12 tips to surviving your first vegan Christmas
You’ve ditched the dead stuff! Good for you. Likely you’ve got your diet down, feeling balanced and bearable, despite the exclusion of anything animal. But then you come to December. A notoriously tricky time to adhere to meat-free dietary demands, despite it being classed as ‘the biggest culinary trend of 2018’. A period when inexplicably everything, even vegetable matter, is cooked or wrapped in some form of farm-dweller, which can create a festive faff for both hosts and guests.
But the solution doesn’t have to be taking the 25th off.
Though lots of advice around being vegan at Christmas alludes to the gyp you’ll get from the table, we like to be optimistic. Odds are your family and friends, or whoever you’re spending the day with, will have clued up to being meat-free as it’s gone undeniably mainstream — so the plant-based-bashing of yore will be kept to a mildly amusing minimum.
Let’s instead focus on, not the plethora of vegan recipes and alternatives (like Mira Manek’s vegan nut roast), but real life lessons I’ve learned from a few vegan Christmases:
1. Plan just a little bit in advance as, while odds are someone else will have sorted the meaty fare, the vegan options will likely fall to you (unless you’ve arranged it with someone in advance). This also means warning the hosts to allow them time to prep and get over the irritation before you arrive.
2. It likely means contributing, at absolute minimum, your bird alternative, so you can just supplement with the few things on the table that you can eat (…which may end up just being the cranberry sauce). And they sell out, fast — so you’ll be lucky to find so much as a faux breast if you go on 24th.
3. Keep an eye out for what’s going in the bread sauce. Though the packets should be okay, make sure one’s made with water instead of milk — or, ideally, just fix up a vegan version. Same goes for gravy.
4. Though most people at the table will look askance when you decline the goose fat potatoes on the basis they aren’t meat-free, do ask what everything has been cooked in. It is, inexplicably and inconveniently, a time to start putting animals in everything — though olive oil works just as well. (Though be careful who you moot that to as people get particularly touchy about food traditions around Christmas).
5. It is actually possible, with the vegan alternatives available nowadays, to make things like pigs in blankets, if you so wish. It’s a handy, light-hearted distraction (as they’ll look outrageously unappealing) to the fact you’re shunning most of the things that have have made.
6. Prepare yourself for at least a mild vegan-bashing or, if your friends and family are kind, a few slightly eyeroll-inducing questions. Just take the higher ground gracefully to avoid a a bit-too-loud-and-wine-fuelled debate about millennial dietary trends.
7. Make enough of the vegan options to allow the others to at least try it. Having an alternative meal for one is unnecessarily divisive and, if there’s anything people hate more than a vegan, it’s a stingy vegan.
8. You don’t have to go OTT, you can just not eat things containing animal products. Be proud of your admirable lifestyle choice, sure, but there’s no need to rub it in anyone else’s face — whether it’s a dairy/meat/gluten-free diet. (See also: avocado Christmas jumpers)
9. Go heavy on the interesting veg. It goes with the meaty territory that Christmas greens are generally overlooked (and overcooked), meaning only a few sad carrots and sprouts make it to the table. There are loads of game-changing recipes that mix up the flavours and cooking techniques, like gratins, which are genuinely pleasant to eat! And may appeal to the meat people too.
10. If in doubt, fill up on bread — not usually a wise move, but a less wise move is drinking wine from lunchtime on a stomach of pretty much zilch. Combine with a cuminy humous for at least a hint of Christmassy spice.
11. Speaking of alcohol, it’s worth checking the label as fairly regularly it’s been processed through isinglass (a.k.a fish bladder) — and there’s nothing that ruins a vegan’s hearty Rioja like fish bladder.
12. Though vegan cheese pales in comparison to the real thing, it’s worth having a few at the ready as the closing course is arguably the trickiest time to be dairy-free and a plain oatcake is just too drab.