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Four years ago, I decided that I wanted to eat a plant based diet, and made the switch overnight. When Christmas came only days later, I explained to my family that I no longer wanted to eat eggs, dairy, meat, or anything that comes from an animal, and I was met with the usual, “well what about protein?” or “then what do you eat?” While it can be tiring having to defend what you do and don’t put in your body, I understood that their questions came from a place of love. I mean, what if I did starve because I didn’t eat eight tamales? Since then, I have reincorporated dairy and eggs into my diet, but coming from a background of family members who plan their meals around their meat, it can still be plenty difficult to figure out just how to navigate being a vegetarian at family gatherings. Whether you’re newly plant-based, a fresh vegetarian, or have been established in your dietary choices for a while now, here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re the odd ball at the dinner table:

Remember, this was your choice.

If you have newly become a vegan/vegetarian, then you’re probably pumped up on your passion for animal rights and the planet. Heck yes! Go forth into the world with this new knowledge and do what you gotta do, but I’m begging you to not try and convert your family. Trust me, it won’t work. In order to make a change, you have to be ready to make a change; Aunt Linda who came for some turkey and mash might not be quite ready yet, but that’s ok! If asked why you made your choice, give your five-minute-pitch and move on.

Set boundaries.

Figure out exactly what you are and aren’t willing to put into your body. There are no wrong answers here! Regardless of what vegan Youtubers have to say, there is no one way to feed your body. Maybe you’re repulsed by dairy, but still want eggs. That is totally fine, it isn’t all or nothing!

 

Other questions you should ask yourself that you maybe never have thought about: If it was cooked in the same pan as meat, will I eat it? What about chicken broth? Marshmallows have gelatin, will I eat the candied yams?

 

Once you’ve figured out where exactly your boundaries lie, if you feel comfortable enough, let the person who cooks for you know. This way everyone is on the same page.

Again, this is a choice.

Your decision, while admirable, is just that: a decision. At the end of the day, a change that seems so drastic to some may feel very difficult to accommodate. While some family members might be happy to make you a vegan/vegetarian side-dish, the decision for others to go about their business like nothing has changed is not unwarranted. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes it’s true that no one owes you anything. The holidays are stressful enough, and this may take a little extra compassion to understand. It might be safer to eat before the function so as not to get too hungry while out.

All in all, having a plant-based diet is becoming easier and easier in the “real world,” but that can all change the second you’re around family. I see you and I know how sticky of a situation that can be. You have the autonomy to eat what you want and decline what you don’t want. And if all else fails: oreos.

Hi there! I'm Bri, I'm a linguistics major at UCSC who loves pop culture, true crime, and my sweet baby cat, Marlo.
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