If you’re like a lot of people living a plant-based lifestyle, your relatives may not share your enthusiasm for veggies, fruits, and Field Roast. And since the holidays usually mean lots of potentially challenging family time, ‘Tis the season for stress!
But dinner with your meat-eating family doesn’t have to be miserable. True, it can be tough to sit next to someone chowing down on animal products when you’ve chosen a compassionate path, but a group meal can be the perfect opportunity to change minds and win hearts. You never know who you might convert over some super-delicious vegan stuffing.
In addition to taking a quick break to watch this adorable one-minute video, here are some tips for exerting a positive influence over your family — at the dinner table and beyond:
Start the holidays nonjudgmental & STAY nonjudgemental.
Giving your Great Aunt Elmira the stink eye for putting a slice of turkey on her plate probably isn’t going to convert her. Neither is launching into a 20-minute lecture on the gory details of meat production as everyone sits down to dinner. People tend to become defensive when they feel judged or attacked, so breathe, relax, and remember that you weren’t always vegan or vegetarian, either. Setting a positive and nonjudgmental example is often the best thing you can do for the animals. In the words of psychologist Gordon Hodson: “It is understandable to be angry, particularly on behalf of the animals, but as an advocate you need a cool head. Think about it this way: are you generally more convinced by angry people who yell at you and disrespect you, or are you more convinced by reasonable, thoughtful people who genuinely try to reach out to you?”
Be open to answering questions – POLITELY.
If you’re the only vegan eater at a table of omnivores, you’re almost guaranteed to get the third degree. Try to stay open and friendly about answering questions (no matter how many times you may have heard them before). You never know how your responses might impact someone at the table. Be honest, encouraging, and know your facts. Do your best to remain level headed, even if your cranky cousin berates you with sarcastic asks like, “If you were stuck on a deserted island with a pig and no food, would you eat him?” THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN SO CAN EVERYONE STOP ASKING THAT K THX BYE.
Brush up on the facts.
Sometimes vegans are caught off guard by random questions or misinformation. When you’re headed into a situation with a lot of omnivores, it can help to study up in advance. Memorize some of the most recent figures on the impact of animal agriculture, read the latest headlines (Arnold says to stop eating meat! Bacon causes cancer! Just Mayo is still just mayo!), and stand ready to offer up some interesting nuggets — preferably in a positive way. There’s always a need for lively small talk at the dinner table, and having lots to chat about might steer the conversation away from politics (because you really don’t want to hear your dad and granddad argue about the presidential debates).
Have some collateral, just in case.
It’s probably best to avoid doling out unsolicited materials, but you never know who might ask you for more info. Snag a Compassionate Action Pack or a few Vegetarian Starter Guides, and you’ll be ready to offer some support to anyone who’s veg-curious. You can always write down some of your favorite blogs or recipes, and bring along a few old cookbooks or other reading material you can pass along.
Cultivate a sense of humor.
It’s true that there’s nothing funny about animal agriculture, but having a sense of humor can be the best defense against some of life’s most painful situations. Stay as lighthearted as you possibly can. Enjoy your relatives for who they are, even if they’re not making the best choices. Tell some cute, veg-friendly jokes. Laughter can go a long way, so try to find the humor in it all. Life is too short to be perpetually serious.
Bring some delicious food & SHARE.
Even if your family members are open to having a plant-based option or two available for you, it’s always a good idea to bring something of your own. Opt for a crowd-pleasing recipe (plenty of ideas here), and make enough to share. Your creamy queso might be the first vegan food your grandma has ever had (or so she thinks — it’s hard to imagine she’s never eaten an apple). When it comes to a vegan lifestyle, tasty eats are often the strongest selling point.
SMILE & Have fun.
Nothing says “vegan eating is awesome” like having a blast and totally savoring your scrumptious food. People will notice. Vegans tend to feel a lot of pressure to always say the right thing, do the right thing, and set a shining example, but sometimes all you need to do is BE YOU. You’re already doing an amazing thing for the world, for animals, and for humans, too. Give yourself a break, let loose, and indulge in some vegan eggnog. You’ve earned it!