There are loads of ways to keep it cool – rather than cruel – this holiday. South African Vegan Society Director ANNA JORDAN shares some creative ideas to avert festive fallout
As we head toward the end of the year, many of us vegans (both long term and new) can start to experience a new set of anxieties. While the thought of a holiday break, long languid evenings, and spending time with loved ones and friends is appealing, these are also times when vegans can feel isolated, victimized, angry and/or just plain hungry.
Although they do present an opportunity to chill out, holidays can also be notoriously stressful, so adding further stress about food choices and ethics while competing with generations of tradition can be a recipe for frustration. In addition, family and friends can feel pressurized to adjust their traditional menus.
Some vegans may choose to skip the festivities all together and avoid the confrontation with groups of family and friends, while others may let loose, shout loudly and shame those around them. But there’s always the opportunity to take a step forward and make these social times an opportunity to bring veganism into the mainstream while having a good time sharing the positives of our choices.
Being the only vegan in your family or group, you may feel enormous pressure to conform. It’s common for small groups to protect the intimate social fabric of the group, either consciously or subconsciously as new behaviours and ideas can be perceived as a threat to the group. The unspoken fear in families or small groups of friends is that of change – that the group will end, traditions will change or that social structures and belief systems will be challenged. But there is a misconception behind this fear – families and good friendships needn’t be broken up by a bit of change.
Holiday mealtimes don’t have to be uncomfortable – they can be an enjoyable and positive experience for everyone. Sharing food with family and friends can be a perfect opportunity to share vegan values and start new traditions dedicated to health, justice and compassion.
Here are a few points to help make the holidays the fun and easy-going times we want them to be:
Live by example. Your friends and family want to know you still care about them and that you’re not rejecting them. You don’t have to preach and hand out literature or try to get your friends to watch undercover animal slaughter footage or read the books you’ve read. Be patient. Live by example. Plant seeds and they will grow.
Keep in touch with your support system. Use social media to talk through any issues or problems you may be experiencing or contact SAVS at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. Try an impromptu lunch or coffee date with vegans in your area just to gain some breathing space and moral support.
It is almost guaranteed that someone will ask why you’re not eating animal products. If you know the people asking well, answer in a way that makes the most sense for the moment. People sometimes really want to know! Other times, suggest talking one-on-one after dinner.
If you’re out on the town with non-vegan friends or family, it makes sense to explore your vegan options before you go out to eat. If you’re not prepared and find no vegan options, ask politely if there is anything on the menu that can be made vegan or if the chef wouldn’t mind creating something for you. Chefs may be busy (so it helps to be prepared), but ordering something not on the menu may be a fun challenge for chefs who are often forced to restrain their creativity.
Be gracious and thankful for the added service. If the staff go beyond the call of duty, consider being extra generous with your tips! It not only expresses your gratitude, but you’ll pave the way for the next vegan question or request.
If you’re throwing a party, no need to skimp on delicious dishes – just veganise it! There are hundreds of recipes on the internet and many great vegan cook books on the shelves.
If you’re going to a casual non-vegan party, staying vegan may be as simple as snacking before you go, or keeping your eyes open for animal-free snacks at the party (like chips, nuts, veggie dips, etc.). Read up on www.vegansa.com for items that are vegan and don’t contain any animal products.
If you’re going to a sit-down dinner party that you know won’t be vegan, let your hosts know you don’t consume animal products. Ask ahead of time what you can bring and how you can help. You can suggest to your hosts that you can bring a main dish to share or offer to help the cook(s) veganize the side dishes to make them cruelty-free, healthier, and delicious. You could even bring vegan readymade dishes from a supplier or shop, such as Woolworths. Always remember to bring enough for yourself and everyone else – more often than not everyone eats all the vegan food and usually loves it!
Always keep a vegan bottle of wine/bubbly at hand to contribute to an impromptu invitation. See http://www.vegansa.com/foodstuffs.php for a list of vegan wines and alcohol.
Holidays and festive times are an ideal opportunity to practise compassion beyond what is on the table. It is a time where we can help alleviate the suffering and even difficulties of fellow humans and animals. If cash is short, you can donate your time or items you no longer need to women and children shelters, food kitchens, animal rescue organisations or farm sanctuaries.
Above all, don’t feel bullied into compromising your choices and commitment to a cruelty-free world because of the inflexibility/intolerance of others. Being creative and easy-going in your approach is likely to inspire rather than freak out those around you – so here’s to keeping things fresh and connected this holiday. The vegan movement is growing exponentially by the year and that’s something to celebrate.