One of the hardest parts of your first year as a vegan can be surviving holiday meals with your family. Not only are you surrounded by the temptations of your favourite comfort foods and holiday traditions, you may be facing a room full of people who really don’t understand your choice not to eat any animal products – no, not even at Christmastime, no, not even for Grandma.
Long-time vegan, and youngest of 9 children, Amber knows this all too well. Here are her tips to help you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with your non-vegan family this year:
Understand where the criticism or lack of acceptance is coming from
The kitchen is the heart of the home and food is how many people show their love for family and friends. Recipes, meals, and traditions are passed down through generations, their very essence a way to connect with one’s heritage and family. Imagine then, what it must feel like to have all that love, effort and goodwill, (yep, that’s why mom’s baking tastes so much better!) regarded as cancer-causing-rainforest-bulldozing-animal-torturing poison. It feels like rejection. A deep, fear-inducing, rejection. And, while I know, (I KNOW!), all the reasons why being vegan is the kind way to live, your family may not be ready to hop on board, or even entertain the reasoning behind it. Understanding that, and not taking it personally, or holding it against them, or waging World War V to get the whole family to see your side is truly our best advice.
Talk to the hosts well in advance
Be sure to talk to whoever is hosting your family meal(s) and make sure they’re aware of your dietary restrictions. Instead of informing them you’re “vegan”, try telling them specifically what you’re staying away from – meat, eggs, dairy (yes, that means cheese and butter too) and honey. Try not to be too preachy or judgmental. Don’t expect the entire meal to revolve around your choices (though it couldn’t hurt to propose it as a fund new way to celebrate… maybe they’re ready to make a change too!). Be ready to eat a medley of side dishes (see 3 & 4 below). Try not to make the host(ess) feel guilty or overburdened. If you’ve ever hosted the family for the holidays you know it can be very stressful at the best of times. Meal planning and grocery shopping will likely happen days or weeks in advance, so be sure to connect early to avoid panic and disappointment.
Ask The Chefs To Add Butter At The End!
A great way to ensure the vegetable dishes are vegan friendly is to ask the chef(s) specifically to forgo cooking with butter. Once the beans or broccoli or mashed potatoes are cooked (with water, oil, veg broth, etc.) ask that a small portion be set aside for you before the cream, butter, or cheese is added to finish the dish.
Bring Your Own Food
Offer to bring dessert
Be Careful Not To Lecture Or Shame
Give Yourself A Break
To ensure you’re not starving (and suffering) through what should be an awesome meal, be prepared with your own food. Try to bring a main dish, something festive that you know will match the other dishes available and make you feel satisfied. Lots of people love meat replacements like Tofurkey for these meals. Amber (and I!) both prefer a more whole-foods approach to vegan eating because it’s usually healthier, less expensive, and void of the chemicals or additives that sneak their way into (even vegan and organic) processed foods. Try Amber’s go-to holiday meal – a squash & roasted chestnut casserole that makes the perfect center for your holiday plate.
And bring the whole damn casserole! Remember food is love. And vegan food is delicious. Kindly offer your “rabbit food” to the family. Sharing is caring, and this simple act can make this holiday feel “normal” and like you’re the same as you’ve always been. (which is true!!… mostly)
Vegan baking is just so, so good. Reinforce your normalcy, and how inoffensive being the family vegan really is, by also offering to bring dessert to share. Again, don’t feel the need to remind everyone that it’s vegan – at least until they are mid-way through complimenting you on how this is the best coconut cream pie or raspberry cupcakes they’ve ever had. Dessert is the perfect gateway food into veganism because so many recipies taste so delicious that you never feel like you’re going without.
As a new vegan, I think it’s normal to feel super passionate about why you’ve chosen to forgo all animal products and bi-products. Whether it’s health, the environment, animal rights, or a myriad of other reasons, you are likely overflowing with facts and figures and ideals. I know I was! I still am, in fact every time I learn something new I want commiserate with my vegan friends and illuminate my non-vegan friends. It’s powerful stuff. That all being said remember tip #1. There is a time and a place for teaching your family about what you’ve learned and why you’re so over-the-moon excited about it (and why you just know they’d love it too). Read the room. Be careful that your lessons don’t become criticisms or tools for shaming your less-evolved brother. Everyone is doing the best they can, so be conscious and kind with how and when you’re sharing your knowledge.
And finally, don’t forget to find the time and space to be kind to yourself. Know that you’re doing the right thing for you, despite any pushback you may get from family or friends. Also, if you falter (I do sometimes!) be kind and patient with yourself. We are all making the best decisions we can based on the information we have and the situations we’re in. As long as you’re staying present and conscious of your decision making, you’re following your true north and should feel good about your decisions – even if they mean eating Grandma’s Yorkshire pudding.
Lots of families will be curious and accepting and excited that you’re looking and feeling so great. Lots of families won’t. All of these tips are offered to help you feel normal. To help your family really understand what the heck being vegan is even about, and to provide you with a delicious meal and happy memories this year. Take what you can use and leave the rest. And if you have any other tips that have worked for you, we’d love to hear them!