Veganuary’s Kate Fowler reveals how to navigate your Christmas party, deal with questions from non-vegans and what to do with unwanted gifts.
Being vegan at Christmas is like navigating a boat through a rocky outcrop, blindfolded – there are dangers everywhere and sooner or later a bump is inevitable. Here, we help steer you through these dangerous waters to ensure your relationships, sanity and integrity survive intact.
The office Christmas meal
You’ve spent all year working alongside these people and all you want is to get away from them for a week, but first there is the office meal ordeal to survive. Since there is no escaping it, you might as well jump in early with suggestions of places where you can at least be sure to get a good meal. After all, there is no reason why the vegan should be saddled with a plate of over-boiled vegetables while their meat-eating colleagues are tucking into a full roast dinner.
Try not to tread on anyone’s toes, but offer up these new options to the party planner in the spirit of cheerful helpfulness. If the decision has already been made and the restaurant is booked, check the menu ahead of time. Many cater superbly for vegans, but if there is nothing suitable on the menu, or if you don’t like what you see, call them up.
Most chefs are happy to help, but don’t be afraid to ask the right questions. One recent experience saw us with a delicious vegan roast without gravy. The travesty! If only we’d known, we would have packed a sachet of Bisto in our pockets. The lesson here: ask all the questions needed to ensure you don’t need a pint of ketchup just to be able to swallow your meal.
The Christmas party
The biggest pitfall at Christmas parties is not the booze (you can take your own bottle of vegan wine) or the snacks (there will always be something vegan, besides who is there to eat the food?) No, it’s the conversation.
Us vegans tend to tell the world about veganism on a regular basis. And that is a good thing. People need to hear what their choices do to animals and the environment so they can make their own informed decisions and the world can be a better place. However, they are probably not receptive to such information at a Christmas party.
The week before Christmas is a tricky time to push the vegan message. And while our friends may, like us, care about animals and the environment, we buy into the over-consumption all the same.
So, our advice would be to leave your megaphone at home and bide your time. Answer any vegan-related questions with good grace as they come up, but avoid the big campaign push until Boxing Day. At that point, your natural campaign urges can be given full throttle and you can invite all your over-fed, regretful friends to do something wonderful and sign up for Veganuary.
If you are a new vegan, opening gifts and trying to look delighted rather than morally offended is an art. Grandma doesn’t know that the toiletries she has always bought for you contain bits of animals. And brother has tried to impress by spending big on a hamper of foods that you don’t want, won’t eat and can barely look at. It’s tricky.
Engineering the right conversation early is key to people not wasting their money, and only ethical purchases being made. Try to raise the issue gently, though. Some people may have bought your present already and cannot afford to buy another, and there is nothing to be gained from making them feel bad.
Why not make a list of presents you would love, ranging from stocking fillers up to that yacht you’ve always fancied, so, if a friend or relative asks, you’ve a ready answer. Or you can be proactive and tack a copy to their fridge door.
Non-vegans find it easier to get it right when they are given an entire range or shop to choose from and they are not scouring the small print trying to find the one vegan item in a range of dubious alternatives. If there is a fully vegan company you love, ask for anything from that. Better still, send a link. If it’s still not working out, ask for vouchers or suggest they donate the money they might have spent to your local animal sanctuary instead.
If you do find yourself with a sackful of non-vegan items, be gracious to the donors and quietly pass the gifts on to a local charity shop. Not everyone gets it right and old habits are hard to break. Be gentle with those who just wanted to make you happy.
If you dread sitting at a table staring at the carcass of a factory-farmed bird while others delight in the inappropriate legs-versus-breast jokes, then you are not alone. If you’re the only vegan in the family, try to negotiate a compromise ahead of time. For some vegans, not having the whole bird on the table can take the worst of the emotion out of the meal. For others, there being meat at all is an issue. There are two ways round it: persuade the whole family to eat vegan or make other arrangements.
If you offer to cook the meal the problem may be solved, but the stress of cooking Christmas lunch should not be underestimated! (Planning is key. Trial run a few recipes, and make sure you have all the trimmings, which are what people actually love the most.) But if turkey is integral to the celebration, you may need to step away. Join friends for a meal and return later when the sherry and mince pies are out.
When I told my parents I was not able to sit at a table with a carcass on it, they surprised me and said they would rather spend Christmas with me than eat meat. The next year, they chose the turkey. Now, we have an understanding. I will cook a vegan meal and invite everyone I know who will be alone on the day to share the day with me. My parents are welcome, too. Some years, they even come.
Kate Fowler is Special Projects Manager at Veganuary, the charity inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year. To find out more (and maybe direct parents and friends to), visit veganuary.com.