Navigating the minefield of Christmas BBQ's and parties as a vegan in a non-vegan world

A vegan Christmas

 5 tips to make it through with your relationships and grace in tact.

"What will my Nonna say?"

"My dad will disown me"

"I'll make a scene"

This time of year can be a source of anxiety, not only for those new to a plant based diet but also to our families, friends, and co-workers. I've been there and can tell you proudly that it has never been as easy as it is today.

Some may think, "It's just food right?" but most times it is so much bigger than that. It can be a minefield of emotion, tradition, deep seated beliefs, conformity and nasty ethical disagreements.  Some of us are comfortable with being a little different and taking a stand but some of us are not. All we really want is to love and be loved while maintaining our personal values and enjoying the fun months of the year.

So I've prepared these top 5 tips on how to gracefully manage holiday functions with ease, taking the stress out of it for you and your loved ones.

1. Plan ahead. Going to a BBQ? It's pretty normal for everyone to bring a plate to an Aussie summer BBQ.  For appetisers, buy or make a hummus or guacamole, these are always classic crowd favourites.  If you wanted to have something a little more exciting though, order some plant based cheeses from The Vegan Cheese Shop which are so good that even non vegans will love and wonder why they bother with the dairy kind.  On your way, swing into an ALDI to grab some of their vegan sausages or throw some vegan haloumi on the BBQ.  Most hosts won't mind giving you a meat free section of the cook top but if they act funny, say "no worries" with a smile and sneak inside and use a pan in the kitchen.

Is your event more of a luncheon or dinner where the meals will be set by the host? Then first things first, contact your host and tell them not to panic. You'll take the fuss out of it for them by bringing your own. Most are happy with this if veganism is unfamiliar to them, however some insist on catering for you.  Sweeties! If so, you can talk them through how to make the same dish they were planning to make, plant based. It's always easy to find an alternative plant based ingredient.  Google whatever dish they are making and put the word "vegan" in front of it and so many options will appear. There will be a variation that you or the host are comfortable working with. Think mozzarella salads, Melty cheese pizzas, spinach and feta pastries, the Aussie classic potato salad is so easy just by bringing along a jar of vegan mayo. A simple DIY version for vegan mayo can be found here. For dessert, you can't go past this easy baked cheesecake that tastes as good, if not better than, the traditional dairy kind! Honestly no one would notice, and definitely not care if they did.  They would be enjoying the same meals they are used to, slightly tweaked with plant based ingredients. It's never been easier! Google is your best friend when it comes to veganising anything.

2. Take two! Even if you think you may be the only vegan, always grab extra to share.  This way you don't have to hover over the BBQ to snatch your veggie sausages up before your omni friends decide they'd like to try how delicious they actually are and leave you with no food.  Making you look like an impatient child, but hey, the struggle is real, and I know how this feels. Alas, this is a good thing.  The taste of vegan alternatives these days are so delicious there's nothing for omnis to turn their noses up at (after they taste them anyway!). However, we all have that one Uncle, Boss or Stepdad who thinks all vegan food is gross and offensive to them and refuse to try it at all, but we'll get to that chat later in the list.;)

3. Mind the debate!  Naturally, people will be curious.  That curiosity can come in all sorts of manners, sometimes aggressive.  I have found it is much more peaceful to redirect those questions to a time after you're all done with eating. Sometimes it's questions in the no-harm-intended-Aussie-shit-stirring-jest and that's okay.  My 'go to' line is "I'd love to share my views and knowledge on the subject with you but for all our best interests let’s talk after lunch so no one gets put off their food" saying this with a smile shows you are being considerate of their choices, and respectful to your relationship, while diffusing a potentially uncomfortable situation for you all. Diplomacy on our part is helpful, even though we are rarely the ones to raise the question! Most of us know how awry it can go quite quickly with answering the simple question "So why don't you eat meat/cheese/eggs?".  I've lost friends over answering this question honestly. True story. Parking this educational sharing session until after your meal allows those who are curious to have had some space and time to approach the conversation more respectfully.  Then if they are genuinely curious they will be more open, and less defensive, if they aren't in the middle of slicing their steak or hoeing their cheesecake in their mouth. They will be more capable of receiving this information, and you are less in the spotlight, so you may be more comfortable sharing your knowledge in this less pressurised situation. 1:1's always seem to be more relaxed and effective conversations about these topics.

4. Educate yourself. The fiercest weapon is knowledge.  Knowledge gives you confidence in your beliefs.  When you first choose plant based eating there may be some subjects which you are uncertain on (think honey, wool, the protein myth, B12, 'plants have feelings tho' etc. Unfortunately, the non-vegan population expect you to be representing all vegans on all levels of the argument, and if you don't want them picking holes in your private beliefs it is best to know your stuff. Here is a great tool which has a succinct answer to all the common questions vegans get. School up and ninja any debate with science and facts.  The truth always wins. Alas, there will be some who choose to ignore truth and facts and poke fun at us, or the mistreatment of animals. In this instance I believe the best thing we can do is live our values, be healthy, happy and thrive in this lifestyle, living and radiating light that comes with living in alignment to our hearts. Eventually, they will come around. Even if as far as they can come is to support you, that is progress.

5. Make it fun! There is a misconception that vegans are sacrificing a common pleasure. "More for me, enjoy your lettuce" they smirk. I believe we have a great opportunity right now to show how fun and yum plant based food is, an obligation even! That myth is so 1999. Think BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwichesRustic luscious quichepotacos!, basically anything from Bosh TV and Gaz Oakley at Avant Garde Vegan. If you make colourful, delicious, food that you can share and make others happy, you will attract enthusiasm, positive curiosity, and those with open mindsets will join in!  Those that can't and won't, love them anyway. Don't take it personally. Some people find different views very challenging and it is coming from a place of fear.  You cannot heal fear with fear. Only love and warmth can do that.

The holiday season is a time of peace and joy. We want that for all living creatures and the best we can do for them is to live this lifestyle by example, to attract and to educate more people by being the vegans that we wish we knew before we knew what we know now.

Find your peace and radiate. Light attracts light. 

Merry Christmas and a happy, joyful holiday season to you all. 

Not sure what to ask for Christmas? check out the range of some hot vegan gift cards available to ask Santa for or to treat the special vegans in your life. A great gift also for vegetarians who struggle to give up cheese!