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10 Tips for Surviving Family Holiday Meals as a Vegan

Whether this is your first family holiday meal as a vegan or if you’ve been trying to navigate family holidays for years and still haven’t gotten the hang of it, we have some tips to make the upcoming holiday meals a much more pleasant experience for you and everybody else!

1. Don’t Expect Your Family to Understand Your Food Requirements

Just because you’re now a certified expert in which foods are vegan and which ones aren’t, that doesn’t mean your family and friends have anywhere near the same wealth of knowledge you do. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that at least 5 people at the family dinner think vegan, organic and gluten-free are the same thing. Try not to be frustrated or disappointed when the other dinner guests wonder why you won’t eat the greens (Just pick the meat out!) or insist that you take a slice of the sweet potato pie (What? There’s no meat in it!). Just know that veganism is a mysterious phenomenon for most people and so it will take some time for your family and friends to fully comprehend the ins and outs of plant-based eating.

2. Bring Your Own Vegan Food to Eat

If the aforementioned greens are any indication of the kinds of food you can expect at the holiday dinner, it’s definitely time for you to bring your own vegan food to eat! Your meal can be as simple as a couple of stuffed acorn squashes or as extravagant as a meatless turk’y with all the trimmings. There’s one important thing you need to know, though, if you’re bringing vegan food to a family gathering: The non-vegan dinner guests are most definitely, going to eat your food - and I mean all of your food! Here’s how it will go: First they’ll ask what you’re eating, then they’ll ask to taste some, and before you know it, the non-vegans have eaten all your food and are raving about how delicious it was. The moral of this story is if you bring your own food, make sure to bring extra for everybody else to eat!

3. Any Food You Share Should Be Delicious

While we’re on the topic of sharing vegan food with non-vegans, I feel very strongly that if you’re going to expose people to vegan food for the first time it should be the most delicious vegan food possible. You would be surprised at the positive impact eating delicious plant-based food can have on people’s attitudes towards veganism. Many times, being exposed to vegan food that tastes amazing is the key that opens people up to the idea that maybe they could give up animal products too. And eating bland, uninteresting or downright nasty plant-based foods often does the exact opposite - giving people an excuse to reject the idea of giving up animal products because they believe living vegan would eating awful food for the rest of their lives. There are many times when vegans will throw together some bland, boring dish because we don’t feel like putting in the effort to make something more exciting, but holiday meals should not be one of those times!

4. Educate People Gently About What Vegan Means

People are inevitably going to have commentary and questions about your diet that make no sense whatsoever. “But you still eat fish, right?” “But milk is healthy!” and every vegan’s favorite, “How do you get your protein?” How you answer people’s questions could be the difference between sparking an interest in veganism that may blossom into someone changing their life one day or antagonizing someone and turning them off from veganism completely. Remember, this is obviously a lifestyle that you believe in and feel proud of, so make sure that pride and positivity comes through when you educate people about what veganism means to you. While it can be extremely frustrating to answer the same questions over and over again, it’s best to reserve those angry responses for strangers on the internet and try to practice patience with family and friends at holiday events (within reason, of course).

5. Show Appreciation of People’s Attempts to Make Vegan Food

Even if this is your very first vegan holiday meal, friends and family members will probably attempt to make something you can eat - and eight time out of ten, they’ll fail miserably. But that’s not the point. The fact that they even put forth the effort to make something you can eat shows a level of consideration for you that many other vegans can only dream of from family and friends. So even though Aunt Shirley will definitely make the deviled eggs from “organic” eggs so you can eat them, and cousin Shante is gonna sprinkle dairy parmesan cheese on the “vegan” pasta salad she made just for you, know that they made that food with love. So thank them for their efforts, and gently explain why what they made isn’t actually vegan and so you won’t be eating it.

6. Don’t Eat Animal Products Just to Please Others

Showing appreciation for people’s attempt to make vegan food is one thing, but that appreciation doesn’t need to extend to actually eating foods that aren’t vegan. You’ve obviously chosen to be vegan because - for whatever reason(s) - you’ve come to the conclusion that this is a beneficial lifestyle. Compromising those beliefs and eating non-vegan food to make other people feel more comfortable with your choices sends the message that nobody needs to take your beliefs seriously since you don’t even take them seriously enough to eat vegetables for one meal with family. When you show that you respect your own beliefs by keeping animal products off your plate, you send the message that your family and friends need to respect your choices as well. And whether they say it at the time or not, people will admire your resolve and discipline in eating based on your beliefs and not caving to eating non-vegan foods just to please others!

7. Immediately Put a Stop to Any Disrespect of Your Lifestyle

Speaking of being respectful, there’s one behavior that non-vegans engage in that needs to be addressed - ridicule and disrespect for people’s choice to be vegan. We’ve all experienced it: what starts out as light hearted ribbing about “rabbit food” can quickly devolve into outright insults if allowed to go too far. It’s not that vegans shouldn’t be able to take the occasional joke, but once the jokes graduate to personal jabs and character attacks that’s when it’s time to put a stop to it. While you may want to refrain from going off on anybody, or even trade insults with them, you definitely want to be firm and uncompromising when you let the jokesters know that being vegan is something you feel strongly about and you expect people who care about you to be respectful when talking about your lifestyle. People - especially those who’ve known you since you were in diapers - are far more likely to respect you when you set clear, firm boundaries regarding how you expect to be treated.

8. Don’t Waste Your Time Lecturing People About Their Food Choices

If family and friends ask you specific questions about your diet, by all means educate them, but steer clear of being overly judgmental of what everybody else is eating. While you may have a hundred reasons to feel critical of the food being eaten at the holiday meal, the only purpose lecturing people would serve is to give others ammunition to attack you and the lifestyle you’ve chosen. People are at the holiday meal to eat and enjoy each other’s company, not be lectured. If you really have things you need to express to friends and family about why they shouldn’t be serving animal products at holiday dinners, try doing it prior to the event. Who knows, your pre-holiday-event-lecture might be just what’s needed to convince your family and friends to make it a plant-based holiday meal instead!

9. If Animal Products Disgust You, Eat Your Food Elsewhere

If the sight and smell of meat, dairy and eggs is repulsive to you, there’s no reason to subject yourself to it! The family holiday meal is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for everyone, and that includes you. So if you dread the thought of sitting at a table watching people rip into pieces of meat or spoon stringy gobs of mac ‘n cheese onto their plates, do yourself a favor - make your plate and take it into another room to eat. Stretch out on the couch and flip through a magazine while you eat in the living room, enjoy your meal with the antisocial cats upstairs in the guest bedroom - whatever you need to do to make things more pleasant for you. Then, once you’re done eating, rejoin the family for the spades game, or touch football or whatever it is your family does after a big meal!

10. Be Positive and Encouraging to Anyone Showing Interest in Plant-Based Eating

This one is often overlooked by vegans, especially new vegans: If the dinner guests are curious about the way you eat, make sure to be a cheerleader for plant-based eating! Instead of talking about all the foods they “can’t eat anymore,” talk about all the ways eating plant-based has had a positive impact on your life. Talk about the delicious recipes you’ve had successes with and all the new foods you’ve tried that you love. Instead of framing veganism as “hard” talk about the all the resources you've found to make living vegan easier and give them tricks you’ve personally come up with to make the transition easier. Many people find the thought of changing their diet overwhelming, and when people who are vegan frame veganism in a negative light, that reinforces this idea. That’s not to say you should be deceitful about the realities of going vegan - it basically comes down to perspective. How someone perceives veganism can be greatly influenced by how the vegans they know talk about it. If all they hear about are the negatives of going vegan, there’s a higher chance they they’ll end up with a negative impression, but if they hear positive feedback about plant-based eating they’re much more likely to be open to trying it as well!

Hopefully these tips have been useful to our readers and on behalf of Afro-Vegan Society, I would like to wish everyone safe and happy holidays!!

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