Vegan's guide to surviving the holiday season

Ho Ho Ho… The holidays are here! The excitement is filling the air since Halloween, and it’s getting denser by the minute.

The streets here in the Bay area are filled with Christmas lights. I love walking down the center of Berkeley and just breathing the atmosphere in.

The shopping spirit is in the air! Which reminds me, I have no gifts for family and friends hiding in my closet yet!

The puppy Christmas sweaters and collars with jingle bells are on sale (yay! Zen is totally getting one).

My neighbors’ balconies are getting brighter and sparklier each day, and although there is 2no snow, the blow-up Snow Mans are popping up on every corner.

Everything is pumpkin spice and eggnog flavored or colored (like pumpkin spice nail polish - I am not kidding).

My Netflix queue is getting very overcrowded with holiday classics…

All in all, the holidays are here! And so is the time to sit and eat with your loved ones. For some a happy time, and for others… well not so much.
If you are a vegan, gluten free, ‘special diet’ foodie, surely you are familiar with the struggle of eating well with family and friends, while staying true to your personal habits and choices! How many holiday dinners do you have to spend explaining exactly What is Veganism and Why you do not eat meat (“But you will eat some turkey, right?” - asks the grandma).

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There are a few ways to glide trough the season smoothly:

 

  • Cook and eat at home!
  • Do not accept any invitations to visit houses of your loved ones for dinner
  • Send the hosts a detailed list of all the items you do not eat and request at least 1-3 meals to be prepped for you only
  • Bring a dish every time (even to a restaurant party)
  • Pretend to be eating while hiding food in your lap (or giving it to the dog, or the plant.. you know the drill).
  • Quickly turn everyone in your family vegan! - This one’s my favorite
  • Quickly find tons of vegan friends and celebrate all the holidays with them.
    Just so many options! Admit it, the holiday season does not seem so scary anymore, now does it?

Specially if Veganism is brought up.[/caption]

I kid, I kid… It’s easy for me to talk. I have been ‘different’ for about 12 years now. My mom was actually the first vegetarian in the family so she definitely broke the ice with my Grandparents and relatives. Let’s just say no one asks questions anymore, unless they want to get a whole lecture on what when and why of eating vegan, vegetarian, healthy, Ayurvedic.. you name it.

I also married a vegetarian who then turned vegan with me, and his mom and bro are vegetarians as well as a result of his example. So the in-law family is covered. My BFF is vegan (and an amazing cook for that matter!). After so many years, I just do not suffer at events that much because A - either everyone knows and doesn’t question my choices, or B - I am celebrating at a vegan event.

Oh, and I forgot to mention - I just moved to the West coast and neither me or my hubby have any relatives here! So no family holiday struggles for us. Last month, we went to a Vegan Thanksgiving Meetup and it was great.

I do want to offer some solace to all of you worrying how are you going to survive this season! I just read an article on Mindbodygreen citing a study that concluded most vegetarians and vegans return to meat eating eventually. I will refrain from giving my opinion on the topic. I did however learn an important lesson - being vegan in a non-vegan world is hard! Specially around the holidays. I have personally met people who ‘fell off the wagon’ around the holiday season because the situation was just too hard to handle. I want to reassure you that you can totally do this!

Even if you are literally the only vegan you know in real life, and all your vegan friends only exist on Instagram. You can make this happen!

Here are a few (serious) examples on how to make holiday season easy for you:

1. Know when and how to inform people that you are vegan.

Never assume people know you are vegan and even understand what that is. I am not saying send a massive email with a detailed description of Veganism and a few slaughterhouse videos to everyone you know (I’m not saying you shouldn’t either, if that’s your thing). But be clear and concise when necessary.

Example: You know you are getting gifts from people who do not know much about you (secret santa, your sister’s new boyfriend). It is totally ok to mention your preferences. If you will cry later at home because you got a full-on sheep wool sweater or leather boots, and you do not know what to do with them next, be clear before time! You will spare people money, time, energy, and confusion. What to speak of sparing a life.

After all, I personally think I’m super creative, but when it gets to buying gifts I totally freeze. A few pointers would make my life so much easier. And seeing a smile on someone’s face as opposed to a frown is a gift in it’s own.

People generally want to make other’s happy around holiday season - so allow them to do exactly that! Whether it’s a meal, a gifting ritual, or anything in between, know when and how to simply state you are vegan in order to avoid uncomfortable situations and make your and other’s holidays as smooth as possible.

2. Do not assume everyone thinks Veganism is weird and that you will become an outsider because of it.

I’m not going to sugar coat it - I have heard every hilarious comment about Veganism in the book. From - “Are you an atheist now?” to “I would never torture myself like that”, the things that pop to people’s heads are simply astonishing. However, it doesn’t matter.

People’s opinion of your life choices does not define who you are!

That’s a great life lesson I am still learning, and being vegan has certainly delivered it’s share of challenges and tests. With time, you choose your battles and you choose when to stay quiet and move on.

Generally, the experience of informing the world of your newfound life choices can be pleasant and unpleasant. They have vary with each individual. Some folks have never been in an awkward situation or heard an insulting comment, while others constantly encounter resistance when trying to live a vegan lifestyle. It is the same with anything you do in life, really. Maybe you have a partner that loves to run with you, and maybe you are with someone who constantly complains that you spend too much time training.

That silly meme - “How do you recognize a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” it’s not entirely true. Many people choose not to share they preference in certain situations. You might not want to tell elderly family members you’re vegan if you know they just won’t understand it, or even better, might have a heart attack. But younger, intelligent folk should be able to comprehend it and respect it, specially if you ask them to.

My advice is: No need to hide you are vegan! Learn how to be polite, yet straightforward - a diplomatic vegan if you will! If you feel like you simply cannot share your choices, then rethink putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation in the first place.

3. Plan your meals and fight hunger intelligently.

You like to eat, who doesn’t? It’s holiday season and you have one event lined after another. At one point, you begin to worry you might crack and head for that butter and milk filled mash potatoes if there isn’t enough vegan food around. I get it, and it has happened to many vegans, trust me.

A lot of people put certain dietary rules upon them, and then religiously break all those rules and then some when holiday’s strike. You do not have to be one of those people.

  • Snack!

    If hunger is your issue, make sure you are not starving when walking into a Christmas table trap. Anything from a light salad before you leave the house, to a granola bar in your pocket at all times, snacks like these can save your holidays! Although your aunt may get mad, eating beforehand is a good tactic to save yourself from feeling hungry and lonely in you vegan corner.

  • Veganize your holiday favorites

    You have loved eggnog your whole life and simply can’t resist having a taste? Lucky for you, there’s tons of vegan eggnog out there - So Delicious and Silk make them, to name a few. My favorite shops Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s stalk on vegan holiday favorites just as much as the non-vegan ones. Vegan Turkey, Maple Cookies… It’s 2014 and there is no excuse for missing out on holiday favorites, everything has been veganized for you already!

Source: sodeliciousdairyfree.com[/caption]

  • Cook yourself
    I believe most vegans cook regularly, that’s the way I make it very feasible. But I know it isn’t true. If you are one of those vegans that doesn’t cook, this is the season to give it a try! You might have more time due to holidays off from work, there is a lot of delicious produce in the markets, and the spirit of good eating is in the air. Even if it’s just picking up a pre-made Tofurkey (vegan turkey), and adding a salad and side potatoes to it, I guarantee home cooking will make your holidays much more savory.

4. Bring the party to your house!

This is the most obvious advice really. There is nothing for you to eat at grandma’s? Well invite her over! I know this may not work for everyone - maybe you are traveling home to a different city/state for the holidays. Maybe you do not have the capacity to fit 45 of your closest family members in your studio apartment. Maybe you are kind of an awful cook.

But give this idea at least a try! Main events and dinners may be reserved already. But you always have an option of throwing a Christmas Eve vegan brunch! This is a great opportunity to whip up your best dishes. It’s a great way to breach that imaginary barrier between vegans and non-vegans, to show the doubtful folk your food can be just as tasty, and to give people a chance to understand what veganism really is. You never know, you may inspire someone!

Otherwise, bringing a vegan dish to any event is a great way to ensure you have something to eat, other’s get to try a vegan dish, and hosts do not have to invent an option for you. If by chance another vegan attends the same event, they will be immensely grateful.

These Vegan & Gluten Free pancakes look like a pretty great holiday brunch to me!

5. … Or eat out.

Depending on where you come from and what you family traditions are, you may not consider eating at a restaurant a very traditional family-oriented holiday event. However, if you have a lot of meet ups scheduled this holiday season, you may want to take some of them out for a nice dinner. Check out the vegan dining scene in your hometown or the town you are visiting. Some places are obviously more vegan friendly than others, but if you happen to be in a city that has a few dining options for you, check out their website or call upfront to inquire about their holiday specials and events.

We have plenty of options here in the Bay area, which is a great refreshment for me coming from Miami which wasn’t as vegan friendly. A fancy restaurant here in San Francisco called the Millenium is hosting a New Years Eve sit down dinner with optional wine menu for those who like to party. At a place like that, there is no room for complains and excuses - the menu is fabulous and the atmosphere elegant and festive. Not even close to a hole-in-the-wall vegan joint I’m used to eating at.

5. Most importantly: Resist the pressure of holiday season.

I know, it’s easier said than done!

First off, know why you are doing this and be confident. If you are not confident and sure about your choices, then even the slightest doubtful comments will shake you. The truth is, most people do not know and do not care about Veganism, but they just need to say something. They will forget about their comments way sooner than you will.

If your friends or family persist on making you feel uncomfortable because of Veganism, well I’m sorry to tell you - bottom line is, all relationships are in your hands. Do not start fights at the Christmas tree, do not take comments personally and get insulted. Know when to walk away and leave it be. You will only feel as much pressure as you allow people to put on you.

BONUS ROOKIE ADVICE:

If this is your first season as a vegan, congratulations and good luck!

You might be under most pressure than the vegan veterans, and it will probably get much easier after this. But at this point, most folk are still surprised by your Veganism, or this is the first time they hear you have new dietary habits.

Do not crack under peer pressure.

The only person that matters is you. You do not have to convince anyone, or seek approval. Just remind yourself why you are doing this is the first place.

Yes, your senses may betray you, and that turkey may start smelling really good. Add on a glass of vine and a comment here and there, and you may feel the need to take a bite to just loosen the situation a bit. It’s ultimately all your choice, but I am here to support you - stick to your plan. No feast is worth a guilt trip or feeling of betraying yourself. You can survive even if you are the only vegan in the room and still do not know exactly how to eat vegan in situations like these.

 

The most foolproof advice is to simply plan your holiday season!

 

Eat beforehand if you know there is no chance of getting a vegan dish at a party.

Inform the people you need to, but don’t bring it up in situations that might escalate quickly.

Invite loved one’s to your home and treat them to your favorite veganized holiday dishes.

Make sure your fridge is properly stacked for those post-party munchies.

And just have fun!

Have a wonderful, festive and healthy holiday season,

With Love,

Matea

 

 

 

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