A Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans (and your hosts) - Republic of Green

A Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans (and your hosts)

It’s the holiday season, and maybe you’ve accepted an invitation to a family celebration, perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas. The party planner is delighted and tells you they’re looking forward to seeing you and they’re planning on cooking a great big bird. Oh, you reply, by the way, did I tell you I’ve recently turned vegan?

Sometimes this response can be met with silence, or the muffled noise of a phone hitting the floor. Or even, ‘that’s nice’ in a ‘probably won’t last that long’ sort of way. You can get odd questions (‘You can still eat fish, right?’) but the general response is that it won’t be an issue. Of course, when the hosts hang up they are probably thinking – where am I going to get a tofurkey?

Many people are still confused as to what a vegan actually eats, and worry about their presence at the dinner table. They can begin to get stressed out, thinking they are going to offend their vegan guest in some way. They start to think about Vegan Thanksgiving recipes or Christmas vegan dinner recipes – it’s enough to make them reach for the wine (‘Wait. Can vegans drink wine?’).

Fear not, Vegan guests, because in this article we’re going to show how being a vegan at a family dinner table can be completely pain-free for all concerned (apart from the turkey). No one wants to inconvenience their host, and most vegans are pretty chill and don’t need or want special treatment. So let’s get right into it.

Plan ahead and communicate with your host

Talk with your host in advance to let them know you’re vegan, and offer to help in any way.

One of the best things you can do is to check in with your host before you attend. This way, you can discuss what the planned menu is, who is cooking what, and how you might be able to assist, if any help is wanted.  The first question is: 

Who’s cooking the holiday meal?

If someone is determined to cook you a vegan dinner, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the effort they’re going to. To make things easier, you can offer to share some of your own favorite vegan holiday recipes with them.

But if the host has decided they’re going to go ahead and prepare a vegan dinner just for you, this can be an opportunity to advise them on the wide variety of dishes available as well as anything specific to your vegan diet. Let’s get them inspired.

It’s best to tell them early that you’d prefer it if your vegan food wasn’t cooked along with the meat. That may be obvious to you, but if they’re not used to cooking a vegan meal, they may not have considered it.

You can also tell them that it’s quite ok if they don’t want to cook, as there are some excellent pre-made vegan meals available in most retail stores these days. The range has greatly improved from when it consisted of a few simple meat substitutes such as burgers or sausages, so it might be agreeable to all to pop out and buy something.

Another option is to say that you can stop by your local organic store and pick up some of your favorite dishes. There’ll be enough for everyone and they can keep the leftovers.

Some people enjoy cooking for others, whilst some like to make it as stress-free as possible. Reassuring your host in the build-up can help the occasion run as smoothly as possible and everyone gets to enjoy the food that they like.

Offer suggestions for vegan dishes

vegan squash

Chanterelle stuffed round zucchini

If your host has decided they want to cook for you, they’ll probably ask what type of vegan dishes you enjoy. This shouldn’t be a problem, as vegans love to talk about their favorite foods. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have several vegan recipe books that you like to work from. When I started cooking vegan meals, my repertoire was fairly limited.

When it comes to cooking a vegan meal, for me it has to tick three boxes – Tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. The book that really helped me when I was starting out and which I keep returning to is this one which is simply laid out, straightforward, and stuffed full of delicious vegan recipes. And if you want to follow along, many of the same vegan dishes can also be found on their Youtube channel, and just check out this simple Chocolate mousse recipe.

Something else you can point out to your host is to keep it simple. Pasta dishes are quick and easy to make and usually beloved of vegans. For me, it’s hard to beat a creamy spinach and mushroom penne pasta, Grains and roasted veggies are the way to go.

Offer to cook a vegan dish or help in the kitchen

vegan holiday dessert

Vegan dessert, anyone?

Some people are fussy about other people being in their kitchen, but you could offer to cook a vegan dish for yourself or for everyone. It’s a chance to show off your culinary skills, share some ingredients and make a nutritious and delicious dish. There’s a misconception that vegan cooking is bland and uninspiring, so time to prove everyone wrong. And there may be someone watching that becomes inspired to start their own vegan journey.

If that fails and your cooking skills aren’t needed, there are always a few vegetables that need chopping. And don’t forget about washing up.

Bring your own vegan dish

vegan holiday recipe

Recipe for Spinach & Mushroom Polenta Pie with Almond Ricotta from The First Mess

This is your opportunity to shine and fly the flag for veganism, as a vegan dinner can be just as tasty as any type of dinner.

Show the guests that not only can you survive as a vegan, but actually thrive. This is your chance to make the most delicious food possible and see if you can shift some hardened attitudes about veganism. You’d be surprised what a simple mac and cheese, a green bean casserole, or even a pecan pie for dessert can do to impress guests. Vegan mashed potatoes, vegan pies, and vegan roasts – show them that vegans aren’t missing out on any of the good stuff.

I have noticed that when I cook for non-vegan guests, they aren’t fussed about either vegan meat or vegan cheese, so I tend to omit those from a lot of my dishes. But it’s easy to make something like mashed potatoes, just by using vegan milk and vegan butter, and it’s quite hard to tell the difference.

And of course, no dish during the holidays is complete without some gravy. I love making vegan gravy to go with my mash, so this is handy for those vegan thanksgiving or vegan Christmas recipes:

Vegan Gravy

  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 3/4 tsp of Onion powder
  • 3 Tbsp of Nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp Tamari Soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of mustard (Dijon is good
  • 4 Tbsp of flour

Bring it to a boil, whisk it so it doesn’t get too thick, pour it over your lovely mashed potatoes, and enjoy. Share it with the rest of the party table to show that even vegan gravy is tasty.

One tip I would give is that if you are bringing your own food: bring plenty of it. as you’ll find that other guests are curious and will want to try some. Before you know it, all of your premade dinners are gone and you’ve had nothing to eat. This brings me to my next point…..

Be ready to talk about veganism

explaining veganism

People are curious about the vegan diet and always want to know how you get enough protein.

People tend to think that vegans are missing out when it comes to eating nice food as they’re restricted, but you can turn the focus to all of the nice meals that you can make. There are a lot of people out there who’d like to make to move to veganism, but just aren’t sure how to do it and are worried about completely overhauling their diet.

This is a time to suggest some simple dishes to try, the challenges that you found, and the realities of a plant-based diet. An estimated 2% of the population in the U.S. are thought to be vegan, (1), and a massive 10% of Americans over the age of 18 consider themselves vegan or vegetarian (2). Add to that the number of people who try to be meat-free one day a week, or just subscribe to a plant-based diet without viewing themselves as vegan, and you can see that there are a lot of questions out there.

And one of the questions you will always face as a vegan is ‘how do you get enough protein?’ Family members are often concerned that you aren’t getting enough nutrition, and are only minutes away from collapsing, so this is an opportunity to put their fears to rest.

And the answer? Deep breath and nuts, pulses, peanut butter, seeds, grains, legumes. tofu, soymilk, and of course – vegetables! And if you aren’t meeting your dietary requirements after all of those, there are vegan protein powders available.

Vegan dining etiquette

vegan holiday dinner

Holiday dinners are a time to celebrate and enjoy one another regardless of our diets.

Just like a lot of societal issues these days, there are a variety of views on the topic of veganism. If you’re a guest at someone’s dinner table, it’s preferable not to have a heated argument with someone over the merits of veganism. Meat eaters can get defensive about their eating habits, and some even take it personally that you aren’t tucking into their favorite animal carcass (LOL, do NOT say that out loud!).

The most important thing to remember is that you’ve been invited to a family celebration. It’s a time to come together, appreciate one another, and remember those who aren’t at the table. And bear in mind that life is short (even shorter for turkeys) and there might be an empty seat at the table the following year. If the past few years have taught us anything as a species, it’s that we need to hug those closest to us.

Sometimes I’ve been at dinner tables where vegans have done their best to try to convert others to their cause. Personally, I find a family dinner isn’t the best place to do this. With alcohol consumed, people can become emotional and easily offended. If you do find yourself having to defend your position, just stick to the facts.

Being vegan allows us to say what we stand for in life. We’re against animal suffering, and we’re worried about the continued destruction of our natural world. Bearing in mind the events of the past few years, the increased risk of infectious disease and pandemics is something that concerns us. Veganism is a compassionate lifestyle that is beneficial to both our health and that of the planet.

It can be hard when we are surrounded by meat and people who don’t share the same sense of urgency that we have when it comes to the future of our planet. But change is coming, and you can  be the harbinger of that change. The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas has a poem entitled ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.’ You continue to be that force.

It’s fine to have a reasoned debate and defend your position. But it’s also important to respect other views and if the discussion is getting too heated, steer it onto safer territory. Like sports, politics, or religion.

Next year’s vegan dinner party

You might surprise your guests with how very delicious and festive a vegan holiday dinner can be…

So there you have it. With a little bit of planning, good communication channels, and not forgetting tasty food, being a vegan guest at a family dinner shouldn’t cause any problems. Plant-based food and veganism aren’t the novelties they once were, even from a few years ago, and it’s rapidly moving into the mainstream. Many people are open-minded about the opportunity to try a few dishes and extra veggies.

After the dinner party has gone so well, maybe you can return the favor and host the following year. Perhaps some of the guests have tasted your dishes and fancy trying some black beans. You can invite the guests to bring along their favorite bits of non-vegan food and cooked animal – but maybe, just maybe, you have inspired them to try some vegan holiday recipes for one day of the year.

As the famous vegetarian Gandhi said – ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’

Good luck!

  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/3377/vegan-market/#topicOverview
  2. Alliance for science

 

Adrian McGahan

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