By Nava Atlas. First published in Jeunessima Magazine 3 (then The Forever Young Magazine)
The holiday season, the period that includes Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s shindigs can be overwhelming for anyone. But they are particularly challenging for vegans.
Here are my tips for navigating both the culinary and emotional aspects of the holiday season for anyone who wants to celebrate healthfully and joyfully and especially for the plant-based crowd.
Food and Entertaining
Be a subtly persuasive guest: If you’re invited to a gathering where you suspect there will be limited food choices, volunteer to bring something really delicious (and preferably healthy) to share.
I’ve found that the best way to “spread the gospel” is by showing how tasty and satisfying vegan food can be.
People are much more interested these days. So, bring plenty of what you’re making, as I’ve found that everyone wants to try some of what we’re having.
Be a fabulous host: If you’re hosting a holiday gathering, it doesn’t have to be an 8-course meal that will leave you feeling exhausted and broke.
If you want to host a gathering and want to do something simpler, think of a vegan holiday appetizers and wine buffet, or a mid-day brunch. Both of these options can be lots of fun and infinitely simpler than a multi-course dinner.
No matter what kind of event you’re hosting, also inquire about your guests’ food allergies in advance.
Think potluck: These days, when everyone is so crazy/busy, no one minds bringing one dish to share. Potlucks are fun and festive and give everyone a chance to share favorite dishes.
If it’s your house or apartment, you’re perfectly within your rights to set the rule of vegan dishes only. I’ve done that for years, and no one minds. It gives your guests a chance to stretch their skills and try new things.
If someone is truly befuddled, ask them to bring a simple salad, bread, or wine.
Have fun veganizing old favorites. Emotionally fraught as holidays can be, at their best, they can be times of comfort and nostalgia.
Aside from how wonderful it is for you to enjoy an old family recipe, show your guests how tasty and healthy a vegan holiday can be. Give them the taste
Tease them with a “vegg nog” instead of an egg nogg. Show that you can still have mashed potatoes and gravy. Prove that stuffing can be just as delicious if not stuffed into a bird.
This will not only have your guests coming back every year. They may even spread the word that a vegan holiday isn’t at all about sacrifice and deprivation.
Veggies and fruits center stage: Even if you love comfort foods, give seasonal produce a bigger role in your holiday fare than starches and sweets.
Use an abundance of hardy fall vegetables, including a variety of squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables, and fresh greens.
Use lots of seasonal fruits (apples, pears, oranges, cranberries — on their own and in desserts) to reduce temptation to overdo sugary sweets.
Social and Emotional Considerations
Stand firm. If you’re a new vegan, it’s easy to be apologetic or waver if you’re questioned about your choices.
I’ve been vegetarian (which was weird enough 40 years ago) and then vegan for more than a decade now.
In all those years no one has gotten under my skin, because I won’t let that happen.
Show confidence in your choices, and people are less likely to try to mess with you.
Save the debates for another time. If someone provokes you, intentionally or not, and you must say something at the holiday table, don’t stoop to their level. Keep it simple and make it about yourself, not them.
“Being vegan makes me feel great physically, and I have a huge amount of mental energy”, is something I repeat often.
If someone gets right in your face about your choices, or asks a point-blank question like: “What’s wrong with dairy? After all, the cow doesn’t have to die” (one I hear a lot), I say:
“I’ll be glad to share what I know about animal agriculture. But this isn’t the time or place for graphic details. If you really want to know, I’ll be glad to discuss this with you privately, when we’re not eating.”
Don’t succumb to guilt. Especially if you’re a new vegan in a non-vegan-friendly family, you might get those sad-eyed or withering looks from your parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents:
“What? You’re not going to have some of the XYZ, after so-and-so worked so hard to prepare it?”
Be firm, and neutral: “I don’t eat XYZ any more, but I’m sure it’s delicious, and there will be more for everyone else.”
Repeat as needed. The first year will be hardest. By year three, they’ll likely get tired of laying on the guilt.
Practice gratitude. Remember how fortunate those of us are who can actually make all the food choices we prefer, right down to buying the organic version of something.
So many people around the world go hungry and lack basic food security. Remembering that we’re among the lucky ones really helps put a lot of other, more petty things into perspective.
Give back. Following the last tip, do whatever you can around the holidays within your means, to alleviate the suffering and/or difficulties of fellow humans and animals.
Even if you don’t have a lot of spare cash, you can donate your time, or goods you no longer need to women’s shelters, food banks, animal shelters or farm sanctuaries, and the like. As vegans, we all understand that compassion stretches far beyond the kitchen.