How to Survive the Holidays as a Vegan

We are slowly but surely wrapping up 2015 (the year from Back to the Future II!!!) and fast approaching 2016. The future is here, and being a vegan isn’t as crazy, unusual, alternative, or hippie as it used to be. However, that doesn’t mean making the holiday dinner rounds as a vegan is easy, specially if you recently transitioned to the non-meat eating lifestyle. Even if you are the only person at the Thanksgiving or Christmas table not eating meat, there is no need to feel alone in the world, nor that you can’t share your experience, lifestyle, and delicious vegan food with others! If you are wondering how to survive the holidays as a vegan (or vegetarian, raw foodist, and so on), look no more - here are some tips!

  1. Don’t abandon your lifestyle or believes, and succumb to social/peer pressure.

    I find this to be the number one, and most important advice. Whether you turned veg yesterday or you’ve been going steady for decades, know that it is absolutely normal to feel peer pressure, and you wouldn’t be the first one if you’d give in. But don’t do it. Specially if you know you will feel awful about it tomorrow. 

Number one lesson I’ve been re-learning my whole life is: I am not what others think of me. Doing something you don’t want to do, to please others, to make others like you, is a very slippery slope. You see, people will think of you whatever they want, often times regardless of what you do (in your life, for them, and so on). Ultimately, we all have the right to think whatever we want. Another affirmation that helps me is: People’s** opinions of me are none of my business.**

I was at a Christmas potluck yesterday, organized by the Vegan Society of Asheville, and my husband and I ended up sitting at a table with a non-vegan family of four. I never understood how they got there in the first place, but they were surprised it was a vegan-only event, and that there were so many of us. Even at a celebration like that one, I ended up at a table of non-vegans, and as per usual, questions, jokes and comments ensued. After all these years, I can tell when people make vegan jokes because it is they who are feeling insecure, and this was the case - after all, they were the minority this time. Very soon, they became friendly, and we ended up having a wonderful time together. We found out one of the sons was a vegetarian already, and we had a great discussion on many important topics, realizing we had more in common then it first appeared.

It is easy for me to feel uncomfortable, or the need to justify or explain myself and my lifestyle. But as I’m growing more mature with age, I’m learning to stick to my own beliefs. For me, it happens with many lifestyle choices - I don’t drink, I don’t smoke or do drugs, I don’t ‘party’ the same way some people might, and so on. I am a yoga instructor and health coach for a living. I meditate. I’m Croatian, and have an accent, but live in the somewhat conservative South (of the US). People get surprised by me in general, and the comments keep on rolling in.

With time, you learn it’s human nature to be surprised at the ‘different’, and you changing yourself won’t make anyone else happy, specially if what you are doing is good for you, your health, the animals, the environment, the economy, and so on. Truth be told, people are often very insecure in their life and choices. That’s why, when meeting someone who isn’t insecure in theirs, no matter how ‘unusual’ they may seem, some people have the need to get defensive. You be you, and see how your confidence in your own choices reflects on others. In the end, they might actually like it, or even learn something from it. 

The power of vegan potluck![/caption]

2. Bring a dish!

Yes, there’s a chance there will be no food for you at the holiday table. That’s such an easy fix - bring something along! Try this easy Banana Nut Bread recipe, or check out one of my favorite blog’s vegan holiday recipes at Oh She Glows! Make sure your hosts are aware of it, and know the traditions, specially if you are making social rounds outside of your immediate family. Yes, some hosts may get offended if you show up with a dish unannounced (what, their cooking isn’t good enough for you?), so make sure all is clear.

I like to inform the host that I am vegan, if they don’t already know it, and offer to bring something in order not to inconvenience them. People are very kind, specially during the holidays, and they often end up cooking a vegan dish too that everyone can enjoy, which is very nice.

If you bring a dish, you will definitely have something on your plate. If you don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself, not having an empty plate helps. You may not want to start a discussion about what, when, how and why you’re eating what you’re eating, specially on a festive occasion. Which brings me to my third point:

3. Avoid debates but stand firm in your ground.

This isn’t the time for fights, discussions, and being offended or offending others. I am the first person to become defensive when someone is outright rude about my life choices, and I try to tone it down, for the holidays at least. 

If it’s someone familiar, like a close family member, I try to appeal to their understanding and love of me as a person. Even after so many years, there are family members who ask the exact same questions every time, and it doesn’t get any cuter. I try to remind them we’ve been there before, and that this is a joyful time so it’s better we all stay happy. 

@416vegan (IG) has the most hilarious memes…[/caption]

If it’s someone you don’t know, it is, in my humble opinion, all right to remind people that you have the right to live your life. If someone becomes rude or offensive, I believe it’s ok to be firm and tell them they are being inappropriate, after all, other guest probably didn’t sign up for a front row seat to a debate on Christmas, be it on politics, women’s rights, or veganism. However, make sure you recognize someone’s interest and instead of getting defensive, be open to answering genuine and honest questions. Spread the vegan cheer!

4. Take the role of a host!

Want all or most of your food to be vegan? Invite family and friends to your house. Even if you don’t know how to cook, you can connect with those that can, and are willing to help you prep a feast, and hit the kitchen. I love to cook and to feed people, so this is a great, and incredibly fun solution in my book. Cooking for larger groups with friends and family is a great bonding experience, and tons of fun. Give the love in the best way you can.

Arrange for those that might miss meat or complain about the lack of it, but only in a way you feel comfortable with. You could allow them to bring their own meat, which I honestly never do after not having meat in my house for 13+ years, however my immediate family and friends are either veg or very familiar with it. You could host one meal of the season and agree to participate in other, less veg friendly ones in return. You can host a light meal, like a brunch, which doesn’t have to be meat-heavy, and people won’t notice it’s missing from the table.

5. Connect with other vegans on social media.

You feel all alone this season? Check on your virtual friends, ask them for advice, share pictures of vegan feasts, remind yourself you are not alone and there are plenty of people out there in the exact same position as you. 

No matter what you are going through, know that the holidays are emotional, stressful, and lonely times for many. It’s absolutely natural to reach out, and even offer support to those who may need it. Even if you never see another vegan in real life (which these days is pretty hard, but I guess it can happen), know that you are a part of a large group, a greater cause, and there are lots of souls out there who thank you for your choices and actions. 

6. Donate to charities, food banks and shelters

Another great way to feel closer to your cause, and ease the sense of loneliness, is spreading the vegan cheer with those who need it. I am sure there are plenty of shelters who could use an extra buck, set of hands, or other forms of support, specially in the holiday season - which is unfortunately very busy for such organizations. Play with some shelter doggies and kitties who need some love (maybe consider adopting one), help provide for their next meal, donate to your favorite charity (if you don’t have one, they find one for the holidays), and you will feel so much better immediately.

Animals are not the only victims of the meat and dairy industry, there are hungry men, women and children who could be fed with the crops we are feeding animals with. Sharing the holiday cheer with them and donating to food banks and similar causes is vegan-approved as well!

7. Connect with other vegans in real life.

Yep, real life vegans exist too! I bet there is a vegan meet-up group in a 25 mile radius of you! Check out if you haven’t already, and find your new like-minded friends. I’ve had an amazing holiday season with Vegan Society meet-up this year, with over 100 individuals on Thanksgiving, and over 50 potluck preparations (that’s even better!) on Christmas. When you connect with others over a mutual cause, specially one that you are passionate about (and we vegans are pretty passionate about ending animal cruelty and eating delicious food), it’s incredibly easy to form relationships.

Although Acyuta and I both come from traditions that put family in center for holiday season, we didn’t miss them much (sorry!) this year because of the great association we’ve had.

8. Know when to say no.

My final point isn’t an easy one, and I am sure many won’t necessarily agree with it. I have unfortunately met (or am related to) many people who think it is rude, inappropriate, or disrespectful to refuse an offering - be it an invitation, or a food preparation. My grandmother used to guilt-trip me into eating all the time, ultimately that’s what family is for. She would say things like: “Who did I cook for? I worked so hard for this!” And so on… Besides the fact that’s very unhealthy, and I believe I developed some less desirable eating habits from it, it is inappropriate to talk to an adult in such a way. 

If you simply can’t stand the sight of a dead body in the middle of the table, the smell of flesh, the criticism you know you can’t avoid, guilt tripping, and so on - know that there is always that last option: Just Say No. You can skip a dinner, or say no to an invitation. Alternatively, you can skip the eating part and join your party a bit later.

Your health, be it physical, emotional or mental, should come first. I have refused some invitations in the past, mainly for barbecue or a party I know I won’t feel comfortable at. And I’ve cooked beautiful vegan feasts to have family members and friends outright refuse or even criticize it. People around you say no too, you know. If you’re one of those people who always has to say yes, this is a good time to reconsider it, for your own benefit.

This advice connects to my first point - you don’t have to say yes to make others like and accept you. With time, people learn and they usually don’t invite me to a barbecue event anymore. It’s ok to be sensitive to others, and those who love you usually become understanding as well. This applies to anything in life - from dietary to other health habits, lifestyle choices and events. Creating respectful, long lasting relationships means being yourself and accepting others for what they are as well. That means that sometimes we work great together, and there are some paths we choose not to walk side by side. 

Zen in Christmas spirit![/caption]

Have fun! This is your holiday season, and you deserve it. The best gift you can give others is a big smile on your face, and sharing the holiday cheer!!!