It’s that time of year again folks! Twinkle lights are up, Christmas cards and cookies are in the making, and holiday gatherings seem to fill every day and night. These festive times, although wonderful, can be a little overwhelming especially if you’re the new vegan in the room, since so many events center around food at this time of year. I have always been completely in love with traditions and the holidays, and that certainly didn’t end when I switched to a vegan diet. In fact, Christmas is now even more special for me, since I love hosting delicious dinners for my friends and family that include the same recipe they always loved at my house, but in a completely vegan version. Some are downright carbon copies when it comes to taste and look. We’ll get to the food soon enough, but first, we need to talk about how to navigate the waters of company parties, family dinners with non-vegans, and once again, possibly being the only vegan in the room. Even if you’re not vegan yet, and are lightly treading the waters and experimenting a little, the holiday season might just be one of those things that is keeping you from taking the plunge, thinking that it will be too restrictive, that you don’t want to stand out or ‘bother’ anyone with your new way of eating. These feelings are so normal that I had to almost physically remove the thoughts of what Christmas would be like from my head when I first went vegan. Had I stopped to think about my family’s traditions, recipes and gatherings, perhaps I wouldn’t have dared take the first few steps. Little did I know, that you can be vegan and go completely gaga over the holiday season just as before, especially since almost any recipe on this planet can be veganized with a few substitutions.
The social aspects of being vegan are perhaps the toughest to trek during the holidays, especially when surrounded by family and friends that don’t understand your choices. I have plenty of posts with specific tips for every social situation imaginable (and I’ll link to them in this post), but today, I want to remind you of three little things that might completely change your outlook on the social aspects of the holiday season.
1. Give them time
This one goes out to all new vegans who still might be at the receiving end of comments, outsider opinions and the occasional joke. Always remember that you’ve most likely quit your fair share of things before. You might have stopped your guitar lessons after two months, quit a summer job or two, or announced you were on a diet only to break it at the first sign of cake. The people we love, especially our closest family members might interpret your newly vegan ways, or the possibility of your being vegan as just another phase. One that might make them scared that you won’t be around like you used to. Fear is quite possibly the number one motivator for negative remarks and even hostility. Just as you don’t want anything to change with them by choosing to go vegan, they don’t want anything to change with you! Give them time to get used to the idea. As soon as they see that this is something that matters to you, and that you plan to stick with, I promise you that their attitude will change completely and they might even feel proud that you’ve kept up something that they view as challenging. Show them it’s not, because it really isn’t, and that nothing really has to change. Just as you give your seeds time to grow, there is no way of rushing your blooms either.
2. Remember: ‘I was here’
Many vegans I know feel completely floored every time someone questions veganism or how it could possibly be healthy or acceptable. Some are still surprised when people ask them where they get their protein or calcium, whether it’s safe to only eat plants, and tell them it’s restrictive and unnecessary. They feel completely hurt when friends and family make jokes about the crispy ‘Babe’ they had for breakfast or that your asparagus screamed in pain when you sliced it with your knife just now. Instead of jumping on top of them like a startled ‘hangry’ hyena, take a moment to remember that you were once here. Perhaps you weren’t making fun of vegans or vegetarians, but it’s also very likely that you’re actually the first and last vegan you know, and knew nothing about it before. I read so many books and researched so many aspects of veganism before I took the leap, I can’t even tell you! I was sure I wanted to be vegan but I had all of the questions and doubts everyone else seems to have. Until you are aware of what a vegan diet actually looks like or entails, you really have no idea! Always remember you were probably once a bacon lover too, who probably thought special diets were a thing reserved for spoilt children, only to realize now that it’s just another choice you’re entitled to make. To that end…
3. It’s just another daily choice
We tend to be much more worried about what other people might think regarding our food choices than we should be. I don’t know about you, but I would never think twice about someone who at a dinner party chose to have the mashed potatoes instead of the rice because of – insert reason here-. Although for us being vegan can be a profound and beautiful change, when we’re sitting at the table with our friends and family, skipping the meat or holiday cheese ball is just another choice. It’s food. It’s food! You’re not telling your family you’ve enlisted in the army, or you’re moving to another country, or you’ve decided to quit your job and start a band even though you can’t play a musical instrument. It’s food. It’s a daily choice, and the more relaxed you are about it, the more relaxed everyone else is going to be, until they finally get that this is a permanent lifestyle choice that is going to be around for a while. That’s when the fun starts and even the most anti-vegan of aunts will soon be googling a recipe or two for you. We know deep down that being vegan entails such a profound significance of non-harming, and that to us it isn’t really ‘just food’, otherwise we’d be eating like everyone else and avoiding the long faces to begin with. But at the moment of sitting at a table with people we might view as judgmental, it really is just a choice of food.
Ok, so we’re planning on not stressing out during the holidays even when surrounded by family who has not yet completely accepted our new choices. What about the food served at these events? Yes, if you gather with friends and family who are omnivores and wish to continue making a meat and dairy centered meal, you will have to make choices on what you can and can’t eat. As you’ve read in our many posts regarding the social aspects of being vegan, you can always offer to make some of your family’s favorite side dishes with easy substitutions like non-dairy butter and milk in the mashed potatoes, or non-dairy butter in a mushroom gravy, or simply offer to take a decadent vegan creation that goes well with the meal your host or hostess has already planned (more on yummy options later). Take enough for everyone and always make something super delicious that will open people’s preconceptions of what a vegan diet looks and tastes like. Before we get down to the food, here are some of our posts filled with tips on how to be a joyful social vegan in a non-vegan world:
If you’re craving that feeling of a big holiday table full of food you can completely indulge in, my suggestion is always that you host your own little gathering, even if you have to do it on another day that isn’t the official holiday. I love cooking for my family and friends and having a table full of the vegan versions of their favorite holiday dishes. I love looking at the table and knowing that everything there is mine for the taking. A holiday table in which everyone, can have a plate full of delicious and abundant options. Hosting is really not as stressful as you might think it is, as long as you take it as a fun experience and don’t worry about getting everything just perfect. Perfection is often the enemy of actually getting things done, and a stress free family gathering is all anyone wants anyway! Perhaps your home will be known for its go with the flow feel and its warmth and joy when it comes to sitting at the table. No matter what you decide to make, cooking a vegan meal is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about serving raw turkey breasts or overcooked thighs. Vegan cooking is, as I like to say, as down to earth as it gets, and I firmly believe and have actually seen how people leave the table with a completely light and joyous feeling. Perhaps because it’s rubbing off from you! When hosting, never make a recipe for the first time when you have guests coming as this can really add on stress, and find a combination of recipes in which some can be made in advance to make the job easier on yourself. Always remember that the most relaxed hosts make for the most fun gatherings! Nobody likes a screaming cook locked up in the kitchen they never get to see or talk to, and always, always, always leave perfection at the door. Have it make a snowman or something.
Ah! The joy of glorious and delicious vegan food! Here are some of our favorite holiday recipes for you to choose from, with more coming soon!:
– Banana Nut Muffins with Pumpkin Butter (perfect for a post holiday breakfast, or serve only the pumpkin butter next to your dinner goodies).
You can also make:
– A delicious vegan holiday roast such as Tofurky or Gardein.
– A vegan lentil and mushroom loaf.
– Seitan or tempeh ‘meatballs’ with tons of cranberry sauce.
– Individual tempeh or tofu pot pies.
– Tofu and chestnut wrapped phyllo triangles.
– A tofu and vegetable quiche, or individual quiches or tarts for each guest.
– Seitan roulades or scaloppini.
– Potato latkes, green bean casserole, wild rice pilafs, sweet potato pies or any of your holiday favorites in their vegan version.
– Or even keep it simple by serving your trusted dishes as a smorgasbord of delicious sides.
The sky is the limit when it comes to what food to make. I highly recommend our Thanksgiving post for more ideas, and from now until Christmas we’ll be featuring some of our holiday recipes in the homepage for you to browse and try.
Make your holidays with family and friends as joyful as always by showing them that you of course value all their time honored traditions, even if your new lifestyle doesn’t make you want to join in the animal based food. Decorating Christmas cookies? Why not! Offer to make the base dough with one of your vegan recipes. Trimming the tree to the sound of Christmas Carols, count me in! Building a snowman or participating in an epic snowball fight? Check and check. The more your family and friends see that you are simply you, that no one swapped you at the airport or cloned and brought a vegan dopelganger, the more they will see that everyone can have a fun holiday together. Yes, you can persuade more future vegans, vegan ‘friendlies’ or simply get people to understand and accept your choices, when you do it with love as opposed to anxiety or distance, and you can of course do it without fail, with delicious vegan food.