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Being the only vegan in the family can be challenging and isolating at times. Feelings of frustration, despair, anger and helplessness can come up at family gatherings where food is involved.
Whether the holiday season is approaching or you’ve got a family celebration coming up, the thought of heading to family lunch or dinner with non-vegan relatives can feel daunting and stressful – especially if you’re new to veganism.
It’s interesting, and slightly frustrating, that all of a sudden your family are so invested in what you eat as well as your protein levels!
But don’t stress. There are a few ways to prepare for and manage being the only vegan at the table.
How to survive family gatherings as a vegan
accept that you’ll be around meat
Going to your first family gathering as a vegan can be confronting and upsetting. You feel like you’re making good progress at home, and then you see everyone tucking into the ‘celebratory’ turkey or chicken and your mood takes a turn for the worst.
Unless your family is entirely vegetarian or vegan, accept that you’ll be around animal products and make peace with that before you go.
Don’t go starving
If your family gatherings are anything like mine, it takes a good hour or two for the meal to actually start.
Just like eating out as a vegan, walking into a non-vegan family feast on an empty stomach is risky, so get into the habit of having a small snack before you go.
Explaining veganism to family can take a lot of mental energy and time as it’s hard to know where to begin, or if they’ll even listen to what you have to say. Tackling cliché questions or dealing with comments like “but humans have evolved to eat dairy” is harder when you’re hungry.
The last thing you want is to snap and put a cloud over the event (easier said than done, I know).
Bring food to share
Bringing your own food is a great way to make sure you’ll have something to eat, and put your host’s mind at ease knowing you’re already catered for.
If you like to cook, make enough for everyone to share. You could whip up a family-sized chickpea and roast pumpkin salad or volunteer to bring the rice. If cooking isn’t your thing, bring some takeout. There are many vegan-friendly cuisines to choose form, like Japanese, Indian or Italian. I often bring along big platters of sushi, or a selection of vegan sweets like date balls, raw slices or cookies. This is a great chance to show off how amazing vegan food is.
If a family members asks what they can make for you, given them some suggestions! More often that not they genuinely want to make sure you’re accommodated for, and they might be excited to try a new recipe. Whether the meal is a hit or miss, let them know you are super appreciative for the thought and effort
Prepare your answers to common questions (and jokes)
They’re inevitable, and you’ll get tired of them quickly. But, questions and comments, however snarky, are an opportunity open a genuine and level-headed conversation about veganism with a family member.
Some questions and remarks could include:
- are you STILL vegan?
- so what made you go vegan?
- how do you get enough (insert nutrient here)?
- but what if you were stuck on a dessert island with only a pig and a chicken?
- but how to you survive without (insert animal product)?
In these moments, choose your ‘battles’. If a family member seems genuinely curious, start the conversation. If it seems like they’re just trying to rouse a response from you, then stick to a one line answer and leave it there.
Minimalist Vegan has some great suggestions for how to respond when you’re the only vegan at the table.
Remind yourself why you went vegan
Unfortunately, a lot of people like to argue against veganism, which can be exhausting.
The next time you feel attacked at a family dinner, remind yourself why you went vegan and feel good about sticking with a healthy diet, helping animals, and doing your part to prevent climate change.ChooseVeg
Fortunately, remembering why you went vegan can help you cope. I used to re watch scenes from my favourite vegan documentaries or scroll through inspiring social media accounts.
For practical tips and advice on navigating relationships with non-vegans, watch this presentation by Dr Melanie Joy. Dr Melanie Joy has produced some amazing and insightful resources on this topic, so definitely checkout her website.
This comes down to what you’re comfortable with. While you’re happy to help in the kitchen, perhaps you draw the line at helping stuff the turkey or marinate the chicken. If you’re asked to do something you’re not comfortable with, clearly and politely and say you’re happy to help with something else.
Setting these expectations early on means they’ll know not to ask in the future.
If you feel uncomfortable or upset by something a family member has set, quietly let them know. They might think it’s ‘all in good fun’, but if you pretend it’s ok then it will keep happening.
respond from a place of love
Just remember that, unless you were born vegan, you have been in their shoes before. I certainly asked some ignorant questions and made some very broad assumptions about veganism only a few years ago.
Lead by example, stay positive and always act from a place of love and respect. Regurgitating the same answers to the same questions from one gathering to the next can leave you feeling like a broken record. However, this could be the first time a family member has heard the information you’re sharing (they haven’t had their head in books and documentaries like you have!).
If you show respect and kindness, you’ll likely get it back. After all, you don’t want to be know as “that vegan who ruins family gatherings”…
Every family is different
Knowing how to navigate and survive family gatherings as a vegan can be a long process of trial and error.
Everyone seems to have at least one cousin or uncle who loves talking fishing or the time they cooked a pig on a spit (urgh). Eventually, the novelty of you being vegan will wear off and fade into the background. It takes time, but at the end of the day, you being vegan isn’t (and should be) to focal point of the event.
Remember that you being vegan isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the main focal point of your catch up. Be patient, breathe, and remember you’re there to enjoy time with your loved ones. You’ve got this!
How do you handle family gatherings as a vegan? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!