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Give Understanding this Christmas

Around 15% of Kiwis avoid meat most or all of the time – so there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing Christmas with a vegetarian or vegan this year. It could be your son, who’s vegan because he cares about animals; or maybe it’s your sister, who’s giving vegetarianism a try for the sake of the environment. You may not understand their decision, but you love them, so you want them to enjoy Christmas as much as everyone else, right?

What can you do to help ensure Christmas Day is enjoyable for all of your family members? You might think the key is preparing the right sort of food – and we’ll give you some tips for that! – but the most meaningful thing you can do is show them that you care.

Christmas can be a challenging time for vegetarians and vegans, because a lot of the food that typically gets shared involves animals – for example, most Christmas meals feature a turkey as the centrepiece. Most other days of the year, vegetarians and vegans can easily avoid situations where lots of meat is consumed; but at Christmas, they often feel torn between wanting to avoid meat, and wanting to be with family and friends.

If your loved one is an animal lover, seeing meat can bring back memories of animal abuse they’ve witnessed, such as slaughterhouse footage that convinced them to change their lifestyle. These intrusive thoughts can be upsetting and can make their experience of Christmas much different to that of the meat-eaters sitting at the table with them.

Likewise, many meat-eaters find vegetarianism and veganism confronting. It’s easy to feel that your traditions, like eating ham, are being rejected when a member of the family chooses not to partake in them. But if the vegetarian or vegan in your life is choosing to share Christmas Day with you – knowing that meat will be served – you can take it as a sign that they love you, because they probably know it’s going to be challenging.

One of the best Christmas gifts you can give to the vegetarian or vegan in your family is understanding. Feeling accepted by your family is important – and because decisions around food often connect to vegetarians’ and vegans’ values, it’s important that you accept their choices around food. This in itself doesn’t mean that you have to go vegetarian – you have to choose to do that – but it does mean that you should accept that their decision is right for them.

There are practical things you can do to help your vegetarian and vegan family members enjoy Christmas Day. Communicating that you want them to feel happy will let them know you care. If you talk to them beforehand and ask them how you can accommodate them, you’ll probably find that they arrive more relaxed. Also, plant-based catering is probably a lot easier than you think it’s going to be! If you want to prepare food that everyone can eat, your loved one will likely have some suggestions and know some good recipes. (Click here for recipes that can be enjoyed by everyone, including vegetarians and vegans, and here for a list of Vegan Certified snacks you can buy.)

Another tremendously helpful thing you can do is be an ally. You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan yourself to support a family member who is. An ally is someone who helps to keep someone else safe. Here are three things you can do to be an ally to a vegetarian or vegan on Christmas Day:

  • crowd out unwanted comments and unkind jokes
  • make sure they get enough food to eat
  • share their food with them

It’s easy to spot unkind jokes, but it can be difficult to determine whether or not a comment is unwanted. It can also be difficult to challenge people when they make such comments – so we suggest that, in these situations, you respond with positivity. Saying ‘I really like that vegan chocolate you brought!’ or, ‘I admire your commitment to the environment’ within earshot of those making hurtful comments can be a way of supporting vegetarians and vegans. It communicates that their choices are accepted.

Making sure they get enough to eat can also make a big difference to their day. It isn’t much fun being hungry, especially when you’re in a challenging environment. At most Christmas gatherings, there’s usually a lot less food that vegetarians and vegans can eat, so it’s important to ensure that they don’t miss out. If possible, make sure that they get served first. They probably won’t jump to the front of the queue – so why not do it for them? You can say, ‘I know Sarah can’t eat everything here, so I just want to make sure she doesn’t miss out.’ Ask them what they’d like to eat, and make sure you give them generous portions. (Remember, they might not have the chance to go back for seconds.) An act as simple as this could mean more to them on Christmas Day than any present they might receive.

Something else that can make a vegetarian or vegan feel accepted is when other people share their food. Making sure you try some of the food they eat is a great way of subtly letting them know that you accept them. If you like the food, be sure to tell them! If you don’t, try something else instead. (Just because kombucha isn’t your sort of thing doesn’t mean you won’t like the crisps!) Remember, most of the food you eat is vegan anyway – vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and even many of the processed foods you buy are vegan-friendly – so don’t be surprised if you end up enjoying it!

Everyone deserves to enjoy Christmas! With a lot of love and a little bit of thought, you can help make this Christmas special for the vegetarians and vegans in your life.

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