Whether you’ve been vegan for many years or just starting out in transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, the holidays can be tough. For many of us, we are surrounded with family and friends who are not vegan themselves. They tend to be curious about our dietary pattern by asking questions about what we eat and why we follow such lifestyle.
Whatever your situation with family gatherings may look like, I know what that feels like because I have been there. I remember my very first vegan Thanksgiving family gathering. I felt nervous about what others may ask or think. More importantly, I didn't want it to be uncomfortable and thankfully it wasn't. But I do remember that it required some planning on my part. I had to plan what to bring for myself since I was the only vegan and coordinated with others to see which side dishes could be modified to please everyone’s dietary pattern. It takes time at first to think about these things but over the years it has become easier.
The holidays do become easier with time! They become more about enjoying the holiday spirit with loved ones. You no longer have to feel tense about what others will think, say, or ask about your choice in following a vegan lifestyle. If anything, they’ll be telling you how much they admire you and how they’ve adopted one or two things that you’ve done.
Here are some helpful tips that I have learned from my experience that can help you navigate the holidays in a more peaceful and enjoyable way:
- Remember that food is part of social gatherings
The holidays are really a time to be with your loved ones and for many, this is surrounded around food. Food is such a big part of our social lives and it’s one source of comfort. Try to minimize your worry about what others might think or say about your dietary pattern. I know that's not easy for many of us but just remember (and remind others if appropriate) that it’s a time to gather around food and socialize. After all, eating is a social activity for us humans.
- Talk to your host and get familiar with the menu
Talking and coordinate with your dinner host is such a lifesaver! This allows you to know what will be available, what you can bring, and what you can contribute if you desire to. One of the things that has been successful for me is to share a few simple substitutes in favorite dishes that can be modified to be vegan. My absolute favorite holiday side dish is mashed potatoes and at my first Thanksgiving holiday dinner, I suggested if it was possible to use non-dairy milk and vegan butter for the recipe. If you're up for it, offer to even bring some of these items so that it can be prepared on-site to simply things for the host.
- Bring a dish everyone can enjoy
If it becomes too difficult to coordinate with the host, that’s okay, there’s an alternative to this. Consider then bringing your own vegan-friendly dish that everyone can enjoy. You don’t have to bring a big dish but something everyone at the dinner table can take a small portion of to try. Try this Garlic Green Bean with Toasted Pecans dish. It’s so simple to make, just 5-ingredients, and I’m positive everyone will enjoy it!
- Be polite about others' dietary lifestyle of choice
Being a vegan means showing kindness. The table may have a glorious cooked turkey and while we may have a personal dialogue in our minds about seeing this, show politeness to other’s choosing to have this as their meal. As vegans, we educate others about this lifestyle and benefits of following such diet as oppose to making others uncomfortable around the table. Chances are, you probably ate turkey at one point in your life too – just like I did.
- Consider having an alternative
It’s perfectly okay to have meat-free alternatives at holiday dinners, such as as Field Roast, Tofurkey, and Gardein products. Yes, they are technically considered a processed food but if you’re just transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, these products are a perfect way to start out. When it comes to guiding someone during their transition, I don’t shy away from recommending these products all together because they allow you to feel a sense of social norm; a sense of inclusiveness. One of my favorite brands is Field Roast. They have a selection of vegan sausages, roasts, and other entrees that can be part of not only a sustainable vegan lifestyle but a memorable holiday dinner as well. They taste pretty good too!
- Bring your own beverage
The holidays may be all about the food but there are also other favorite beverages that be a tradition to have. When it comes to alcohol, not all beer, wine or other holiday drinks are vegan. Consider bringing something – you don’t even have to mention that it’s vegan if you don't want to. Simply enjoy it with others who are there. Barnivore.com is a great resource to find out if your favorite wine or beer is vegan-friendly.
- Celebrate, have fun and make new traditions
The holidays is a time to celebrate with family and friends around food. Show your compassion around this time of year. If you ever feel picked on about your dietary pattern, politely change the subject to something non-food related and remind everyone that this is simply a time to have fun, create memories, and be happy around the company of one another. It’s perfectly okay to talk about something else and change the focus away from you and your dietary pattern.
Happy Holidays Everyone!!
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