I'll never forget the first time 30 years ago we told my grandma we couldn't eat her food anymore. Grandma was a phenomenal cook and cooking was definitely one of the ways she showed us love. Sunday dinners at her house after church were pure heaven...#UNameIt, she made it. Delish!
So, when my sister, mom and I told her we were vegan, she was indignant: "Oh, ya'll done got sanctified!" Then to my mother, she said, "And Mary you done joined them!" Well, it took grandma a while to come around, but before she passed, she was baking us vegan apple pies from scratch. (I miss you, grandma!)
Well, if you're wondering how to navigate your holiday gatherings as a vegan with your omnivore family and friends, here are my top 7 tips on how to handle these situations with love and grace.
Tip #1: Never answer a question at the dinner table about why you became a vegan. Most folks don’t really want to know right then anyway. They may be feeling defensive about how they’re eating compared to you. Or if they genuinely want to know, other people at the table might not want to hear about it. So whenever you get this question, just simply suggest (with a smile) that you talk about it later.
Tip #2: If you feel you have to say something right away, try this: "I just wanted to eat healthier and I feel really good!" or "I just decided to change how I eat and it's been great!" If they press you further, that's the time to say "Well I'm sooo glad you're interested! Let's talk about it some more after dinner." If you do have that conversation later, share your story and be sure to recommend a few books and movies they can check out for more info.
You can also let them know that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world's largest organization of nutrition professionals) has recently confirmed that vegetarian and vegan diets are good for kids and adults. Their latest report states: "vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes."
Tip #3: Don’t feel you have to adjust your new food choices to accommodate your relatives. Trust me, your relatives aren’t worried about changing their eating habits for you, nor should they be. The same applies for you. Make this your mantra.
Tip #4: Be prepared so you’re not tempted to eat the chicken and mac and cheese. That may mean bringing plenty of your own vegan food (from home or your favorite veg restaurant) so you have enough for seconds and dessert, like everyone else. That way you won’t feel deprived.
Tip #5: Bring some Spicy Kale Salad. My relatives ask me to bring this dish to every family gathering. If I'm coming through the door, I have to have a big bowl of kale salad with me. So you do the same and I promise your relatives will love you for it. And it may lead them to try more vegan dishes.
Tip #6: Fix your vegan plate first. Trust me on this one. If you don't get all the food you want first, your relatives may eat up all your vegan food along with their omnivore food and you'll be left with hurt feelings and no second helpings. And be sure to put separate serving utensils on each of your vegan dishes. That way, the fork for the ham won't be used for the tofu cutlets and the spoon for the deviled eggs won't be used for the vegan mac and cheese. Again, no hurt feelings.
Tip #7: Know that all the questions (and teasing) will eventually go away. As you become easier and more relaxed about eating vegan, your relatives will take it in stride, too. And don't be surprised to find some of your relatives coming to you for advice on how to eat healthier. Who knows, you may end up being a catalyst for health improvement and disease prevention in your family.
And, if you want a great Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe that reminds you of Grandma's, check out page 26 of our free online African American Vegan Starter Guide. It's courtesy of Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, whose new Majani vegan restaurant opens on Dec 28th in Chicago. Can't wait to visit!
Have a great weekend, fam!