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If family holidays inevitably mean a bit of drama for you under normal circumstances, then introducing your new diet into the equation may not make things any easier. Food is about so much more than sustenance among friends and family members. Food is linked to tradition. Food is a love language for many. Food is about heritage and pride and ancestors. It’s about memories and bonds. You may not even quite realize this until it’s time for you to share a holiday with loved ones, and you’re a new vegan. Sure, you’ve eaten at restaurants with these loved ones as a vegan. But that was different. Restaurants are impersonal, and those weren’t special days like Thanksgiving.

This holiday can bring complicated emotions and experiences for vegans, particularly new vegans. But even veteran vegans can tell you that the holiday is always a little bit prickly. Vegans don’t get to just coast on through this day. They have to not only prepare desserts and side dishes – but they also have to prepare responses for uncomfortable conversations and situations. But, just because you’ve made a personal choice about your lifestyle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to enjoy this holiday. Here are tips for enjoying Thanksgiving as a new vegan. 


Don’t attempt the fake stuff

Trying to make something that tastes like turkey but isn’t turkey will leave you resenting your new diet. Plus, a lot of the fake stuff is made with more soy and chemicals than anyone should ingest in one sitting. The secret to enjoying veganism is to not try to replicate a carnivore diet through plant items. That will leave you feeling like you’re missing out. Make good vegan dishes that were meant to be vegan.

Make sure you’re emotionally equipped

Perhaps you’ve sheltered yourself since becoming a vegan, not really spending time around meat-eaters, and certainly not in the presence of a giant roasted bird put on display. Have an honest conversation with yourself about what it will mean to enjoy a meal surrounded by people eating meat. Will you be able to endure it, without lecturing people or making them feel bad about their choices? That won’t be fair to your host who put so much time into the day. The Thanksgiving dinner your friend lovingly hosts isn’t meant to be your platform to convert people to veganism.

Be ready for some comments

You may need to be the bigger person here, because, while you refrain from making comments about everyone else’s dietary choices, they may not pay you the same courtesy. The vegan jokes may begin to fly. The interrogations may happen. There is often that one person who “knows everything” about how veganism is also bad. Just be ready to deflect. Get up and help clean dishes. Play with the kids or pets who are present. You don’t need to respond to every comment

Who said you needed to cook?

Maybe handling the social politics of being a vegan at Thanksgiving and cooking all-new recipes, meant to impress a crowd, is too much to handle. Nobody could judge you if it were. The beauty is that there are so many markets and restaurants ready to hand you a delicious, professionally-made vegan party platter. There’s no shame in taking them up on that.

If you’re a guest, gently notify your host

It is very important to notify your host that you are a vegan. You might be thinking, “Oh, I’ll find something there to eat…” Then you discover that she made every single vegetable dish with butter and all of the appetizers contain cheese or eggs. Nobody wins if you find nothing you can eat there. Your host feels bad, and you feel hungry. So just say something. Just let her know she doesn’t need to go out of her way to accommodate you. But perhaps it will encourage her to make a few simple changes to the menu.

But don’t put it all on your host

Don’t expect your host to change her entire menu to accommodate you. To some extent, you have to walk into this meal knowing you won’t be able to eat most things there. So bring enough dishes that would satisfy you, as a whole meal, even if you can’t touch a single thing your host made. 

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Make sure you have some protein

If you’re a guest, do make sure your protein needs will be covered. You can ask the host what she’ll be making, and if it turns out there will be no vegetarian protein options, then you should make one. You will be a grumpy guest if all you eat is salad and potatoes. Make a delicious bean chili, or silken tofu quiche, or lentil casserole.

If you’re a host, gently notify your guests

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, it’s very important to tell your guests. This is more to protect your emotions than to protect them. Typically, when invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, people expect there to be a turkey. And buttery potatoes. And creamy pies. You don’t want to see the look on their face when they walk in the door and discover something else. Let them make that face at home, where you can’t see it. Then they can arrive excited to try what you’ve made, rather than disappointed it isn’t something else.

Remember the toppings, sauces, et al

Whether you’re a host or a guest, remember how important toppings are and make sure you’re covered. Find vegan options for whipped cream for that apple crumble, creamer for coffee, gravy for potatoes, ice cream for pie, “butter” for the rolls. Think of all the staples, and then think of what they’ll need to bring them to that next culinary level.

Easy on the alcohol

If you will be at a Thanksgiving meal that is not vegan, you may want to go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol triggers sensations of hunger, so if you haven’t been totally satisfied by the few vegan items you brought, your second martini may encourage you to eat some turkey or buttery mashed potatoes. Or, it may cause you to overreact to that joke about vegans your cousin makes.

If you’re a guest, bring something unique

If you’re bringing dishes as a guest, get a full rundown from your host on what she plans on cooking. It’s important that you don’t attempt to make a vegan version of something she’ll be making. If you do that, you’ll feel insecure watching guests compare your vegan item to the “real thing.” Let your vegan dish shine, and make something entirely unique.

Don’t apologize for your views, or your dish

You don’t need to apologize for your food choices. Practice saying, “No thank you. I’m a vegan” without adding “Sorry.” You also don’t need to say “No judgment, though!” That’s implied. And don’t apologize for the food you brought. You don’t need to say, “It’s vegan so I understand if you don’t want it.” Hey, they may love it!

Find other vegans to dine with

If you don’t think you can handle the complex social dynamics of having this meal with non-vegans, then just find other vegans to have Thanksgiving dinner with. You can always pop by your carnivore friend’s place for dessert or coffee later. This can also be a great way to learn about great vegan Thanksgiving dishes, by sharing a big meal with other vegans.

Have a snack before (and in your purse)

If you’ll be a guest at a carnivore’s home, have a small snack before, and bring one in your purse. This is just in case you can’t get the sustenance you need. You don’t want to faint, or be cranky, or have to leave early to get something to eat.

Don’t focus on the food; focus on the family

Remember that this day is about being with loved ones. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of missing out because you can’t eat the “regular” Thanksgiving food. But you’ll have plenty of delicious meals, all year long. The focus today should be on spending time with friends and family, and not on what’s on your plate.

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