With approximately 9 million vegetarians and vegans in the U.S., chances are that many families will be hosting an herbivore sometime during the holiday season. It should be a no-brainer—just use soy milk in your mashed potatoes, leave the ham out of the green beans, and use margarine in place of butter. Easy, right?
Yet for some hosts, what they put on the table seems to have assumed greater importance than who’s sitting at it. Some vegans so dread being drawn into arguments about what (or who) they don’t eat that they simply forgo the whole ordeal altogether. How did it come to this?
For nonvegans, here’s how to put things in perspective. Say that in place of the turkey, it was a dead puppy lying in the middle of your festive holiday table—beheaded, roasted, disemboweled, and stuffed with bread cubes. In addition, all the side dishes—collard greens, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, etc.—had been “contaminated” with puppy body parts.
This is how a typical holiday meal looks to vegans and vegetarians, who have come to realize that turkeys, pigs, and chickens are individuals with feelings, families, and friendships, just like the family dog. They are not being fussy or “childish ingrates,” as Miss Manners recently charged, when they respectfully decline to support an industry that abuses and slaughters billions of these animals every year. They are simply listening to their hearts.
Miss Manners, shockingly, seems to have forgotten the first rule of etiquette: Be a gracious host. It’s a host’s job to make guests feel welcome and at home. All of them. Even the vegans.
So what, exactly, does being a gracious host to a vegan entail?
Tips for Making Your Holiday Meal Veg-Friendly
It depends on the guest, really—so ask! How simple is that? Most vegans are grateful for just a selection of sides. Using vegetable stock in the stuffing instead of chicken stock; leaving the ham, cheese, and bacon bits out of sides and salads (or even just a portion of them); making pie crust with vegetable shortening instead of lard; sautéing vegetables in olive oil instead of butter—all are gestures that are greatly appreciated.
If you decide to go above and beyond and prepare a special entrée, make sure it’s free of eggs and dairy products, in addition to meat. One vegan was mortified to learn later that the quiche she had politely declined at a family gathering had been made especially for her!
If your vegan guest offers to bring a dish or two, don’t take it as an affront. Take it as it is intended—an effort to relieve some of the host’s burden.
And whatever you do, don’t gang up on the vegan or mock his or her food choices. It’s fine if you want to politely ask why someone went vegan, but don’t grill the person with antagonistic and argumentative questions like “What’s the harm in eating meat once a year?” or “Plants are living beings, too!” Vegans value your support and goodwill just as much as—probably even more than—they do dairy-free sweet potato casserole topped with vegan marshmallows.
Most importantly, remember that the holidays are supposed to be about families and friends coming together, making memories, and celebrating their blessings—the food is secondary. It’s not about the bird—it’s about the bond.
Image Credit: Holiday Food photo via Shutterstock