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Saturday July 26th 2014

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How To Survive the Holidays as a Vegan

By Sarah McCartan

’Tis the season to spread holiday cheer and share good tidings of peace and joy, not being put on the defensive for one’s dietary needs.

Now you may be thinking: Why do vegans need special considerations during the holidays? Don’t they get enough attention for being different the rest of the year? Why can’t they just sit down, shut up and eat some Tofurkey?

Whether you are vegan or vegetarian (or any degree of herbivore) by values or sheer choice, or even by force—such as an allergy or another dietary intolerance or restriction—the holiday season can be an especially trying time.

From dinners to gift exchanges, everyone knows if there is one thing that is plentiful around the holidays it is food. Simply trying to navigate these settings potentially centered around or driven by food that you may not be able to eat can quickly become overwhelming and nerve-wracking. This can even result in derailing your focus from enjoying treasured moments spent with those near and dear to you.

As a “veggie,” you should feel just as prepared for the holidays as the rest of them, not exclaiming “Bah, Humbug!” And so, here is a brief look at how to survive a few festive settings you may find yourself faced with this holiday season.

The Family Dinner

Oh, you don’t eat wheat? You don’t say! No, no my dear great-aunt whom I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. I said I don’t eat MEAT. I don’t have a gluten allergy—yet. Whether you’ve told them a million times or this is a new development, it’s important to give everyone at your dinner table that just can’t seem to spell vegan, a heads up prior to sitting down at the table. Instead of providing a list of what you can’t eat, remind them of what you can and that by making some simple replacements, such as trading butter for a vegetable-based margarine or swapping it all together with oil, you can eat many of the items that make their way to the table. Go a step further and bring your own dish! Try vegan-izing a classic casserole, or whipping up a batch of vegan cookies. Cookies put a smile on everyone’s face.

The Work Hoorah

Some people have the luxury of their place of work catering to their each and every need. Then there’s everybody else. If your work gathering is scheduled to take place at a local eatery, research ahead of time to see what vegan selections may be available. The same research comes into play if the party is at someone’s home. It is totally acceptable to casually inquire whether or not there are animal ingredients hidden in any given dish, and if you don’t know, the safest choice is to politely decline. Eating something beforehand if you feel you won’t be able to eat there is also a good rule of thumb. Trust me, everyone can deal with hurt feelings more than they can with your stomach defaming their restroom.

The good news is: holiday parties also tend to involve hefty amounts of alcohol, shifting the focus away from food. If the party is at someone’s residence, find out if you can bring your own festive beverage to contribute! Remember drinks such as Eggnog can be easily traded with seasonal soy-based nog, widely available at your local grocery. Dress it up with a dash of cinnamon and a hefty splash of the good stuff (strong liquor) and carry on your merry little way!

The Out of Town Destination

Maybe you are going out of town this holiday to a vegan oasis, San Fran, Austin, New York, Portland or somewhere booming with a farmer’s market on every corner. Lucky you! It is just as likely you are going out of town or even returning home to a place that does not provide you the luxury of running out to snag your own food. Instead, this leaves you at the mercy of the dreaded—someone else’s refrigerator. This is where careful planning comes in to play. In these cases it is totally acceptable to practice the art of bringing your own food. As long as your intent to make your host’s life easier is clearly communicated, this can be seen as catering, rather than rude. It’s all in the delivery! So pack your cooler full of vegan favorites and hit the road jack. Stop by Ever’man before you head out of town or plot a Whole Foods along your route.

The Gift Exchange

Oh man, thank you so much for these gelatin filled candies. I can’t wait to get home with them (and throw them away). Remember, waste not want not as they say. Just because you don’t eat something, doesn’t mean you can’t pass it along to someone who does. Receive a bag of truffles? Try taking them to someone working a service industry job, forced to work through the holiday. Trust me when I say, taking your barista re-gifted delectable treats is a surefire way to get some extra cheer in your morning cup o’ joe.

When preparing for a gift exchange or any gift giving for that matter, regardless of the recipient’s dietary choices, consider using this time to educate on eco-friendly purchases. If you can’t feel good about what you get, at least you can feel good about what you give!

No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, keep in mind that the health and happiness of yourself and your merry kin should remain at the very top of your list. ’Tis the season for positive thinking, healthy choices and a hell of a lot of soy-nog to wash away any sudden stress that comes your way!