Jordan Collins gives her advice on how to deal with non-vegan family and friends over Christmas
Holidays can be difficult for vegans not just because family reunions are typically fraught with tension, but also because a highlight of nearly every holiday is food. Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without candy; the Christmas spreads are lacking unless there’s a turkey at the centre; even Valentine’s Day pivots around milk chocolate hearts. Even if you don’t celebrate any of these holidays, this is the time of year when people congregate and break bread, and more often than not, that bread isn’t vegan. The holidays can be beyond frustrating for us, whether you’re watching your aunt cook the green beans in bacon fat, having to explain for the fifth time how you made cranberry bread without eggs, or looking the other way while a roasted turkey (sans head and feathers) is sawed into pieces at the table. It can be hard not to tear your hair out, let alone take out your exasperation on friends and family.
So acknowledging that we are, each of us, the minority in these kinds of situations, what can we do about making the holidays go more smoothly?
The first thing I would advise is: Avoid confrontation – there are times to positively spread information about veganism’s benefits, but doing it while your uncle is tearing into the turkey is only going to provoke others. I certainly felt the urge to minister to my extended family during our summer vacation in South Carolina, particularly when I saw the fridge-full of meat that my family members had purchased, failed to eat, and consequently were going to throw out. I had to tamp down my temper and remember that, aside from a reasonable, calmly-stated suggestion or two, I couldn’t say anything. An argument solves nothing, and because these family gatherings can occur so infrequently, you may not get the chance to repair a damaged relationship for quite some time.
One way to pre-emptively avoid arguments is to approach family members prior to the get-together to ask that they make some accommodations for you. That may mean requesting that a dish or two be modified—Brussels sprouts roasted in maple syrup instead of honey—while recognizing that you will almost certainly have to prepare and provide the vast majority of the dishes you’ll be consuming. Or, if you really don’t think you’ll be able to handle the setting, it may mean asking that you be permitted to join the family for dessert or even after the meal altogether.
There will most likely be a relative or two—or more—who have an issue with your requests. Whether they talk behind your back or call you oversensitive to your face, maintain your composure. They are not coming at the situation from the same place as you. Ask if they would like more information about veganism, or whether they would like to have a real discussion about it. If not, walk away. It is not worth destroying a relationship over a disagreement. If, however, your relative expresses interest, do your best to be the well-informed advocate you are and don’t push. The conversation you have does not mean your relative will forgo the mashed potatoes and butter at dinner the next day and you shouldn’t expect that to happen. Just be patient—the way you are in daily life when encountering people who don’t understand veganism.
Your veganism can sometimes feel like the elephant in the room that everyone is tiptoeing around so it’s important to remember that this part of your life is a joyous one. Your passion—for animals, the planet, your health—is vibrant and, believe it or not, catching. So share. Share your recipes and your food, your stories and your experiences. Share your happiness in living a life that is true to your values. Your family and friends won’t just appreciate your attitude, they’ll notice it. And their curiosity is more powerful than any shouting match about the truth behind the label “free range.”
Keeping in line with the previous piece of advice, my final recommendation is this: try to enjoy yourself. Anything you need to be able to get through the holidays (within reason, of course). Bake yourself a cake, make yourself a vegan egg nog, attend vegan events, and, when it gets tough, turn to the rest of us in the vegan community. We know exactly what you’re going through and being able to rant and rave without worrying about appearing “extreme” is a wonderful reprieve from a non-vegan world.