Our family is Puerto Rican and Sicilian, and for us, the concepts of family and food are almost synonymous. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are particularly important times of the year for our families to get together and express our love to one another with sharings of our favorite cultural foods. When I became vegan, I needed to find a way to stay connected to the food I love and the people that cooked it, while simultaneously honoring my own choices and new food traditions. The great thing about culture is that it is not a stagnant body of water, but rather, an ever flowing river, gathering new things and letting go of some of the old along the way. We see evidence of this as families from Puerto Rico and Sicily, two very multicultural countries, that are now residing in the even more multicultural US. Our food is a profound story of our history and our present day, changing over time and location. This is how I approach my family during the holidays each year, as the beautiful river of food and culture continues to flow, and my story becomes a part of the journey. Here are 5 tips I offer to you as vegans to help you integrate your food tradition into your family’s holiday:
1. Honesty is the best policy.
Generally, I find it helpful to let my family know what my dietary needs are as soon as possible before a gathering. If it is new to your relatives, it is helpful to give them time to adjust, and can help to reduce awkward moments during the holiday. Occasionally, my family will crack a joke or two, but overall they truly love to make us happy and well fed, and will usually do whatever they can to make that possible. It is helpful to explain what vegan means, by specifically requesting no meat (including fish), dairy, honey, or eggs. It’s even more helpful to tell them what you love to eat, and even suggest some simple things they can make, buy or replace. I have seen so much joy come from hosts who watch us enjoy the special meal they have put together for us when we arrive.
2. Bring a vegan version of a family recipe.
I love experimenting with my favorite family recipes to make them vegan. I often find it to be relatively easy to replace certain products with vegan milk, vegan butter, and egg replacer, to make a vegan version of my family’s favorite dish. My family is often surprised when they don’t taste the difference. Generally speaking, I try to avoid introducing my family to meat alternatives right away, and usually stick to recipes that convert more easily without notice. I usually bring my own protein separately, with a little extra to share with those brave family members who are willing to try it.
3. Offer to cook together.
Cooking together can bring you and your loved ones together, and help loosen some of the tension of understanding or accepting your diet choices. When I was 18 years old, I went on a solo trip to visit my family in Puerto Rico, and had to break the news to them that I was vegan. At first they were a bit confused, but then my aunt called me into the kitchen and was excited that she thought of a traditional recipe we could make together. That experience has stayed in my mind to this day, and since then I thoroughly enjoy making vegan versions of traditional recipes with my family.
4. Impress with dessert.
Usually, the best way to impress my family with vegan food is by making an awesome vegan dessert. This also insures that we have an awesome vegan dessert to eat too. Making delicious vegan desserts, such as vegan apple pie or cookies, are relatively easy and are sure to please.
5. Practice gratitude.
Throughout the holidays, and particularly as family is making food accommodations for us, I try to remember the importance of showing my gratitude every chance I get. Ultimately, food in most families is an expression of love. Each time I visit and they have vegan ingredients waiting for me in the fridge or vegan food placed on the table, I show them how much appreciate it. When you return home, sending a thank you card, email or call may make your family even more enthusiastic about incorporating your vegan diet into the next family gathering.