VWPA Advice #023: Navigating Your First Vegan Holiday
“How do I navigate my first Christmas as a vegan?”
Hi again! I’m still loving your episodes!! If you guys aren’t too busy, I’d appreciate your advice on something – next month is Christmas, so of course I’m expected to attend (and enjoy) Christmas dinner. While I’m not 100% vegan yet (through circumstances rather than willpower) I really don’t want to eat animal products through the holidays. I haven’t told my family about my going vegan yet, and I’m not sure how to tell them or how to navigate Christmas in a VERY meat heavy family. I’ll actually be staying at my parents house during the holidays, so that makes things even more complicated.
I know you’ve talked about this kind of thing before, but is there anything you recommend to do? I really don’t want this to turn out super awkward or fight-causing, but I do want to stand by my principles.
The first holiday as a vegan is always the hardest. Your family doesn’t know what to do, they don’t want to accept the huge change you just made and hope it’s a passing phase; you’re new to your veganism so you don’t really know how to handle the tough conversations, the othering, the micro-aggressions. You may not even know what recipes you like yet!
Knowing that this year will be awkward and tough can help you prepare and be able to view a lot of the frustrations as amusing stories you can tell your friends (or us!) when you get home. You are in good company – every vegan out there has a “first holiday back home as vegan” story to tell.
You do need to let your family know that your diet has changed. You can soften the blow by saying something less incendiary than vegan. You could say that you are eating “more plant-based” so this year you won’t be eating any meat. You can tell them it’s for health if you want, a lot of people nowadays have heard that plant-based diets are healthy and will usually accept it at face-value. Of course, you can go hardcore and say you’re vegan for the animals, it’s totally up to you, but sometimes it’s easier to explain it in person or over time.
Let them know you’ll make a couple dishes for the family, or that you’ll make a dinner for yourself. You know your family best – maybe they’ll be happy to make some adjustments to the sides and help you out, maybe they’ll be totally hands off and force you to eat a completely different meal that you have to prepare. If you don’t like to cook, make things easy on yourself and go grab something pre-made that you can heat up that day. Make whatever you love, don’t worry about making a traditional holiday dinner analogue. If you love Daiya pizza, go get one! If you want something more traditional, Field Roast makes several amazing holiday roasts, some of which are very small and would be perfect for one person. If a big gorgeous salad with some roasted veggies are your jam, go for it! Eat whatever feels special and will make you feel happy, grounded and satisfied.
Most of all, work on switching the focus of the holiday from food to family. You’ll have to help your family with this, too. Try to enjoy being around your loved ones. Do the things you all love to do – play board games, go snowshoeing, drink hot cider, whatever it is. Revel in the traditions that don’t revolve around food and navigate the irritating parts as best you can.
Unfortunately, the responsibility of feeding yourself will be on you for this first round. So, you do have to plan ahead a bit. Know what foods you can make easily, or what pre-made stuff you like to eat that’s easy, and give your parents a shopping list or ask to borrow the car when you get there and do grocery shopping right away. The easier it is for you to eat while you’re there, the easier it will be for you to feel more comfortable with your brand new veganism and the harder it’ll be for your family to represent your veganism as a hard, weird, othering thing. Be generous with your food, at least try to make one thing to share that you know they’ll like – make it something approachable (like hummus and veggies, or a grain dish). They’ll still be weird about your new lifestyle, but at least you’ll be able to break bread with them, so to speak.
This trip will be especially strange because it will be completely about food, even as you try to make it not about food at all. You’ll have to enjoy the time, experience and company of your family, while making sure you have food to eat, while also trying to not have anyone focus on the food you are or are not eating.
My last piece of advice is to try to enlist at least one ally. If you can be honest and ask someone to help you out, or say that these changes are really important to you, you might be surprised at the support you get. It’s nice to have at least one person treating you like normal and being sympathetic to your situation.
Good luck, have fun, and please please please report back!
Holidays can be so rough as a new vegan… but I want you to know that you are not alone! So many of us have struggled to adjust to our new realities and we are here for you as you take this brave new path!
Ok so, for preparing for the holiday, I would recommend giving your family (at least your parents) a heads up about your new “diet” before you arrive. It can be a lot to process and it is probably a good idea to give them a call and *gently* (or not, whichever way feels more right to you) let them know things are going to be a little different for you this year. It’s important that they have time to process this new information, and that YOU have time to process their reaction before you are forced to see each other face to face. Maybe they will react positively (we will keep our fingers crossed for ya!) but it’s a good idea to build in a little buffer of time just in case…
Since this is the first year, I agree with Nichole that it is smart to plan to have some “back-up” food. I have noticed that it can take families a few occasions/holidays before they know what to make, or how to prepare dishes so you can eat them. So bringing some of your own food will ensure you will still get to eat.
Overall, please just be patient with yourself and them during this stage… You are probably going to be feeling a lot of conflicting emotions and this is totally OK! Your family is also going to be processing a lot, it is normal for there to be a little discomfort within the family -especially at the beginning. This choice, our choice, causes the people around us face some difficult realities and they may react in less than favorable ways.
But be strong vegan warrior princess! You are doing something incredible for yourself and the world and should be totally proud of yourself! (especially while dealing with the unfortunately expected “Bacon tho?!” jokes ;)
Have a question for us?