Vegan Holiday Season

Holiday Pep Talk! (Part 1): Dealing with the Emotional and Social Aspects of your First Holiday Season as a Vegan

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast Dec 12, 2018

▶ Podcast Episode 106:
 Holiday Pep Talk! (Part 1): Dealing with the Emotional and Social Aspects of your First Holiday Season as a Vegan

We have so many new vegans on board after the launch of our newest online course The Roadmap, and although the holiday season can be especially hard when you’re a new vegan, it can still be a bit of a challenge for seasoned vegans as well. We have many past episodes in which we talk about tips and the practical aspects of navigating the holiday season as a vegan, and we have a full video on it in one of the modules in The Roadmap. Today though, I thought I would hang out with you a bit and give you a little pep talk so that you can have the most joyful time this holiday season no matter how you eat, or how differently you do so when compared to your family members and friends.

I once heard a famous author and writing teacher say that one of the best writing prompts for a class are the words “I remember…”. This immediately transports you into the land of past experiences and inspiration. I’ll be stealing this little writing exercise in that I will be looking for past experiences I have had during the holidays, and I’ll also change it to “remember…”, to give you some support. Chances are that if you’ve been listening to our podcast for a while, or you’ve read our blog, many of the things I’ll mention will act as great, quick and gentle reminders of some of those issues that pop up for vegans this time of year. If you’re new, you’ll quickly see how so many of these are universal life lessons, that you’ve probably experienced in other aspects of your life, and they’ll serve as great reminders of how to deal with these issues around the table now.

I remember…

Before we get started with what I want you to remember, here’s what I remember. I remember that Carlos and I spent our first holiday season after going vegan on our own (because we lived so far away from family), which was simple enough in the vegan department. I remember that when we first started sharing this time of year with new friends, things were also easy enough. We would bring some vegan dishes that everyone could share, or we would host a vegan dinner at home with so much delicious food that everyone (omnivores and vegans alike loved it). I remember how spending the holidays with friends and family who had known us prior to going vegan was much harder. I remember having to answer lots of questions the first holiday season we spent with family members. I remember that itch to jump in and set the record straight when people told myths about animal agriculture, and knowing I also didn’t feel comfortable getting on that soap box. I remember people showing me their plates filled with turkey or ham and saying “look at what you’re missing”. I remember missing being a part of the preparation of some of the traditional holiday dishes, which surprise surprise, was always my favorite part of the holidays.

I also remember the joy of starting new traditions. The joy of seeing my friends get together over our table and ooh and ahh over vegan recipes that I was just starting to create. I remember the first time I mastered that pumpkin pie, or that vegan roast with mushroom gravy. I remember when I realized that the part I had always loved, of spending the entire day in the kitchen (yes, I know I’m an alien from outer space who feels this is actually the best thing ever), was still possible with vegan dishes. I remember when in the years that followed, friends would ask in October when our famous vegan Christmas dinner would be (this year without having a kitchen this dinner’s cancellation almost caused a riot!). I remember how with every passing year I felt more and more comfortable answering questions. I remember how with every passing year the jokes and comments started dying out until they were actually quite rare. I remember how being vegan reminded me of how food is just the excuse to get together, it isn’t what this time of year is really all about.

These are some of the things I remember.

What about you though? Here are some of the things I want you, as a new or seasoned vegan, to remember:

Remember any new change comes with steps back…

If you ate something that wasn’t vegan, if you answered a question in a way you later regretted, if you felt a little uncomfortable standing out at the office party, at Thanksgiving or during any gathering. If you got emotional after a family member said something to you. If your delicious dinner didn’t turn out perfectly the first time, the pumpkin pie burnt and the pecan pie overflowed in the oven. Remember all of that is part of the journey and it will get easier and easier with every passing day.

Remember any new change takes practice…

Don’t see every challenge or question that comes your way as a test. See it as what it is: the way we learn! We tend to forget just how much we learn from those moments in which we didn’t react according to plan, or we didn’t know what to do in a certain social situation. These moments were the ones that taught me the most, so look at them straight in the eye and say “ok, bring it!”. Everything, from cooking familiar meals, to shopping, to planning, to talking about this way of eating with people who ask you questions, everything takes practice. Just like when you learn to play a musical instrument, or you are trained at a new job, or you take up tennis or surfing. It’s practice that will make things easier and time will give you all those opportunities that are lessons to learn from.

Remember the holidays are a special time of year for many people, this can sometimes elevate people’s reactions to your change…

For many people the holidays are an emotional time. This time of year is tied to past memories of family traditions, loved ones who are no longer here, and many of these holiday rituals are tied with food. This can make unsupportive (or not yet supportive) friends or family have strong reactions to you wanting to make the vegan version of a sweet potato casserole. The first secret to countering this is to be aware that their reaction is not about you, it has to do with that fear of change. The second secret is to remember you can fill family time with a whole bunch of new traditions. This will make relatives feel as though you’re not rejecting them or the traditions you have as a family, your plate simply looks a bit differently.

Remember you don’t have to be the world’s number one expert on veganism…

Don’t stress out about not answering specific questions in the best way, don’t worry about not knowing everything about nutrition or ecology or farming practices or food policy. You’re making this change and you have your own reasons for doing so. This is no one’s business but your own unless you wish to share it. Share your story with kindness, and begin by saying: “I’m not an expert, and I’m trying to figure this whole thing out myself and doing the best I can”.

Remember that you can make anything vegan!

Any traditional dish you love can be made into its vegan version and you have so many of our recipes to choose from and countless others online and in books.

Remember that you can bring something along…

Always offer to bring a vegan dish or two to a dinner party or gathering. Talk about this with whoever is hosting so that it goes with their menu. Answer any questions they might have. Most hosts will actually want you to have plenty of options to eat at their holiday table and they’ll have questions about ingredients. Answer and always follow that up with “I’ll be happy to help, or I’ll be happy to bring that dish for everyone”.

Remember it’s not just about the food…

Food is powerful, food brings us together and it has for centuries. It’s what is present at celebrations and special occasions, but the truth is it’s just the excuse to sit around a table together. You can do that with a vegan roast and a non-vegan roast at the center of the table.

Remember people will come around when they see you’ve stuck with it…

In my experience the first few months or the first one or two holiday seasons are the hardest because people are still waiting for you to go back to old habits. Once people see that you’ve stuck with it, and you’ve shown them that tradition will be kept in place and will simply include the swapping of some ingredients, people will begin to wrap their heads around it and begin to respect this as the default. Just like they might have a relative with celiac disease, or a relative who simply won’t eat broccoli no matter how much cheese is poured on top, they will soon simply take your being vegan as a given and plan festivities that include this and/or will ask for your help so you have plenty to eat too.

Remember that when all else fails, support might come from sources other than your closest family members…

Support might come from friends or co-workers, even non-vegan friends or co-workers. Remember you can host your own holiday meals aside from the ones you spend with family, and begin new traditions with people you feel safe and comfy with and that respect your choices.

Remember that you don’t have to work yourself to the point of exhaustion, cooking and planning meals so elaborate, in order to convince others that vegan food is delicious…

Even simple vegan dishes are yummy and can have a holiday twist to them, and you don’t have a moral obligation to be the voice for all vegans or the best home chef in the world. Do what you can and what you have time for and this can include store-bought items to bring along, like some of those famous yummy vegan holiday roasts.

Remember that it’s normal to crave old familiar foods…

Going vegan wasn’t the flipping of a switch for me (and I’m pretty sure Carlos would say the same). I still remember my recipe for roast turkey, which Carlos’s mom still makes every year and remember the taste and texture fondly. I also know that I don’t see it as an option anymore because I wouldn’t feel happy eating it. It’s normal to crave familiar foods that were part of many holiday meals before you went vegan. Try to take along your favourites in their vegan versions so that you never feel deprived and know that all of us vegans have caved at some point, especially in the beginning, and have had something that wasn’t vegan. This isn’t the end of the world. You dust yourself off and keep on going afterwards.

Remember that the pressure is not on you…

We sometimes go to these parties or gatherings feeling pressure or stress, especially that first holiday season as a vegan. Remember that this feeling is yours. It’s very likely that most people won’t even remember your dietary habits and they will catch up once they see your plate. They might ask you a question or two out of curiosity and move on. It’s simply not true that our relatives have planned out this mission to shine the spotlight on us. People are often legitimately curious, and people are usually thinking about their own struggles and challenges, wondering if you’re thinking about theirs. This is always a huge and helpful reminder to me, that most people are also worrying, but it of course isn’t about me.

Remember that in the grand scheme of things, the differences between how you and your loved ones eat is not that big of a deal…

Especially this past year, I often stop to think of how so many families will be apart this time of year. Some from lack of resources to travel and be together, some due to war or political troubles, some due to illness or the passing of loved ones. Having something you disagree with, with the people around you, is not a big deal. Eating food that is a little different but having a lovely and delicious plate of food in front of you is a blessing. When the arguments we might sometimes have with loved ones have to do with what butter the apple pie was made with, we can check ourselves and notice the amount of privilege this entails. How having the choice to make food choices at all is privileged, and it’s precisely why it is important that those of us who can, do. It’s why I’m vegan, I’m happy to do it for someone who can’t do it as easily, due to financial restraints, lack of food security, a disability or chronic illness that makes this change harder, etc.

Remembering how lucky we are to be among loved ones and with food on the table, helps bring everything else into perspective. To me there’s nothing that gratitude won’t make a little easier.

Remember to have fun and enjoy this time of year…

Have fun with it, enjoy the food, share some laughs, add new holiday traditions that have nothing to do with food, things like watching a funny holiday movie, or decorating ornaments, going ice skating, playing a game. Laugh off comments and laugh at yourself a bit too. The more confident you appear, the more you are enjoying the moment, the more everyone will relax and turn the spotlight back onto whoever got way too drunk and is saying something hilarious. Join in with some laughs. You are a valuable part of your family, your group of friends or your co-workers, and the food on your plate is not the reason why. Reassure everyone that you’ve found delicious and plenty of food to eat, that everything else looks yummy too and they need not worry, change the subject to a funny anecdote and people will relax while you do too.

This is my favorite time of year! Have you guessed that already with all the Holiday themed episodes? Next week I’ll be giving you another pep talk, one that has to do with the issues of weight, body image, eating and family around the holidays. Stay tuned! That’s next Thursday.

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