Festive dinner turning into fight night? Try these holiday helper tips and have yourself a gracious gathering...
You accepted the invitation; you knew there would be animal products on the table. The holidays may not the best time to make your case, but an excellent time for grace. Here are some tips on surviving the holidays.
Choose, and then accept your choice: Remember - it is YOUR choice to attend. The world won't end if you decide not to attend. But if the consequences of family/friend drama are just too much for YOU to bear, then accept your choice with grace.
Let them know: You have every right to stick to your beliefs, but do tell your host in advance what foods (specifically) you won’t eat. It’s much less trouble/unkind than telling them as they are just about to serve you dishes you can’t stomach.
Do ask if other veggie guests will attend (there’s strength in numbers).
Offer to Help / BYOV: Bring a dish or dessert, make a veggie gravy. Help with substitutions. Ask if items can be labelled, left on the side, or served separately. If you do bring a dish, go for colour, flavour, garnish -make it too gorgeous to resist! But bring enough to share...it seems like the omnivores always end up eating all of the plant-based dishes. This could be a great opportunity to share ideas and information.
Be proactive: Don’t say ‘don’t bother/worry about me’. Most want to accommodate and can't do that without your help. But do consider how you would like to be told such things (kindly, and in advance most likely). And if you are the one hosting; then it’s your house, your rules, and you are well within your rights to insist on no animal products in your house. In either case, plenty of timely communication is still the best way to set a happy table.
Relax: Try to be laid back about your other healthy/ethical eating habits (up to a point) – if only for today. Your host will probably be stressed enough with making sure everyone is enjoying their food, and that there is enough to eat. Not the best time to go on about why you eat sea salt instead of table salt, fresh cranberries instead of canned, organic rather than GMO. Stick to your actual needs, not your entire list of avoided items and recent concerns.
Give props where you can: Praise their peas, rave about the roast potatoes, salute the stuffing. Failing that, compliment the decor and choice of apron. Just always remember to be a gracious guest and compassionate to your host. They really don't stand a chance of pleasing all the people all the time, but they are trying, and have likely worked hard at it all day. Be compassionate to the pickle they are in when all of their old standby favourites are considered toxic to you.
Enjoy yourself. Most dinners are actually about the people. Enjoy them if not the food. It will be easier if you haven't come looking for a fight (or let yourself be drawn into one). The truth is that you very likely enjoyed at least a dozen traditional holiday dinners before you went vegan, and were oblivious. Judge not the oblivious. And by being a fun to be around non-judgey vegan, you will help break the stereotype and who knows what may happen next?!
Be positive: In most cases, talking about the negatives of eating meat (while that person is eating meat) makes the other person defensive and angry. Instead, tell them about the positives of a plant-based diet, and the benefits you have experienced.
Be prepared: You are bound to get the usual questions about getting certain nutrients (protein, calcium, vitamin D, B12, iron) if they know you are on a vegan diet. Look into the plant-based foods rich in these nutrients so that you can give a quick and confident answer. See our section on WHY PLANT-BASED for some quick facts.
Be polite: If someone asks why you don’t eat animal products, remind them that now might not be the best/most polite time for your full answer, but that you would love to discuss it with them another time - soon! Offer to send links or leave some literature behind. You can make your concerns and beliefs known, just at a more appropriate time.
Be realistic and own it: Know when to change the subject if talk turns to argument, as it’s unlikely you will win the war by making the table into a battlefield. Consider what would have reached you the same circumstances, what worked at a protest might not have worked at the table. Consider how little you might enjoy being grilled about your child-rearing or relationship choices and use empathy to see their side of a complicated situation. Otherwise you risk being cornered into having to admit to not being 100% vegan - since NOBODY is. We all make choices, and mistakes. Tend to your own.
Be kind. Just because uncle Fred has decided to do his best to goad you into a fight, doesn't mean you have to accept. Everyone else at the gathering will pay the price if you take the bait. so don't take the bait. The sad truth is that uncle Fred might be feeling very insecure about his own choices, but he won't explore them further if he is cornered into defending them. Sometimes folks pick on each other in an effort to make conversation, as a way to show that they know something about you. Better to redirect and find something you can agree on.
Do you have some helpful suggestions for how to have a compassionate holiday season? please share