It’s the holiday season, and some of us are fortunate enough to safely share a meal with our nearest and dearest, despite corona-times.
However, family gatherings around the dinner table can be stressful if you’ve recently changed your diet away from the dominant food culture. My first Christmas gathering after I shifted to a vegan diet was pretty tough: watching your family carve into the meat when you’ve just given it up can be quite difficult (for various reasons). So with the wisdom of hindsight, here are some tips that would have helped me a lot at the time:
1. Is it really about the food?
In one sense, yes – it’s definitely about the food, with treats like Christmas pudding and mince pies being prepared weeks in advance, and traditionally meaty dishes being a centerpiece. But it’s mainly about family (and friends). Right? The food is there to enable a festive spirit, so try to keep that in mind.
2. Be an easy guest
Your host will have a lot to think about, and probably won’t have time or energy to accommodate you. Be the easiest person in the world, and just say that you’ll bring a vegan dish (or three!) to share. Don’t let your food preferences get in the way of an enjoyable time with loved ones.
3. Lighten your host’s load
If they’re really keen to cook something you can eat, provide them with helpful information, and perhaps offer to help in the kitchen on the day. A lot of traditional recipes are a short step away from being vegan-friendly, with an easy substitution or two (here are some tips on where to shop). If the host is a bit more adventurous, you could share some of your favourite recipes.
4. Defer the questions
What do you do if someone asks you why you don’t eat meat, while they’re digging into that roast? There are different strategies, but mine is to politely defer the conversation to when there isn’t meat between you: just say that you’d love to share your perspective, but over coffee or a digestif later would be more fun. On that note…
5. Let the food do the talking
Think about it: when it comes to food, the number one thing that most people care about is the taste. No amount of philosophising about ethics or sharing food footprints can compete with a beautiful, mouthwatering and satiating dish that just happens to be vegan (pro tip: tell them afterwards, not before). That’s one more reason to bring a dish to share (make a generous batch, and quietly put it on the table).
6. In case you do have that conversation…
If you can, keep things light. This might not be the place or time for big intellectual debates – unless yours is that kind of family, in which case, educate yourself well ahead of time. Reading books and articles (making sure their statements are backed up by science) will help you feel more comfortable and confident in answering questions. On the other hand, be upfront about what you don’t know. You mean to say that you’re not a qualified nutritionist, ethicist, climate scientist or economist, but you’re vegan?! (You can hear my sarcasm, right…) If you’re stumped for an answer, just say that it’s an interesting question and you’ll do some more reading!
7. Look after yourself
Family holiday gatherings can be really stressful for some. Manage your expectations, tune in to your needs and sensitivities, and have a chat with the host a couple of days before. If you have a good relationship, maybe they’ll be willing to make concessions (such as not putting the whole meat roast on the table, and instead carving it up in the kitchen). Prepare yourself mentally, but take care of your needs: this should be a festive experience for you, too.
I’m really, really fortunate to have a wonderful family that over the years, has morphed their Christmas traditions into a fully-vegan affair: it’s awesome. We’ve enjoyed all kinds of indulgences: seitan roasts, colourful salads, whole-roasted cauliflower, homemade vegan ice cream, mince pies, citrus bundt cake, vegan eggnog… Every year is a new culinary adventure and the anxiety that I experienced from being around a lot of meat is a thing of the past 🙂
I hope this inspires you, if you’ll be gathering with family this year. Happy holidays, and stay safe 🎄😷