Tips on Surviving the Holidays as a Vegan

Surviving holidays as a vegan with minimal awkwardness can be tricky. Halloween can be bad enough, sure, there’s plenty of candy you can have, but it’s always awkward having to say “No thanks, I’m good” three or four times before the well meaning acquaintance offering you a snickers bar finally gives it up. Thanksgiving? Christmas? Hanukkah? Or whatever else you may celebrate? That’s a whole different ball game. These holidays are often marked with huge dinners with extended family and lots and lots of meat. This can be particularly daunting especially if your household isn’t hosting and you have less control over what will be served. Other awkward situations can arise from interactions with friends and relatives. How does one get through this? Here’s how:


1) Let your relatives know ahead of time


The good news is, these holidays are usually spent with either family or close friends--hopefully people you likely feel comfortable with. Call your grandma, uncle or whoever is hosting the dinner and let them know or remind them that you are vegan and ask if there will be any options for you to eat. They may already have your lifestyle in mind and have prepared a dish or two for you. If not, suggest a few things they could do for you, whether it’s a bigger salad, lots of bread or suggest leaving butter out of the roasted vegetables or mashed sweet potato.


2) Go over early and make something yourself


This is what I did last Thanksgiving! I went over to my Grandma’s house a bit early and helped her prepare a few dishes I could eat. This was a win-win situation for us; she got a little extra help in the kitchen and I ensured myself that there would be several dishes I could eat. This can also ensure there is no confusion over what is or isn’t vegan. Some people who don’t understand it might think things like fish or eggs are vegan. If you’re there, you can explain to them better as you make food with them.


3) Make something at home to bring!


If neither of the above options work out, consider bringing something you made at home or bought. Maybe this is just dairy free mashed potatoes, or some gardein turkey or a vegan pie. You can use this method if you won’t have anything else to eat or if you simply want to supplement what you know will be provided by the host. You could also potentially veganize an a traditional dish to bring. For example, my Dad’s side of the family is Quebécois so we always have tourtiѐre (a meat pie) on Christmas eve. I recreated it using soy crumbles and brought it to the party that night. Were my ancestors rolling in their graves? Maybe! But I still got to enjoy a Christmas tradition, I just made it vegan. This method of bringing food is especially useful when it comes to dessert. Most premade pie crusts are actually vegan (read the label though to check, of course)! This makes it pretty easy to make a dessert to eat and share! Vegan cookie recipes are also pretty easy to come by on the internet.


4) Pregame with food


If none of the above options work, pregame the dinner party with some food. Just cook yourself a meal before you go and eat it at home just as you usually would. This lets you relax at the event and feel satisfied with a “snack” of dinner rolls, bread or salad while everyone else is eating dinner. It may feel weird leaving a dinner party hungry, but rest assured that you’ll still be able to spend time with family and celebrate the holiday (and eat again when you get home).


5) Suggest hosting!


Many families have it set in stone who hosts which holiday. My family goes to my grandparents for Thanksgiving but we always host on Christmas day. Perhaps it’s up in the air who’s hosting, though. This is the perfect opportunity to ensure you have control over the menu. Of course, you’ll have to get your household to agree, but agreeing to help cook and clean is a good way to accomplish this. There are plenty of holiday themed recipes on the internet from appetizers, to entrees, to sides, to desserts.


6) Learn what to say when you pass up on food


You probably are used to people offering you food that you won’t eat. It’s awkward because they definitely mean well, but some people are super persistent. It can be especially confusing for relatives who are trying to give you some of your old favorite foods. This phrase could be as simple as “Thank you for the offer but I can’t/won’t eat that” or “Thanks for thinking of me but actually I’m vegan now and that has (insert animal product) in it”. Maybe you say something different depending on what the offer is or who’s trying to give this food to you. Coming up with a few polite but assertive phrases now can help lessen the awkwardness when its actually time to reject someone’s kind offer.


7) Learn how to combat people’s misconceptions


A lot of people, especially older people, don’t really know what veganism is, or how anyone could possibly eat like that. This is ok, they grew up in a much different time and now you have an opportunity to educate them. I’m not suggesting you bombard your relatives, but a few will certainly have questions like: How do you get any protein? Why are you doing this? Isn’t this unhealthy? Why would you just give up all your favorite foods? Isn’t that expensive? I definitely got most of these questions my first vegan holiday season. Think of a few things to say when you’re asked about the health aspect, or why you’re doing this, or other common misconceptions you think your family might ask. This will make it less likely that you feel thrown off guard. A well thought out response will ensure your relatives that you’re not crazy and that you’re not at risk of nutrient deficiency. Maybe think of a few documentaries or blogs to recommend to curious relatives so they can do their own research.


So while the looming holidays might seem scary now, they can be made simple with the help of these tips and hopefully some cooperation from your family and friends!


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