Your first holiday as a vegan: the ultimate, go-to guide for making it through
Put your hand up if any of the following sound familiar to you.
“Plants have feelings, too.” “So does that mean you won’t be eating turkey?”
“Here, we prepared this salad for you instead.” (Cut to plate of lettuce and nothing else.) “It’s fine! It’s just this one meal. It won’t make a difference.”
“Come on. It’s the holidays”.
If they do sound familiar, probability indicates that you have already experienced your first holiday meal as a vegan. If they don’t sound familiar, it’s safe to assume that if that glorious rite of passage is on the docket for the upcoming holiday season, you’re definitely going to be hearing one or two of the aforementioned.
Preparing for the “first” holiday meal has many implications. A lot of the time, it may involve a family or friend group who is completely new to your lifestyle. While they may perceive themselves as the untouchable, picture perfect host, they hear the ‘v’ word, and are immediately struck with confusion and great uncertainty about how to proceed.
With a few tips and tricks, you can not only help out those family members and friends, you can make sure that you’re going to have a pleasant experience, enjoy taking part in the celebration, and not leave the evening hungry, because your cousin assumed that all vegans needed to be satiated was a bowl of artisanal greens.
Ask questions. Don’t feel bad about it.
If you’re part of a small gathering this year for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, or your chosen holiday, have a discussion with the host. Clarify that you’re vegan, and what that means. Some folks aren’t aware that vegans don’t consume any animal products, therefore an explanation of the “do’s and don’ts” can prove itself to be very useful. Ask the host if they’ll have any appropriate options (more than one side dish or salad), and/or if they’d prefer that you bring something.
Focus on the opportunity.
If your host has requested you bring a main dish for yourself, consider preparing and bringing multiple portions. Options such as loaves, casseroles, bakes, and a lot of vegan meat alternatives can be fantastic dishes to introduce to non-vegans at the table. A lot of the time, when non-vegans express aversion to vegan food, it’s because they simply haven’t had the opportunity to try it. Make your favourite delicious dish, dazzle them, and ultimately: prove them wrong!
Thirty-six-ingredient recipes are not required.
These recipes exist in both the vegan and the non-vegan realms. You know the ones. They have upwards of 30 ingredients, they have a 3-day preparation process, they require one tbsp. of a rare cultured salt that is only available two times per year, and you need to let the dish simmer for 16 hours. Ditch them. You can find an abundance of recipes that are user-friendly, cost-efficient, and appropriate for beginners if you’re still acclimatizing to vegan life 101.
In no particular order, these are some of my favourite recipes for holiday main dishes:
Sage and Onion Lentil Loaf // Dr. Pamela Fergusson
Acorn Squash with Cornbread Stuffing // The Spruce Eats
Vegan Latkes // Veg News
The Best Vegan Meatloaf // Nora Cooks
Cajun Jambalaya // One Green Planet
Thanksgiving Holiday Roast // Lauren Toyota
Seitan Recipe // our very own Coach K! (Note: this version is a base recipe. Add your own flavours or use this in a meal recipe of your choice.)
Vegan Gravy // Connoisseurus Veg
If you prefer to go the route of purchasing a ready-made main dish, the following brands all offer options that are readily available in larger grocery stories or online (Canada and/or US options):
Gardein Kroger Plantbase Food (local to BC)
TMRW Foods (by the by, they have a Holiday Box)
The Very Good Butcher (local to BC; will ship to US)
Your main dish isn’t the only thing you’ll be eating.
Depending on your plans, you may be participating in an event that lasts for several hours, before and after the main course and meal. Think appetizers, finger foods, and snacks. You can include some questions about these in your discussion with the host, and/or bring your own.
· Veggies and hummus (cliché, but a staple item)
· Vegan frozen appies (a multitude of brands are now offering these at most major grocery stores)
· Vegan cheese and/or deli slices (one of the easiest ways to “wow” a non-vegan crowd: a well curated veg-charcuterie board)
· Mediterranean tapas: grilled veggies, olives, and flatbread
· Corn/tortilla chips, fresh salsa, guacamole and vegan sour cream
If you’ll be having post-meal coffee and/or tea, consider bringing your own mylk if you don’t enjoy those beverages black. If the host is providing vegan-friendly bread and/or rolls, you can pack your own vegan margarine or butter alternative, if there won’t be one available.
Dessert could be covered in an entirely separate article. Here are a few tried + true options if you’re also bringing your own:
Pumpkin-Cashew-Cocoa Butter Bars // my own recipe, tried and true, and everyone I have made these for raves about them. You will too:
Pumpkin Pie // Nora Cooks
Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnuts) // Hell Yeah It’s Vegan!
No Bake Rice Pudding Cake // One Green Planet
Ready Made (Canada and/or US):
So Delicious Sweets from Earth
Look for hidden ingredients.
You’ve had a conversation, you’ve clarified what vegan means, you’ve re-clarified it doesn’t include milk, and that still doesn’t mean that sneaky ingredients won’t pop in now and again. Here are some of the most common ones:
· Butter (used for cooking and/or glazing vegetables)
· Cream or milk (used in mashed potatoes and/or sauces)
· Animal-based broths (used for seasoning in vegetables, soups and/or stews)
· Cheese (used as a topping or garnish)
· Carmine, gelatin, casein, egg whites, honey, sea shells, isinglass, bone char (all ingredients that can be used in some non-vegan alcohol drinks. Consult https://www.barnivore.com for a vegan guide to wine, beer, and alcohol.)
· Gelatin (used as a stabilizer for puddings and desserts)
· Honey (used to sweeten dishes, sauces or salad dressings)
Be prepared for the questions. They will come. You don’t need to answer any of them if you don’t want to.
If you’re the only vegan at the table eating a variety of “other” foods, chances are questions will come up. These will usually present themselves in one of two ways.
Option 1 will be respectful. Other guests have heard the term, but may not be sure about it, and are curious to learn more. They ask questions, listen respectfully, and ask you about certain foods. Heck, they may want to try them! Option 2 will not be respectful: these guests will poke fun, make a joke or two about plant sentience, or roll their eyes and state the infamous, very original “ more for me!” Repeat after me: I am under no obligation to answer disrespectful questions. I am under no obligation to bite my tongue if shade is being thrown my way. I am under no obligation to expel every drop of my precious energy defending veganism if blinders are obviously up.
Vegans are often advised to be less extreme, more polite, and not “ take it all so seriously”. If someone is berating you, you don’t have an obligation to be silent. You can choose to address the question at hand, or you can choose to leave. If you prefer to engage in the dialogue, some of my favourite questions include the following (these work brilliantly for in-person, and online communications):
“That’s an interesting response. Why do you think you asked that?”
“It seems you have some unique ideas about veganism. Can I answer any questions or clarify?”
“What kinds of conversations about veganism have you had before?”
If you don’t want to go, don’t go.
If your stomach is telling you that you’re walking into a situation that will be upsetting, problematic, or hurtful, you don’t need to go. Order in. Have a virtual potluck through the technological capabilities of Zoom or Facetime. Many vegan restaurants will have specials on throughout the year at holidays, which gives you the opportunity to directly support businesses that align with your ethics.
Often, we use terms like “tradition” to justify certain behaviors and practices, especially around the holidays. Remember that traditions can be adapted, they can evolve, they can be critically assessed and above all: they can change. Diving into the realm of vegan holidays, you’re now an integral part of this process. Every time you speak about veganism, you’re contributing to making those shifts happen. It may not seem like it at times, but collectively, we are working towards bringing veganism to the forefront, changing perception, and ultimately: evolving all of our holiday celebrations to move towards a much more compassionate place.
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