A guide for vegetarians and vegans
Christmas can be a challenging time for vegetarians and vegans. Most days of the year we can avoid social gatherings where lots of meat will be consumed, but when it comes to Christmas gatherings, we often feel we have no choice but to put up with meat-eating. At such gatherings, we are sometimes unfairly criticised for our values and choices; this harassment can be especially hurtful when it comes from those who are close to us.
So, how are you going to survive this Christmas?
It can be very helpful to practice self-acceptance. Vegetarianism and veganism are meaningful forms of action. Going and staying plant-based has significant benefits for the animals, for the planet, and for your health – the world is a better place because you are committed to your lifestyle. Remember that your example does impact others. People make sustained, positive changes to their lives because they choose to – and often they aren’t aware of the influences on that decision. This means they are unlikely to acknowledge the role your example played in their decision to go plant-based, but simply by being vegetarian or vegan, you are helping to create that possibility. So be proud of yourself!
Try not to let the challenging things about Christmas take on an outsized place in your thinking. Acknowledging your agency is important, here. If you really didn’t want to go to that Christmas gathering, you could choose not to – so instead of focusing on the difficult parts of the experience, focus instead on why you are going. It might be because you love your family; perhaps it’s because you enjoy some of the traditions; or maybe you like spending time with your parents’ dogs! Chances are it’s a combination of things.
However, it is worth preparing for the challenges, so that you can meet them as they arise. There are practical things you can do to make Christmas gatherings safe and enjoyable. This requires you to be proactive – but it will be well worth it on the day!
First, let your host know that you’re vegetarian or vegan. It may feel imposing, but it’s actually good manners. Assume that they want to accommodate you (because they probably do), and let them know what you can and can’t eat. Be willing to answer questions, and be prepared to make suggestions. Offer to bring something – but if they want to prepare something as well, tell them you would appreciate it. A good strategy is to offer to bring a main and suggest that they prepare snacks or dessert. That way, you know you won’t go hungry when everyone else is eating – even if your host doesn’t get their part quite right. (Remember, people make mistakes, especially when trying new things.) View anything else as a bonus! If possible, bring something that others will want to try. Sharing delicious food is a way to help normalise plant-based eating, because it provides people with a positive experience which enables them to imagine themselves living a plant-based lifestyle.
Another positive thing you can do is find your allies. These aren’t people to complain with; they’re people who will look out for you and stand up for your vegetarianism or veganism. They don’t need to be vegetarian or vegan themselves – they just need to care about you and respect your choices. It may be your meat-eating partner, or it could be your flexitarian friend. If you think a Christmas gathering is going to be uncomfortable, talk to them beforehand: tell them what you’re worried about, and discuss ways that they can support you. It can be helpful to imagine specific scenarios, and brainstorm ways that you could both react to them. Try not to catastrophise or imagine the worst possible scenario that you could find yourself in; instead, start by recounting things that have actually happened in the past. Here are some suggestions of things you could request:
- that your allies share your food
- that they crowd out thoughtless comments with positivity
- that they help to make sure you get enough to eat, so that you’re not hungry
You could even share this article, ‘Give the Gift of Understanding this Christmas’, with them. It contains helpful advice for meat-eaters who want to support vegetarians and vegans at Christmas.
Remember to stay optimistic. One of the reasons Christmas gatherings can be so difficult is that they remind us that the people who are closest to us have not yet made meaningful changes to their lifestyles – even though we may have shared facts about the harms inherent in meat production, or demonstrated, through our own example, that it is possible to be healthy without eating animal products. It can be helpful to bear in mind that family dynamics can actually make our relatives more resistant to our influence. It is highly likely that you are having an influence on the other people you have relationships with – those who aren’t entangled in the power relations that are inherent in most family structures. Also, try not to lose sight of the fact that people can and do change. Chances are that you weren’t brought up vegetarian or vegan. Endeavour to treat meat-eaters with the patience that kind-hearted vegetarians and vegans showed you before you made the change.
Finally, don’t engage in conversations about your choices if you don’t want to. Many vegetarians and vegans like to take opportunities to educate other people, especially when those others seem genuinely interested in our lifestyle – but this can be draining. You don’t have to do it all the time. Christmas should be enjoyable, and if that means giving yourself permission to not answer others’ questions, even well-intentioned ones, do it. You have as much right to enjoy Christmas as anyone else, and most meat-eaters aren’t expected to respond to unsolicited questions about their lifestyle choices at Christmas gatherings.
Carol Adams offers a helpful tip for dealing with questions. If someone asks you about your vegetarianism or veganism, offer to email them later with information – maybe a link to a good article, or a book recommendation. This is a good strategy for responding politely to such requests, without getting drawn into energy-consuming conversations. It can also help you to weed out the people who are simply being cheeky from those who are genuinely curious. It allows you to respond to questions when and how you want to.
You deserve to enjoy Christmas! Sometimes the best thing you can do to counter unfair criticism and convince other people that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are fulfilling is to participate in activities that you love, and simply be seen enjoying yourself.
Are you a member? Members of the NZ Vegetarian Society receive a copy of our quarterly magazine, Vegetarian Living NZ, packed with great articles, the latest veg~n news, and plant-based recipes. Become a member today!