Charlotte Willis gives us her ultimate guide to help you create a memorable and mindful vegan Christmas.
Christmas traditions can be a wonderful thing. Getting all of your loved ones together, sharing memories, exchanging presents and of course consuming your entire days’ worth of food in one single, indulgent and decadent meal. Whether it’s your first Christmas as a vegan or you’re a well-seasoned festive veteran, there’s never been a better time of the year to explore some alternative and interesting new ideas, recipes and activities to make this year your best Christmas yet.
It seems ’tis the season to be vegan. With 2016 bringing huge growths in veganism, I am excited to think that there will be more vegan Christmases in the UK this year than ever before. But with great diet comes great responsibility. My memories of Christmas as a child are nothing short of storybook-worthy. Great feasts prepared lovingly by my mother, fun-filled activities and copious amounts of delicious food items being stored in the cupboard awaiting their arrival to the table with great anticipation.
Needless to say, when I was planning for my first vegan Christmas, I had some enormous boots to fill. It can seem quite intimidating at first. What will my family say? Will they like the food? How can I quash the nay-sayers at work? But with careful planning and some forethought, it went as smoothly as my minced pie cashew nut cheezecake (surely a winner, nobody suspected the lack of dairy!) Why not embrace this season as a chance to do something a little different and create new traditions…
THE WORKS CHRISTMAS PARTY
Love them or hate them, there’s no need to fear the end of year work party. When going out for a meal, ask your employer where they have decided to go and take the lead in calling the restaurant in advance. This way they’ll be happy to cater for your needs. In previous years, I’ve left my colleagues envious at the delicious three course meals that have arrived at the table for me! When taking suggestions for restaurants, suggest well-known vegan-friendly eateries such as Zizzi’s. Alternatively, opt for Asian restaurants, which are commonly vegan-friendly and take your own alcohol.
VEGAN GUEST ETIQUETTE
If you’re not going to be at home this Christmas, panic not. Inform your host of what you can eat rather than what you can’t, as this is often easier for them to construct dishes for your requirements. Send them recipes that you like the look of and be open to trying new things, it’ll take the pressure off both parties. Why not take something vegan along with you? Take a tray of raw brownies or a nut-roast that’s large enough for everyone at the party to try, that way you’re prepared for any culinary disappointment and you’ll get others wanting to try your food. If you fancy a Christmas tipple, take your own. This way you can be sure that you’re enjoying a vegan beverage.
My first Christmas was awash with others inquiring about my diet, including my grandma who still fails to understand it! My honest advice is to be prepared but not preachy! Accept that others may not share your views and be willing to shake off any sarcasm, ’tis the season to be jolly after all! However, you’ll find the majority of people will be completely accepting and interested.
YOUR FIRST VEGAN CHRISTMAS MEAL
My best advice is to go with your gut, literally! Don’t be daunted by the concept of presenting your loved ones with a plateful of veg – there is a vast array of delightful and wonderful alternative ways to replace the traditional turkey with trimmings.
The Traditionalist: If you can’t be without a roast potato and gravy, try substituting sweet potatoes for an alternative taste and try experimenting with a variety of roasted roots paired with nuts. For the centre piece, you could opt for a meatless-meat alternative or get creative with nut roasts, salads and stews. Replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives in recipes is also as simple as coconut oil instead of butter in a pudding and plant milks in bread sauce.
The Culinary-Curious: For something completely different this Christmas, try serving up a cultural menu. Why not have an Italian starter and an Asian main course? By embracing an alternative menu, everyone around you will be experiencing veganism in a non-traditional and alternative way. Simply by adding in some alternative spices and herbs such as infused oils in mashed potato or serving up creative side-dishes will get people talking. It’s a great and delicious way to showcase the variety of veganism.
The average family will throw away 10 per cent of their Christmas meal, with an estimated 17.2 million sprouts and 13 million roast potatoes ending up in the bin; £64 million is wasted in total. There’s something about Christmas that sends us into bulk-buying overload! This Christmas, why not make more of a mindful effort to buy less but eat more. Get familiar with your freezer and break out the Tupperware boxes! Almost all of your Christmas meal, including gravy, vegetables and roasts can be frozen for a later date. Use excess soup as a base for a pasta dish or risotto. Why not throw your left-over cooked veg into a big tofu scramble, make them into a pie or curry, or simply serve cold the next day in a salad. Be creative with your desserts and make a trifle with excess Christmas pudding and turn mince pies into an Eton Mess. The more you can experiment with food waste, the better it is for the planet and your pocket.
I am always conscious at Christmas of those who are less fortunate than us. For a gift that really keeps giving, why not volunteer at a local shelter or food bank. The Salvation Army, Crisis and the Trussell Trust run Christmas volunteer projects ranging from group carol singing to the sharing of food. Giving up your time at Christmas will not only make a difference to those that need it, but also give a Saint Nick worthy-warm glow to your holiday.
It’s never been easier to give an ethical and vegan present to your loved ones. For food lovers, opt for a variety hamper including unique vegan treats and staples such as nut-butters and dried fruit. Beauty experts will love cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics by brands such as Inika and Lush, or create your own body butters and perfumes using essential oils. For something truly unique, why not adopt or sponsor an animal in a shelter or rescue centre?
If you’re a culinary genius (or wannabe), why not whip up a batch of vegan peppermint brownies, cranberry shortbread or healthier protein bliss balls? Something homemade gives that personal touch and will inspire your non-vegan friends and family.
Start a new tradition by visiting one of the many vegan Christmas markets that are popping up all over the UK, including Animal Aid’s Cruelty Free Christmas Feyer, Leeds’ Winterfest Vegan Christmas Market and Swansea Vegan Christmas Market. They are all full of ideas and inspiration for your perfect Christmas as a vegan, plus a prime opportunity to gift shop. Traditional German markets are also a great option for vegans. When sampling the delights opt for roasted nuts and seeds, fried onions and courgettes with mixed salsas and dips, potato dumplings, and traditional German pretzels (just make sure they don’t have butter in the dough).