How to Have a Thanksgiving with Less Stress and More Quality Time
Cross posted from Vegan Vanguard
Thanksgiving is almost upon us. For most people, this is a day of family, food, and hopefully, love and community–but for some vegans and vegetarians, especially new vegans or vegetarians and their families, Thanksgiving can be especially stressful. Here are some things I’ve picked up over the years:
If you’re around all of your family for the first time since making a huge lifestyle change, your family is bound to be curious. Some people handle their curiosity better than others, but be prepared to play 20 questions with each and every one of your relatives. I’ve experienced everything from family members who sneakily fed me dip loaded with bacon grease, to cousins who went out of their way to make sure I had something I would eat, to my immediate family who have always been supportive. I’ve had people try to serve me butter and eggs, or ask if chicken and fish are okay. I’ve even had family members assume my veganism was a result of my (Catholic) high school brainwashing me. Remember that when your family voices concerns, they do so because they love you. Gently inform them your beliefs, and, if they persist, agree to disagree. Remember, you’re not going to change everyone’s mind all at once, and getting in someone’s face, being beligerent, etc. only gives vegans a bad name while doing nothing to further the cause, and ultimately, Thanksgiving is a day for family, friends, and gratitude.
Nothing makes people understand veganism like amazing vegan food, so, if possible, take an amazing vegan dessert to share with everyone. If you can, help prepare the whole dinner. Not only is this great bonding time, but you can try to convert some of the dishes and make them vegan. This can be especially helpful for your hosts who want to accommodate you, but are unsure of what exactly is and isn’t in your diet. Some dishes can be easily converted, with no loss of flavor using everyday ingredients available at most stores, for example make vegan dressing/stuffing (use vegetable stock and bake in a dish instead of stuffing the turkey), or vegan mashed potatoes (use Earth Balance or olive oil instead of butter, and soy milk instead of milk). Make sure to pay special attention to the presentation of anything vegan you serve, because your food will be judged. I used to find it helpful to wait until after people had started eating and enjoying a dish before mentioning that it was vegan–although now everyone I know is well aware that I’m vegan.
If you know nothing will be vegan, or are unsure if there will be anything for you to eat, eat ahead of time and/or take a dish you love, to share with others. This is a good general tip for vegans at any event, and it makes any food you find that’s accidentally vegan, a happy surprise!
Instead of obsessing about food, relax and enjoy the company. This a good general tip for everyone. In my experience, it does the most to promote veganism because it shows that vegans can be well-adjusted and social, and that veganism can be easy and fun. In college, both of my roommates became vegetarians after living with me, and they each said something along the lines of, “You showed me it didn’t have to be hard (to give up meat)”.
On the flip side, don’t act like a vegan martyr. By that, I mean the modern common usage of martyr, i.e. someone who is constantly suffering. Being a vegan is a choice made freely, and it’s something to be happy about. If you feel deprived or angry about it, you’re doing it wrong. Additionally, no one wants to hang out with someone who is down about everything. One of my best (omni) friends, J, met a cute vegan girl, and wanted to take her out, but they couldn’t get their schedules to align until one night when J was going out to a steakhouse with his friends for a birthday party. The girl repeatedly said she didn’t mind going to the steakhouse, and they wanted to hang out with each other sooner rather than later, so the plans were set. As soon as they stepped inside of the steakhouse, the girl loudly declared, “It smells like death in here,” and proceeded to make snide comments all evening. Did anyone have a good time that night? Of course not. I’m not saying you should stay mum if you’re uncomfortable, but I know I would like to eat without having to defend my choices, and I’m sure my dining companions feels the same way. Since we respect each other, even if we disagree, we can enjoy spending time together.
Up next: Guide to a Vegan Vanguard Thanksgiving, Part 2 – What Do I Eat, Now That Turkey’s Off The Menu?