Surviving Family Dinners as a Vegan
By Mikkel Gisle Johnsen
For a lot of us, Christmas is the most intense time of the year for getting together with family and friends to eat and share food. Personally, I love communal eating and I love Christmas. However, when you have dietary preferences that differ from those of the other people present, it can sometimes be challenging to get through the meal without friction. I’d like to talk you through exactly how I do it in order to minimize hiccups and maximize enjoyment!
It’s Not a Big Deal! The first thing you need to realize, is that in the grand scheme of things – what you eat or don’t eat isn’t a big deal! Don’t get me wrong, food is a huge part of life and choosing the vegan path is a life changing matter worth talking about, but there are plenty of other facets of life that are equally important – like friends and family for example! If you want some tips on how to transition to a fruit based vegan diet, I encourage you to check out our coaching options!
Most people (including yourself maybe?) are quite sensitive about the subject of diet. It’s a very personal thing. Depending on the people you’re dealing with, it’s probably best to keep the conversation off the topic of diet and why you choose to be vegan. This is not because it’s not an important subject that you’re passionate about – but because you know it will cause an upheaval at the table. Try to keep in mind that the “objective” of a communal holiday meal isn’t to preach veganism or give nutritional advice, but to connect and share positive energy with your loved ones! Save dietary discussions to times where someone is genuinely interested, ideally in a one to one situation off the table.
No Apologies: Do Your Thing! There’s no need to make a big deal out of the fact that you have special requests or bring your own food. Apologies just make the whole thing seem bigger than it is, and puts all the attention on you and what you’re eating. Just do your thing! Act as if this is the most normal thing in the world for you, which of course, it is! Whether you’re bringing persimmons, potatoes or a lentil loaf to the table – be chilled about it! Chances are people won’t even notice at first, but when they inevitably do your job is not to defend yourself, but simply to answer their question and move on.
Answering Questions This of course, is where things can get tricky. Simple questions like “what’s that?” are easy to answer, but what about the why’s and the how’s? Here are three key concepts to keep in the back of your mind when difficult questions crop up: Keep it simple, stay calm and stay focused on you, not them!
Keeping it simple is a matter of conversational skills really. Eating should be a calm and relaxed experience, and highly emotional topics are best avoided. I don’t mean avoid as in literally barring it from even coming up, just not going in depth on those particular topics that tend to be emotional in nature. Since food and nutrition is one of those topics, I recommend that you answer the why questions simply rather than deeply to avoid stirring up a discussion while eating.
It might be a good idea to check out our extensive FAQ to get some quick answers to most of the questions that might come up!
Staying calm is very important. There’s almost always someone a little cocky at the table, and they might take a stab at you because of what you’re eating. If you choose to respond by getting emotional, losing your cool and defending yourself with strong argumentation – you’ll definitely ruin your own enjoyment of the meal but probably everyone else’s too! Take a few seconds to actively calm yourself before responding to rude remarks. Allow the person’s ignorance, whether it’s malicious or not, to remain their problem, not yours! Tackle the question swiftly by keeping it simple, staying calm and most importantly…
…staying focused on you, not them. This basically means that when someone asks why you don’t eat meat for example, you answer something like “I feel better without it and I actually enjoy eating fruits and vegetables”. This keeps the focus on why you do what you do, and not on what they are eating. The worst way to answer that same question would be something like “Because it’s really unhealthy to eat meat and unethical to kill an animal for food”. People tend to take this kind of statement as a personal attack – even though it really isn’t. No wonder they do, since they are sitting there with meat on the plate as you say it. It’s all about psychology – by emphasizing yourself every time you’re answering a question, you avoid making them feel accused of implicated.
Also do bear in mind that although it’s tempting to “speak up” for the animals or share vital information about the health destroying effects of certain foods – there’s a time and a place for everything. If you’re at the table with these people, it should be because you enjoy spending time with them and want to share love and positivity with them – not because you have a secret agenda to veganize them! Even if you did, it wouldn’t work anyway because if they are not open to your message they won’t hear it. Let it go for now, and enjoy other topics of conversation.
It’s All About Sharing! Why do we eat together in the first place? It’s because we want to share energy with other people. The meal is almost like a ritual, or ceremony if you will. The food itself a sacrament. Without getting too spiritual on you, let’s just say: The communal meal is an excuse to sit down together to share and relax.
Since the food is the symbol in the midst of this exchange, it makes sense that the sharing of food itself is essential. In other words, if there’s something – anything actually – that you can consume together with everyone else, it makes the whole experience more magical. Maybe there’s a side dish on the table somewhere that suits your preferences? Accepting something from the host, even if it’s just a glass of water, is important to establish that acceptance of goodwill. The exchange is like a contract that says “I accept your love”.
Bringing your own food is great if you’re really particular about what you eat, but be sure to bring some to share also! If you’re keen on sharing some vegan food that’s a bit more mainstream, you could check out some of the recipes in this book! Teach by example!
Enjoy! At the end of the day, it’s all about enjoyment. The vibes. The food. The people. Focus on enjoying the situation and all it has to offer. Remember that this will be difficult if you’re busy either defending your diet or worse yet, attacking someone else’s! Keep it cool, it’s Christmas after all!
Check out our article “3 Tips For Eating a Fruit Based Vegan Diet Around Others”