Navigating Holiday Dinners as a Vegan

Updated: Feb 7



Ahh, yes, the holidays are upon us once again. Family gatherings, festive music, time off from work and school, and food abound. While the holidays are joyful, they can also be stressful, and, if you’re vegan, there may even be a tiny sense of dread that comes up at the thought of having to explain, once again, that you won’t be having any turkey at Thanksgiving. Instead of approaching the day with trepidation about food selection, you can use the day as an opportunity to expand your family’s viewpoint on why you're vegan, and maybe this year you’ll leave the table feeling full beyond the sides you put into your belly. Deeper connections and shared experiences may leave you feeling fulfilled and connected. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you survive the holidays this year, and years to come.


What’s a plant eater to do?

Enjoy Thanksgiving, or other holiday dinners, Potluck Style

There’s nothing worse than showing up to Thanksgiving and discovering there are few things, or nothing at all, that you can eat. To avoid this, choosing a potluck style menu where you can bring at least one dish you prepared to ensure you have something to fill your stomach. This plant-based menu may give you some ideas! Pro tip: Double the batch of whatever you're making because, oftentimes, the yummy vegan dish disappears first!


Don’t Be Shy

If you feel comfortable, informing the host, or person responsible for cooking, that you are vegan can help ensure there are dishes available to you. Even slight changes, like cooking vegetables in olive oil or vegan butter instead of dairy butter, can help expand the variety of food offered at the table, without compromising flavor or texture. If the host is extremely gracious, they may even offer to label the dishes indicating which are vegan and which are not.


Celebrate Food, Cultivate Connections

Holiday gatherings allow you to enjoy cooking and consuming delicious food with loved ones, and this should be celebrated. Since partakers are arriving already expecting to experience the joy of eating, it can be an opportune time to get them to try new dishes and discover how appetizing plant-based eating can taste. Appealing to the tastebuds of others can help create connections and memories through food. Plus, it's a time of sharing. The plant-based food arena is growing because of the amount of people who are plant-curious. Choose some of your favorite plant-based dishes to make and share with friends and family—your dish may pique even more plant-based interest!


Keeping Traditions

Tradition is also a factor that may lead to apprehension towards veganism. Most people grow up consuming meat and dairy and find comfort in foods that were eaten in childhood. After all, vegans and vegetarians are the minority. It’s important to acknowledge traditions, as food feeds us, not only physically, but emotionally too. However, it should be emphasized that comfort foods can still be enjoyed vegan-style, with slight modifications. People are tied to tradition, especially around the holidays, but traditions don’t have to be sacrificed and perhaps new traditions can be started. If family and friends are willing to engage in dialogue with you about your dietary choices, it’s a great opportunity to expand their knowledge about veganism and how traditions can easily be maintained and food can still be delicious with just a few ingredient swaps. A gentle and loving approach to such a conversation will benefit the inquiring family member or friend, as well as yourself.


Shift Your Mindset from Isolation to Engagement

While some individuals may have been born into veganism, chances are that your transition to being vegan was prompted through the desire for better health, animal welfare or environmental concerns. At some point, you may have eaten meat, fish, poultry, and dairy. Understand that everyone is on a different journey in their life and they may or may not be open to being vegan. But, perhaps, they’re open to simply eating more plants. Whole plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables and beans, are something accessible and familiar to everyone. Let family members know that simply adding more plants to their plate, without completely changing their diet, can still make a difference. Perhaps there are some plant foods they love. Talk about those foods and how they can incorporate more of them. Or maybe there is a plant-based food or dish they always wanted to try. Offer to share a recipe. Meet people where they are and know that you can be a catalyst to positive change in that moment, not to mention the deeper connection you’ve established with that friend or family member. Who knows, maybe next year they’ll tell you they went fully plant-based after your conversation the previous year!


Offer Information When Opportunities Arise

While you may be passionate about your choice to be vegan or eat plant-based, others may not be open to hearing about it. If they’re curious about what you eat or what makes someone vegan versus plant-based, then share away. If they’re excited to try the plant-based dish you brought then explain how you made it and let them know you’re happy to share the recipe. Many people are interested in eating more plant-based but may feel overwhelmed at the thought of a complete diet change or hesitant because they're unsure where to start. It can feel ominous to change one’s dietary habits, and even more so when you may not know how best to go about it or what to eat. Additionally, research shows that some meat eaters view vegans or vegetarians negatively, as they feel judged by vegans and vegetarians for their dietary choices to include animal products (3). Get rid of the labels, "meat eater" or "vegan" and just accept that we are all humans trying to do better and be better for our health and the health of the planet. Support each other with love and compassion, and recognize beliefs, positions and openness of family members and friends before passionately sharing your vegan thoughts in conversations at Thanksgiving.


If communicating with others about your plant-based diet is unsettling, upsetting, or invokes personal conflict, it may not always be worth it to try to explain your ethics related to your diet and lifestyle to others. Some vegetarians actually avoid identifying themselves as such in groups for fear of being judged or mocked. In a study examining communicative dilemmas faced by vegetarians, 60 percent of participants were reluctant to bring up their vegetarianism because they did not want to be stereotyped, even though 70 percent of the participants described being vegetarian as a core part of their identity and value system. Also, 75 percent of participants were concerned with how to discuss vegetarianism without implying judgement on others for eating meat. If you do choose to discuss your dietary choices at Thanksgiving dinner, it can help to have a plan going in, thinking of general responses for what you want to convey in a gentle and inclusive way.


Manage Feelings Around Meat

If you’re used to being around other plant-based eaters and don’t find yourself around raw or cooked meat often, it may be difficult and jarring to see the turkey on the table. If strong feelings arise, you can take some quiet time alone before rejoining everyone. Meditation can be useful in re-centering and grounding yourself. It can also be helpful to try to position yourself at the table where the turkey isn’t your focal point.


How do you navigate Thanksgiving if you choose differently than traditional Thanksgiving fare that's celebrated with family and friends? Share below! We'd love to hear.


Additional Reading and Resources

If you'd like to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving, we've listed a few helpful resources below. We learned a lot from them and felt it gave us new perspectives and appreciations for the true meaning of Thanksgiving. We hope you appreciate them as well.

Interested in learning about the true history of the Thanksgiving holiday? Visit Delish or the Smithsonian to learn more. The day means something very different to Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples than the way it's traditionally celebrated. Native Hope is a great resource if you'd like to learn more. Native Hope exists to address Native American history by sharing stories, providing educational resources, and assisting Native communities.


Looking for ways to incorporate Indigenous knowledge or traditions into the holiday? Visit this TIME article or check out NDN Collective. NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples, communities, and Nations, and has written about how to reconnect to native traditions through food.


If you're interested in learning about the history of the land you live on, check out the Native Land Digital. This website will tell you which native territories belong to the land where you now reside, as well as languages that were spoken by Indigenous Peoples.


Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, togetherness and connection to our families and friends as well as the indigenous land we live and food we prepare.


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