How to Tell Your Family You're a Vegetarian (or Vegan).
Wait, You're a Vegetarian?
Plus 6 vegetarian dishes to inspire your family to eat more plants
With Halloween over and temperatures outside dipping into the teens, the holiday season is quickly approaching. We’ll be spending more time with our family these next couple months than is even good for us. This means communal meals and potlucks galore, which for vegetarians can often mean crudités and dessert for dinner. If you’re the only one in your family who doesn’t eat meat and/or animal products, you know that navigating a holiday meal can be a minefield… and not just because your aunt Suzy believes that bacon bits are their own food group. Jokes, comments, and questions about your dietary and lifestyle choice can cause more than their fair share of tension from concerned family members, and you might wonder how you can share your reasoning for your choice without starting an all-out food fight.
I’ve been dabbling in vegetarianism since my early tween-age years, so my friends and family have had a lot of time to adjust to my dietary preferences. But while vegetarianism, veganism, and even “flexitarianism” are on the rise these days, many of us – especially in middle America – still face a lot of skepticism from those around us. There’s a lot of outdated misinformation out there about vegetarian diets, and people can easily feel defensive if they feel like you’re making a judgement on their own choice to eat animals.
Eating a plant-based diet makes you happier and healthier, cuts your carbon footprint, and is pretty darn delicious. Even cutting meat out of one meal a week can have an effect on your overall health and societal consumption levels (shout-out, Meatless Mondays!). Increasing our fruit and veggie intake, even if meat continues to be on the menu, is something everyone should be able to get behind – both for themselves and the planet. Check out a few of the most common questions and comments you might have to field before dessert, plus 6 of our favorite holiday-worthy vegetarian recipes.
Wait, why are you a vegetarian?
Advice: Tell your story.
This is a personal question, and you should answer with whatever reasons hold true for you. As a vegetarian, you’ll answer this question so often that you may develop a short elevator pitch – and this might change over the years as you learn more. In 2003, when I first tried cutting meat out of my diet, it was mostly due to my love for animals and inability to separate those cute farm animal faces from the burger on my plate. In college, I learned more about the environmental impact of the meat industry, and this strengthened my resolve. These days, I’m also more aware of my own health and the impact my diet has on my body and mind. Whatever your reasons, share them. You don’t have to cover the exhaustive list of all the benefits of being a vegetarian, as this can come off as preachy and will likely cause the questioner to become defensive. Keep it short and simple, but be honest. They wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t want to know, right?
But how are you going to get enough (fill in vitamin here)?
Advice: Debunk their fears.
The #1 myth about vegetarianism is that we can’t get all of the nutrients we need from a plant-based diet. The people asking this question are doing it out of love – they want to make sure you’re healthy! Luckily, a vegetarian diet is totally healthy. Thank them for their concern, and share the facts: vegetarians can get every nutrient they need from a meatless diet. Of course, the more restrictive a diet, the more planning it may take to ensure you’re getting everything you need (for example, vegans who don’t eat eggs or dairy may need to take B12 supplements) but in general we get just as much protein, iron, and zinc (and whatever else they’re concerned about) as our meat-eating peers – with less of the bad stuff.
But humans are meant to eat meat, it’s science.
Advice: Don’t get into an alternative-facts fight.
People can read studies (or, let’s be honest, headlines) that support any position they want. Your uncle Steve probably isn’t lying when he says he just saw something that said a vegetarian diet actually increases your risk of cancer, but research data are INCREDIBLY complex, nuanced, and context-specific, and unless you and your uncle both have PHD’s in statistical analysis, it probably isn’t worth getting into an argument over this. Instead, point out that people all around the world have been eating an all or mostly vegetarian diet since the beginning of time, and remind them that you’re getting everything you need from an animal-free diet (see above question).
I could never give up meat.
I don’t know how you do it.
Advice: Make it about you. When I talk about my choice to be a vegetarian, I pepper my dialogue with “I,” and “well, for me, …” Best case scenario, I say something about my choice that causes someone to want to make a change in their own lifestyle. Worst case, they roll their eyes at my millennial ways and take an extra serving of turkey. Either way, I’m not here to feel holier-than-thou – I’m just here to enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal with the people I love. In the end, this is your decision and yours alone. While you might love for everyone in the world to stop eating meat so we can literally stop climate change in its path, your grandmother’s table is probably not the best place to proselytize. It’s important to keep in mind that every person makes decisions every day to make the world a better place. While I have cut meat out of my diet in part to reduce my carbon footprint, I’ve also racked up more frequent flier miles than the rest of my extended family combined, which probably counteracts all the cows I’m not eating – and then some. My point is, being a vegetarian is my choice. It’s something that makes me feel better, that’s easy enough for me to do, and that’s good for the earth. But it’s just one way to care about the planet and the people who live on it.
At my family meals, the salad now gets bacon bits on the side instead of mixed in, and on Easter my wonderful aunts leave a corner of the egg bake sausage-free, just for me. It’s taken some flexibility on all sides, and I’m still at the butt-end of the occasional rabbit-related-joke, but we’re all still family, and you will be too! Not everyone will understand your choices, but they will come to accept and respect it if you stick to your guns. And who knows, you might even plant some seeds of change in those hard-skinned Midwestern meat-eaters (my cousin offered her picky daughter one of my veggie dogs at the latest family BBQ!)!
6 Holiday-Worthy Vegetarian Dishes
That even meat-lovers love.
One sure-fire way to bring everyone together? Cook for them. Ask your aunt if you can help her prepare the meal this year, then swap out the cans of chicken broth for a veggie version (spoiler alert: no one will notice). If it’s a potluck you’re attending, bring a colorful addition that will stand out among the classics. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned (Thanksgiving-pun-intended) veteran, here are a few of my favorite holiday dishes so delicious that even the carnivores at your table will be asking for the recipe:
Kale and white bean stew (swap the soup course for this hearty main)
Candied pecan, pear and pomegranate salad (add some greens to your holiday table)
Mushroom gravy (as-good-as-turkey-gravy)
Vegan stuffing (all of the flavor of a traditional stuffing with none of the animal by-products)
Wild rice and butternut squash salad (not just for Minnesotans anymore!)
Spinach and cheese stuffed shells (the ultimate crowd-pleasing comfort food)
Need more recipe ideas? Check out this list.
Written By Natasha Brownlee.