The holidays are stressful for most people, but there are added stresses for vegans: How do you ask your family to cook a vegan meal for you? If they are coming to your house, do you make two meals, or request that they eat vegan? What do you do when someone gets confrontational about your diet at the holiday table? No worries – here are all your answers!
The first thing you must decide is whether you will be eating vegan for the holiday meal. If you are vegan for health reasons only, you may choose to splurge at this time of year, but I don’t recommend it – one splurge usually leads to many more, which leads you straight back to your old bad habits. If you are vegan for ethical reasons, then there is no reason to treat this day differently than any other – animals suffered and were killed for these holidays just like any other day, so you obviously won't be eating meat or dairy.
The next set of decisions involves where you’ll be eating. Is a family member hosting dinner, or will it be at your house? If you’ll be going to someone else’s house for dinner, it’s pertinent to call the host/ess. I always suggest offering to bring your own food; not only does this make life easier on your host/ess, it also ensures you that you will get a fully vegan meal. Many people, with great intentions, end up using dairy, eggs or honey inadvertently when trying to cook vegan. If you can bring a dish that is a meal all-in-one (such as a casserole,) this allows you to eat heartily and also offer some to others, so they will be able to see just how delicious vegan food can be. If your host/ess insists on cooking for you, then make sure that he or she knows exactly what a vegan diet is. Gracefully stress that vegan is different from vegetarian, and explain those differences. Offer up vegan websites with holiday recipes, or offer up recipes yourself. Again, this makes life so much easier for your host/ess.
If you are hosting the holiday dinner, then you have another big decision to make: Will you be making one vegan and one non-vegan meal, or will you request that everyone eat vegan? At my house, I now cook the holiday meal every year, and everyone eats vegan. The first year I hosted, I made absolutely sure that my recipes were delicious, and didn’t make anything for the first time and risk it not tasting good. I offered all the traditional favorites – mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, and apple pie – all made with vegan ingredients. They just happened to be the most delicious vegan versions you’ve ever had (Thanks, WholeFoods!) That first year, everyone crowed about how good the food was; I think they expected a dismal dinner! But that careful preparation set me up for all the years to come. People look forward to my dinner and know it will taste good. I always start dinner by giving gratitude for a warm house, great family and plenty of nourishing food.
Now for a common question that doesn’t just apply to the holidays: How do you handle confrontational family members who attack your dietary choices at the dinner table? I hope your family is open-minded and supportive about your decision to be vegan, but if someone is not, remember these two steps: First, remember that this is not about you. Even if you have a long history of not getting along with this person, their issue with your diet is simply not about you. It’s their own "stuff" coming out under the guise of your diet.
Second, answer them in one of two ways: First, if they ask “real” questions, such as “How do you get protein?” (Or, if they’re being cantankerous, “You can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet! I saw that on TV last week!”) just take a deep breath, keep your cool and answer the question. Try your hardest not to get defensive – there is no need, as your diet it great for your health, the animals, and the planet – it will hold up on it’s own without you taking a defensive posture. There will likely be many questions, so have patience, and be solid in your heart that you’re doing the right thing for you. If they don’t really have questions, or are clearly just trying to press your buttons and get you riled up, simply use this phrase as many times as you need to: “If you’re truly interested in learning about the vegan diet, I suggest you read ______________ (such as Diet for a New America, by John Robbins.) Once you’ve read it, I’d be happy to answer any questions you still have.” This basically forces them to take action before the conversation can go on. I’ve stalled a specific relative for years now when I used this phrase back around 2004. He finally quit badgering me because he has no intention of educating himself on the vegan diet, and I politely told him I have no interest in having an argument with him about it until he has educated himself on the topic. It’s worked like a charm.
If you have a really argumentative and downright nasty person at the table who just won’t let it go, then say, “I am not asking you to change your diet, so I’d appreciate it if you would quit badgering me about mine. Can we change the subject now, please?” Everyone at the table will appreciate it.
One last note: Do not solicit arguments by preaching about the vegan diet at the dinner table. Many people will already feel threatened by your diet because they know they are not healthy and don’t want to have to face it. If you start preaching about your diet to them, they will likely feel badly about themselves and may get defensive. Plus, the holidays are about enjoying each other and being grateful for each other – not about asserting personal opinions onto others. So, to avoid riling up your relatives, keep the topic off your diet unless someone else brings it up proactively.
I certainly hope your holiday table is pleasant and happy and full of joyful people who respect each other. Remember, your decision to be vegan is doing so much good for your health, the suffering of animals and the environment, that the holidays should be extra joyful! What a blessing to be able to share your holiday table with the people you love, eating nourishing food that supports your values.