or, How to Enjoy the Holidays while Vegan.
As the holiday season approaches, vegans tend to get a little preemptively anxious about the many festivities that will feature animals as main courses. Regardless of how long someone has been vegan, it’s still hard sometimes to be the oddball in the group and it can feel pretty terrible to watch as everyone praises the flesh on the table. Here are some of the things I and my vegan friends and clients worry about followed by some suggestions on how to cope, if not with ease, then at least with a strong and healthy state of mind.
- Aunt Judy might get upset if we don’t eat the turkey. From her perspective, she worked hard to provide a beautiful meal and we’re being ungrateful and rude.
- We’ll bring a dish to share and everyone will act like it’s poison. We’ll feel frustrated, disappointed, and rejected. We’ll return home with our nearly full crudite board with the cashew cheese we made from scratch.
- Cousin Milty will challenge us using a nonsensical argument we’ve heard a million times. Any response sounds defensive. Logic has no impact.
- What everyone else sees as a beautiful, festive meal is forever transformed for us into a display of death and destruction. Sometimes we can compartmentalize but this proves difficult on occasions when the deceased are the centerpiece. Communicating our perspective in any way feels awkward at best. It is rarely well-received and more likely will be seen as us being overly dramatic, bordering on histrionic.
- While we may love being vegan overall, we miss the days when we were more like everyone else in the room. While we love our family and friends overall, we wish it wasn’t so exhausting to be different.
- The first step toward enjoying our time with friends and family is to understand ourselves better. There are two, basic human needs that come up again and again when you’re vegan in a non-vegan world; the need to be authentic and the need to be connected to others (who are likely not vegan). When you’re making life choices that run contrary to the social and cultural norms of your family, there’s this undeniable tension between these two, important needs. Being authentic means that you get to be yourself, without having to edit out important aspects in order to be accepted. Connection includes how disagreements are handled within the context of your family or friend group. If a respectful expression of your views results in being put down or iced out, it’s unlikely you’ll feel safe enough to speak up. Your need for authenticity may not be met and you’ll feel crummy.
- Realize that you have options. You may choose to forego dinner and join your friends and/or family afterward. You may decide to host an all-vegan Thanksgiving. You may join with vegan friends for a Thanksliving fest. Perhaps you’ll talk to your family members ahead of time, and give them a heads-up about your concerns in hopes that this will alleviate tensions. If you’re an adult, it’s up to you. If you’re younger and still living with family members who don’t see things your way, you’re facing different challenges. The point is to identify where you have a bit of control and someone who is able to hear your concerns and needs.
- Plan for pushback. Express yourself with clarity and confidence. Hear the person out. Listen for the underlying need. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong with an honest, respectfully stated expression of your beliefs (even if it’s hard for the other person to hear). It’s okay to reschedule the conversation. Accept that some people will not see things your way or accept you standing by what you believe. Acknowledge their objection and re-state your reason and request. For example, you might say, “I hear your objection. My goal is to enjoy our time together. When I see animals as food, I feel very sad and it’s difficult for me to relax and enjoy myself,” and then make a request such as, “Would you be willing to make an adjustment when we eat together?”.
- Find community. Find your in-person or virtual vegan friends. Support, validate and uplift each other.
- Practice self-compassion and self-care. Be patient with yourself. Determine what activities help you feel more centered and calm when you’re feeling stressed and schedule time for those activities.
There are no easy or particularly comfortable answers when it comes to the holidays. This seems to be a universal phenomenon, even if you’re not vegan. To learn more, join me at one of my (at least) monthly Zoom gatherings. These are listed via MeetUp.com under The Vegan Spirituality Group of Philadelphia (who are kind enough to host us).
Click to view my presentation entitled “5 Tips on Dining with Non-Vegans”.