Is this year the first time you’re going to be the only plant-based type at family or friends festive* gatherings?
Don’t worry about a single goshdarned thing, I’ve got your back.
Follow this vegan protocol (I mean, it’s not official, I just made it up, but it is based on my experience and those of the gazillion vegan podcasters I’ve listened to over the years!) and you won’t go wrong. Or hungry.
Pick out whatever you think is appropriate from these ideas.
What can you do before the event?
Prevention is better than cure – in ANY context. So plan ahead.
Now you may be lucky and be going to eat with family and friends who have you covered and will be making vegan food options for you. If so; great. And what great people to have in your life.
If there is a chance you may not be catered for, then you need to sort this. It’s your Christmas too, and you don’t want to be hungry while others are filling their bellies with alacrity. And turkey.
It’s a great idea to call the host a few days before the meal, to give them time to organise something. Tell them you weren’t sure if they were aware that you’re vegan, and that you don’t want anyone to go to any particular trouble, and that you will happily bring a dish or two to share.
One of two things will happen then:
- Your host may well insist that you don’t need to do this and assure you that they will furnish you with enough food and will enjoy rising to the challenge of creating some plant-based dishes. This is obviously the preferred outcome! And happily, it’s most likely the one you’ll get. Lots of people, while not vegan, are interested in health issues and have some kind of sensibility towards cooking with plant-based ingredients, and will have the will and ingenuity to create something tasty for you. I’d even bet this covers most people. I’m thinking of the times I’ve been to dinner with even my least vegan friends; they’ve ALWAYS stepped up and made a delicious meal for me. I’ve never gone hungry. I would say the chances are 90% that your host will respond thus. If they do, I know you’ll be gracious, and don’t forget to remind them that lots of Christmas sides (sprouts, roast potatoes and parsnips) are vegan anyway if they are not made with butter.
- Your host may be confused as to what vegan means and ask lots of questions and not seem confident on the subject. Explain as sweetly as you can what vegan entails. Again, remind them that lots of side dishes are vegan or easily veganised, and say you’ll bring a couple of dishes to share so they needn’t worry. Yes, I agree, it can be a pain having to make the dishes – and why the hell should you when nobody else has to? They can just go along and snarf whatever is put in front of them. It’s not fair, is it? However, being vegan, you are the lucky one. You are the one who possesses the ability to be a discerning, independent thinker. You are the one that was enlightened on the health and environmental benefits of this lifestyle, and it’s you that gets to live in alignment with your core values of compassion every day – it’s your duty to spread the light! So, suck it up, get online, find a couple of dishes, and get cracking. I know you can do it! If you’re not too confident a cook, just keep it simple. Don’t try and be showy if it’s not your thing just because it’s Christmas. Good, simple food is often the best. I know that even in pre-vegan days, I actually never liked the rich and heavy nature of Christmas food; I’d have loved a bean salad or a tabbouleh. I’m sure lots of people are the same way. Here are a ton of ideas to inspire you.
You may well find that your dishes go down a storm and there’s not much left for you. Here comes another important tip:
Whether your host has said they’ll totally cater to your vegan needs, or if you’re bringing food yourself – ALWAYS have a couple of nut bars (or other pocket-size snacks) to hand.
Some folks seem to initially understand what vegan means, but don’t really, so you may get to your gathering and the host who seemed to get what you were talking about previously has, in fact, laced everything with butter, thinking you were just vegetarian.
And sometimes, the dishes you bring might be so popular you might not get much of a look in. This is great, you want to show that vegan food is just food – that everyone can enjoy it, but some omni’s (thankfully very few, most people are considerate) don’t get that these are the only dishes you’ll eat, while they are helping themselves to a whole heap of animal foods too.
So, keep something in your pocket or bag for emergencies. It’s really VERY unlikely you’ll need it, truly, but just in case.
What do you do if someone starts asking you questions at the table about why you’re vegan?
You will have to gauge this yourself by the dynamic at the table. It’s always great if there’s an opportunity to advocate and share the reasons why a person would want to choose compassion and health, and the Christmas table is no exception. Cruelty doesn’t doesn’t stop for Christmas, in fact it’s ramped up to overdrive with all the turkey, pigs and game that are killed specifically for the festivities. But you don’t want to talk about cruelty to turkeys while people are eating turkey. The idea is never to make people feel like instant total crap. You want to just plant a seed and get them to think for themselves.
Answer genuine questions truthfully but briefly. For example: you can just say that you’re vegan for all the ethical, health and environmental reasons and leave it at that. If a particular person is pressing you for more info, tell them you’d be more than willing to chat to them about it after dinner. Make sure you follow up on it. If they were genuinely interested at dinner, they’ll still be interested later. You never know what might come of this. You may inspire this person to consider the impact of their food choices, and next year there could be two vegans at the table!
What do you do when old uncle F***wit says ‘...but if God didn’t mean us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat? Hahahahaha ‘ and everyone else laughs at how funny old uncle F***wit is?
Yes, this is annoying. But you know, if old uncle F***wit wasn’t having a dig at you, he’d be having a dig at someone else. It’s you this time because you’re the one at the table that’s different. And his name is old uncle F***wit for goodness sake, don’t even worry about him. And people laugh just to be polite when other people are trying to be funny.
So what do you do? Eyeroll by all means. You can even do an Oscar-worthy eyeroll. But do it with a smile and then move on. Console yourself with this fact – he’ll be the one with the rip-roaring indigestion later, not you 🙂
Enjoy your holidays, whatever you’re doing, and always show how much you are enjoying the food (whether your hosts creations or your own). You never know whose curious mind might be working overtime and be interested in following your compassionate, healthy, planet-loving, plant-based lead!
* I realised I was a little late for Hanukkah so I wrote this post with Christmas in mind, but the advice is universal and absolutely applies to any holiday feast.