How to Survive the Holidays as a Vegan

Updated on November 29, 2017
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I made a gradual transition to veganism for health and ethical reasons. I hope my articles help others trying to make the transition.

Common Holiday Hurdles for Vegans

Vegans deal with a lot of problems on a day-to-day basis, but all of these are magnified tenfold during the holiday season. These are the most common problems you might be facing.

  1. Dealing with hostile relatives who constantly berate you for your life choices.
  2. Visiting non-vegan relatives for the holidays and being concerned about what you can eat.
  3. Hosting a holiday meal for non-vegans and agonizing over whether or not to provide a 'traditional' turkey or ham main dish.
  4. Finding vegan holiday recipes which still taste like the 'real thing.'
  5. Wondering how to 'come out' as a vegan to your family.

Honestly, the biggest issues you might face pretty much all center around food and family. How you handle these problems depends on a few factors. Read on to discover how to handle your next Christmas or Thanksgiving as a vegan.

Vegan Thanksgiving

Who Is Hosting the Holiday?

A lot hangs on whether you are a guest at someone else's holiday feast or if you are hosting your own. Both come with their own sets of issues. Let's look at the pros and cons of each.

Being the Host vs. Being the Guest

Hosting Pros
Hosting Cons
Guest Pros
Guest Cons
You decide on the menu
The pressure is on you to plan a delicious holiday meal
You don't have to worry about whether to cater for meat-eating guests
If you have to stay for dinner, your options might be limited
You decide who is invited
Non-vegan guests will probably still expect 'traditional' holiday foods--will you stick to your principles or bow to expectation?
You can plan to visit family before or after dinner to avoid complications
You will have to watch others eat meat, which makes some vegans uncomfortable
 
Some family members might be reluctant to attend a vegan holiday celebration
 
You might be called out for your choices and made to feel awkward

If You Are Hosting...

  • You will need to decide if you want to throw a 100% vegan Thanksgiving/Christmas or if you want to appease your guests and serve a turkey/ham. This is a very personal choice and not something you should feel pressured about either way. If you feel comfortable cooking a turkey for others and not eating it yourself, then do so. If you feel uncomfortable and unhappy about the prospect of doing so, then don't.
  • If you are not serving turkey, don't worry! There are a ton of vegan holiday main course alternatives that will likely satisfy your non-vegan guests as well. There's the infamous Tofurkey, of course, but there are lots of other store-bought options too. I can't vouch for any of them personally as I am someone who likes to cook things from scratch, but you can read up on your options here.
  • If you want to make a turkey alternative from scratch, you can make your own seitan. I find it to be a very convincing meat substitute for beef or turkey. It is ideal for Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's or any other special occasion where a roast is the traditional main dish.
  • Make vegan versions of traditional side dishes. I recently purchased Vegan Holiday Kitchen, which has tons of ideas for vegan side dishes for Thanksgiving and Christmas (and Hannukah). It's set up with sections for different holidays, and it even has ideas for edible gifts, baking, appetizers, drinks and desserts. I've found it really useful for planning holiday meals, and the recipes are very accessible. Meat eaters and vegans alike will be able to cook and eat them with no complaints. If you don't want to clutter your shelves, there are plenty of free online resources for vegan holiday side dishes too.
  • If you are still concerned about guests being unhappy with a vegan meal, talk to them beforehand and explain your concerns. Hopefully they will understand, and if they are still averse to the idea of a vegan holiday meal, they always have the choice to decline your invitation.

Homemade Seitan

Simmering homemade seitan in a broth of carrots, onions, parsnips, celery and bay leaves.
Simmering homemade seitan in a broth of carrots, onions, parsnips, celery and bay leaves.

Cook Time

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 1 hour 15 min
Ready in: 1 hour 25 min
Yields: Serves 4-6 people

Ingredients

  • 2 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth, cold
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 8 cups vegatable broth, for simmering

Instructions

  1. Bring 8 cups of vegetable broth to the boil in a large pot. (Optional: add chopped carrots, onions, celery or other vegetables to add flavor to the broth.)
  2. In a large bowl, combine vital wheat gluten and herbs. Once combined, add in the 1 3/4 cups cold vegetable broth (not the simmering broth) and the soy sauce. Stir together until it forms a cohesive dough. It will be sort of spongy and rubbery and hard to shape.
  3. Cut the dough into three equal pieces and form into short, fat logs as best you can. Add the logs to the boiling broth. Reduce to a simmer and boil for 1 hour. At this stage, turn off the heat and let the seitan sit in the broth for a further 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the seitan from the broth and cut into thin slices. Sliced seitan will keep in the fridge (store in broth) for up to 10 days.
  5. Optional: Over a medium heat, heat up 2 cups of the simmering broth and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in a little water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and stir until thickened. Add salt, pepper or other herbs to taste. This is your gravy!
Sliced seitan is a great vegan Thanksgiving or Christmas alternative to turkey.
Sliced seitan is a great vegan Thanksgiving or Christmas alternative to turkey.

If You Are a Guest...

  • Call the host beforehand to talk about your dietary preferences. They might be willing to work with you and keep the side dishes vegan. If they don't want to compromise on their cooking, offer to bring a side dish or two yourself. It might be a good idea to bring a vegan dessert too.
  • If the host is hostile to the idea of veganism in general, discuss whether it might be better for you to visit them before or after the meal in order to avoid conflict. Swing by after dessert has wrapped up to share a drink and play some board games, or come by earlier in the day if that works better for both parties.
  • Offer to help the host cook. If they are willing to accommodate your preferences but not sure how to cook for a vegan, offer to help them prep the food and set some of each thing aside in a separate dish before any animal ingredients such as butter, cream, bacon etc. go in.
  • Respect the host's house and rules. If the host wants to serve meat-based dishes, don't say anything to make them regret inviting you! It might not align with your beliefs, but there is never any benefit to being rude or hostile to someone else. It certainly won't make them any more sympathetic to your cause!

Dealing with Awkward Questions

It's inevitable, right? The subject of veganism is going to come up at some point. If you are facing family members who object to your choices, try the following:

  • Politely refuse to engage or rise to any bait. Firmly state that you would prefer not to discuss the matter because you don't want to offend or be offended. Have a few subject-changers handy in case there is an awkward silence.
  • If anyone offers you a meat dish or tries to persuade you to try something non-vegan, politely decline. 'No, thank you' is all you need to say. If the person becomes offended at your refusal, or demands to know why, explain that it is your personal choice not to eat meat/animal products. Hopefully they will leave things there. If they try to engage further, see the previous tip.
  • Never raise the subject of veganism yourself. A holiday meal is not the time or the place. Accusing, reproaching, confronting, arguing, etc. are not going to help your family to understand your point of view, and will probably lead to tension and unhappiness. The only appropriate way to promote veganism during a holiday meal is through providing tasty vegan food for others to try (if they want to).
  • If a family member is genuinely curious and receptive to the idea of veganism, tell them you would be happy to discuss it at another time, but again, firmly refuse to get into details over dinner. Even if someone is interested, you might touch on a sensitive topic or make others at the table feel uncomfortable. Even positive statements like 'I feel so much better after going vegan' or 'vegan food is so delicious' might elicit unexpectedly aggressive responses. Best not to raise the topic at all.

Remember, even if you feel strongly that other people are doing something wrong by eating meat and animal products, communicating this to them is only ever going to elicit a defensive response. Being an effective advocate for vegans has to start with a positive attitude and an understanding that everybody thinks differently. If you are a positive role model, others might develop some curiosity about your lifestyle or be more open to the idea of veganism. If you are aggressive or accusatory, they will shut down and never change the way they think. Keep this in mind with your overall approach to dealing with non-vegans.

How Do You Manage as a Vegan during the Holidays?

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'Coming Out' as a Vegan

If you make the transition into veganism later in life, a big issue is how to explain your choice to your friends and family. This is especially onerous during the holiday season, when close and distant family will come together and, very possibly, gang up on you. So how do you explain your choice to them?

  • First off, a family Christmas/Thanksgiving is not the appropriate setting for an in-depth discussion of veganism, so try to keep things brief. Better yet, call any 'problem' relatives beforehand and ask them nicely not to bring the issue up on the holiday.
  • Emphasize that this is a personal choice. You feel better and it makes you happy. End of story. Any further questions about nutrition, the dietary history of humans, etc., should be politely nipped in the bud.
  • Whatever you do, do not get angry and do not engage. Even if your relatives are behaving badly, this is no reason for you to sink to their level. Keep calm and change the subject.

Final Thoughts

If, after reading this article, you still think that your next holiday is going to be a total disaster, then DON'T GO! Enjoy a Friendsgiving with like-minded friends or look for a vegan holiday meetup near you. In extreme circumstances, you could even book a vacation abroad during the holidays so you can enjoy them on your own terms, far from the prying eyes of annoying relatives.

Above all, holidays are supposed to be enjoyable. Make sure that, whatever you have planned, you do your best to have a fun, relaxing time.

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