vegan.
It's never too late to start new traditions. My family Christmas has changed quite a bit over the years, we now have a lot of Chinese members of our family, and every Christmas we have a dim sum course. Nope, it's not what Norman Rockwell painted, but trust me when I say, we all eagerly await this new tradition. You can always create new traditions, and sometimes it's the new traditions that are even better.
8. Celebrate the season
The holidays aren't really about the bird in the middle of the table. They are about family, tradition, getting together, and the season. To make your dinner table festive, you don't need to serve meat. Instead bring in the foods that are in season. If it's Thanksgiving, serve pumpkin, squash, apples, beets, and decorate with gourds. If it's Christmas, fill your table with cranberries, apples, oranges, potatoes, preserves, and decorate with poinsettias and holly. Your table will look great and feel very festive with the abundance of colour and the harvest.
9. If you're up for it, host it yourself!
One way to ensure you have a gorgeous vegan feast is to make it yourself! I know not everyone would be up for this, but if hosting is something you are comfortable with, this could be the perfect way to show your family how delicious, hearty, and satisfying a vegan meal can be.
Instead of a turkey feature a Puff Pastry Wrapped Lentil Loaf, or a Pumpkin & Lentil Shepherd's Pie, and make all the sides vegan. If people bring dishes, ask them to be made vegan, or send them a recipe to follow so they know how. Decorate the table, put on some music, and host the best holiday party ever!
10. Be happy, healthy, kind, polite, and have fun!
Don't forget that the holidays is a time for celebration, family, food, and love. I suggest not talking about your veganism unless you are asked about it. Now is not the time to convert people, it's the time to celebrate. Keep it light, joke, and if someone keeps pestering you, change the subject or go talk to someone else. it's not about meat eater vs. vegan. It's about all of us enjoying time together. Overall be the happy, healthy, kind, polite, and the fun vegan that you are. Enjoy the company, offer to help out, be grateful, and if all else fails, have a cocktail!
If you have any tips, comments, success stories, or horror stories, share them in the comments below!