How to survive Christmas as a vegan
AH, Christmas, the time of year where you get to stuff your face with food and drink, soak up the wonderful memories with family, and cross your fingers and hope your family like the presents you chose for them.
Ok, now let's be more honest: Christmas can also be a minefield.
You have to awkwardly fake-laugh at the inappropriate jokes told over the table, pretend you absolutely adore that hideous sweater your great-aunt knitted for you, and pretend that you all get along like a house on fire 100% of the time.
Add in something controversial to the mix and it could spell disaster.
Now I've been (98%) vegan for about two years now, which basically means among many I'm fair game for all the tired jokes, demeaning comments, and "well-meaning" but entirely unscientific (and unsolicited) advice about my dietary needs.
Being a vegan, or someone with any other special dietary needs, at Christmas can be bloody hard work.
While the family chows down on their roast supper or fresh seafood lunch, what are you to do?
When your mother's extraordinary rumballs are brought out, how could you possibly turn them down?
And what - God help us - about the alcohol?
Well, a few quick answers to those:
1. Bring your own substitute for the animal products - I like bringing veggie sausages if there's a BBQ on the menu, or 'chicken' schnitzels if it's a roast meal. You could even offer to bring a main or side dish to share with everyone.
2. Make your own nibblies to share! There are even some delicious, vegan-approved rumball recipes floating around the internet...
3. Don't sweat - many alcoholic beverages are vegan! Barnivore.com has a full listing of brands and kinds of wine, beer, cider, and liquors telling you whether they are or are not vegan (ie. Whether their final product contains animal products, or if animal products have been used in their refining process). For vodka lovers like me - choose the Absolut over the Smirnoff. Thank me later.
The main thing to remember is to just relax, don't let this override everything else, and enjoy the celebrations.
So you received a woollen sweater, a leather wallet, or beauty products that have been tested on animals and possibly contain your furry friend's by-products in them - what do you do?
I'm fairly awkward myself, and try not to make things even more awkward, so generally if I'm given something I know I won't or refuse to use, I will take them home and then later pass them on to someone who will use them.
If you're feeling brave, and know that you can talk to the gift giver opening with offending them, you may wish to explain why you don't use said item, and offer it back to them for their use.
In addition, when gift giving, stick to your morals, but understand that your grandma might not be as excited by the prospect of that book detailing the incredible benefits of a plant-based diet through a decades-long scientific study as you were.
Maybe buy her the cute pyjamas and bottle of scotch instead.
If something is offered to you and you're not sure whether it is vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free/nut-free, politely enquire about the ingredients, but don't make a big deal about it, and always smile and thank that person for the offer - they're just trying to be hospitable, they're not trying to poison you.
As stated above, it's always a good idea to bring something you know that you will be able to chow down on without worries - whether that is a whole dish, a single portion of food for yourself, or a snack stowed away in your bag.
I usually have a Clif bar in my handbag all year round.
As much as they may annoy, anger, or genuinely upset you, try not to bite at the jokes or the comments - they're mainly created for a reaction.
You may wish to try to educate your family and friends about your choices, and it's always great when the situation is warm enough for that.
But recognise when that's not going to go down well, or even cause an argument, and take a step back - hell, remove yourself from the room if need be. Christmas is for love, not for fighting.
Understand that some people aren't ready to see anything differently to their point of view - at least not yet - and that's not about you.
It's sometimes a good idea to take a seat at the opposite end of the table from anyone you think may try to indulge in that behaviour, and may attempt to get on your nerves about your dietary choices or requirements.
And if all else fails, and your vegan Christmas is a shambles, indulge heartily on those vegan-approved alcoholic beverages.