By Dustin Rhodes
Whether you’ve just become vegan or have been practicing a long time, everyone knows that surviving the holidays with your sanity intact is a daunting task (heck, whether you’re vegan or not!). But really all you need are a few things to get you through: extra rum for the egg-less nog, and, of course, Netflix so you can tune everything out. And voila!
The end. You’re welcome.
I am totally not kidding just joking of course. Since 1999, the year I first went vegan, I have endured almost shockingly hilarious holiday adventures with family and friends that include: receiving a featherbed as a Christmas present; being invited to, and showing up for, Thanksgiving meals where nothing was vegan; driving 300 miles to see a family member for Christmas dinner and being served partially steamed potatoes…and that is all. Of course, I risk sounding spoiled and ungrateful. But really, I have learned the hard way: the holidays are steeped in so much tradition that the responsibility for taking care of yourself is on you.
But here are few tips and lessons I have learned along the way.
Be patient with others
This is, on the surface, the most dumb and obvious advice ever, but also is the most important thing—patience with yourself and others. What I have learned is that family and friends are generally not mean-spirited or uncaring; often, it’s just ignorance. But don’t expect everyone to do the right thing every time and/or not make mistakes—sometimes even appearing sensationally disrespectful. The holidays are heightened experiences for many, as they’re wrapped up in expectation, memory, tradition, sometimes more than a bit of dysfunction.
I didn’t realize for many years that veganism is as much a learning curve for everyone else as it is for you. I think almost all of my holiday misadventures can be blamed on ignorance rather than malice. Except the steamed potatoes; the steamed potatoes are without excuse.
Share a delicious dish
For all holiday gatherings, if you accept the invitation, offer to bring food; food for yourself, of course, but also food to share. There are so many incredible, plant-based holiday recipes and making great food to share is effective animal advocacy. For the past few years, I’ve been fond of making homemade cashew cheese platters to share—because, duh, everyone loves cheese. Most omnivores don’t know how incredible nut-based cheeses are, and they’re surprisingly easy to make. Pair cheeses with grapes, pears, or a homemade baguette –all also surprisingly simple to make.
(If you’re totally lazy, you can buy nut-based cheeses like Miyoko’s and Violife at health food stores around the country.)
Look, we are all vegan for pretty much the exact same reason: we respect animals and even thinking about an animal suffering is unbearable. There are times I feel self-righteous about my choice not to consume them. But the dinner table is not the place to talk about how many turkeys are slaughtered every year or other gruesome topics of animal injustice. By doing so, you are guaranteeing that things are going to get awkward, if not outright hostile. Yes, the world is horrific for farmed animals and wildlife, but if you’ve made the choice to eat at an omnivorous table, don’t turn it into a soapbox.
In my opinion, vegans should not, as a matter of course, stop being friends with, or avoid, friends and family over differences in opinion over animal ethics. Veganism should not be isolating because the world does not change for animals until there are more people who do not consume them represented at public and private functions. It is our responsibility to advocate for them by just being a friendly, patient and compassionate vegan—even with our cousin, cough! cough! who may taunt us mercilessly about bacon or the sibling who tells you how much they “love animals” while consuming a dead body part in the same breath. Yes—these people will test your mettle as a vegan and human being, but it’s in the animals’ best interests to not disown them—even when it’s tempting.
Host a holiday
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but will also make you the winner: invite your friends and family to your place for the holidays and pull out all the stops. My boss, the vegan Martha Stewart Priscilla Feral, makes sure the flowers are as perfect as the tempeh roast and chestnut soup—sparing no detail. I am embarrassed to admit this, but one year I hosted a Thanksgiving and bought one of those big lumps of inedible plastic called a Tofurkey Roast; not only that, there was a mishap with the cranberry sauce caused by the use of agar powder instead of the flakes, which basically turned the sauce into a mound of rubber. By Thanksgiving afternoon, both had been thrown into the backyard—hoping that a hungry bear or coyote might eat it but even they refused and the discarded food remained there through the winter, refusing to decompose. D O N O T D O T H I S ! ! ! ! ! !
Instead, look to Priscilla’s sensational holiday recipes in her cookbook: Dining with Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine which can be found here.
At the heart of all of this is the fact that people just want to eat great, filling food and many people don’t know how luxurious vegan cuisine can be. Show them!
Do you have any survival tips you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments section on our Facebook page.
Development Director Dustin Rhodes is in charge of fundraising for Friends of Animals and is a contributing writer for Action Line. He resides in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains.