Once I hit my teens, I spent most holiday dinners in my room, giving my turkey to the cat. I hated the relatives who came over, hated the joviality, and wasn’t going to be pleasant or social if it killed me. (Oh, teenagers.) But I have to say, the loneliest and hardest Christmas dinner I’ve ever experienced was the one I spent with only my immediate family plus my sister’s boyfriend the year I stopped eating meat. My dad hated my boyfriend, so he wasn’t invited. That left me the only vegetarian at a table full of meat enthusiasts. My mother didn’t bother to prepare a vegetarian main dish, so I picked at green beans on the far end of the table while everyone else dug into the ham. I never felt so rejected in my life.
My parents were, shall we say, unenthused about my decision to go vegetarian. I can’t blame them; both grew up in poverty where an egg was a special occasion and meat happened a few times a year, on very special occasions. My dad, in particular, still associates meat with having made it in this country; being able to provide meat to his family was a mark of his success and hard work. To have his daughter voluntarily reject that ideology and the culture it came from must have been rough.
Anyway. That was the main underlying experience behind my sentiment that one of the prices of vegetarianism (even more so veganism) is social and cultural. I’ve come to recognize that my parents won’t accommodate my vegetarianism, so it’s my responsibility to do what I can to make the whole holiday socializing thing bearable (when I absolutely can’t get out of it). Assuming you like people, you may be more willing to put effort into the following suggestions. And please, by all means, add to the list!
The Vegetarian/Vegan Holiday Survival Guide
- Make sure your hosts know your dietary restrictions well in advance. Especially if they’re having a lot of people over, it’s possible they will forget. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but do mention it.
- Decide how strict you’re going to be. There are three types of vegetarian dinner guest: 1) the type who tells the host beforehand that marshmallows, wine, and many brands of cane sugar are not vegan; 2) the type who asks about everything at the table; or 3) the type who compromises out of politeness and avoids what she can and doesn’t attempt an emetic after finding out there were marshmallows in the sweet potatoes.
- Have a list of tasty possible recipes to suggest if your hosts ask what they can make you instead.
- Express gratitude for any effort to accommodate you. Realize that you are, in fact, requiring them to put in more effort and time.
- Offer to bring a dish. Make it a really good one so you can make a point that meatless food is, in fact, tasty and satisfying.
- Host the meal yourself and treat your guests to an awesome meat-free meal filled with the vegetable bounty of the season.
- Bring a fellow vegetarian for company. If all else fails and there’s nothing you can eat, at least you won’t be alone.
And just a handful of don’ts to keep in mind:
- Don’t attempt to educate your fellow diners at the table on the cruelty implicit in their Thanksgiving turkey. It’s not gracious, it’s not good form, and it’s not likely to do you or your cause any good. Besides, they’re the ones with the carving knives.
- Don’t think that it’s up to other people how well the evening goes. The work you put into it (or not) makes a huge amount of difference.
- Don’t take this opportunity to remark on how surprising it is to you that all meat now smells like cat food to you. Even if it does.
- Don’t give up on dining with omnivores. Although vegetarianism/veganism can be the basis of friendships, I’d like to think that the people I love and respect are more than their dietary choices.
Well, any horrific holiday experiences with omnivores to share? More tips? Bring it on!