A shorter version of this also appeared in Milk Bar magazine:
Link to Milkbar
Christmas is quite stressful for most people. Add being the only vegan in your family and it can get quite anxiety riddled. Depending on how supportive your family is or how new to being vegan you are you may feel overwhelmed on how to deal with the gigantic leg of ham on the table or the full sized turkey or even Nannas well intentioned but ill-informed views. A few hints and tips I've picked up over the years on dealing with eating in group scenarios, particularily with people who feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions about your food choices.
1. My first rule about veganism is I do not talk about it around food. If you are meeting people for the first time at a group meal it's usually the first thing they learn about you. I've found most people genuinely curious which is lovely but its not really the right time to explain why you are vegan. I just politely tell them that I've found it not the best time to talk about such things but if they are really interested I am happy to talk to them later.
2. Avoiding any conflict and attention is my second step. If you are eating at a restaurant for Christmas dinner or lunch, find out the venue and call them at least a week before to find out what you can eat or if you can request a special meal. Most venues these days are knowledgeable about veganism and happy to cater for it.
3. If you are having a home dinner/lunch (or at a family members) and its not considered rude in your culture, offer to bring a dish. This is the best way to show examples of the constant question 'gee what do vegans eat' and it guarantees you will have something to eat. Most people are well intentioned but they don’t understand ingredients like we do (I've been offered 'vegan' jelly, fish pie, vegies roasted in duck fat etc etc).
4. If there are other vegetarians or vegans in your family collaborate with them for a few dishes, that way you will all have enough to eat and safety in numbers. The more vegetarians there are to cater for the less 'unreasonable' your dietary requirements will seem.
5. If it will rock the boat too much to bring a dish (hello! my family has many territorial chefs) offer to help prepare the salads and vegies. That way you can salvage some food before it gets slathered in parmasean or mayonnaise.
6. If all else fails and your family are quite hostile to your veganism pack a sandwich and eat it out of sight after picking at whatever you could salvage from the main meal. Its one meal out of your life and although its hurtful and it sucks that your family are not supportive of you there's really no point in being hostile back. It took ten years of being variously vegetarian and vegan for my family to finally accept it. Christmas is about being together and sharing, try your best to have a good time, one day your family will come around.
7. Finally I've had to learn to be more gracious and diplomatic. My veganism is about compassion which I have had to learn to extend to the people around me. Friends and family members have tried REALLY hard in the past to accommodate my veganism but there is a soy cheese in it with casein or dark chocolate with a small amount of milk solids etc. I've had to make judgement calls at those points where I've felt it would far more hurt the feelings of the person if I refuse based on tiny ingredient than to eat a small amount and tell them it was delicious (but remember to help them with ingredients choices next time).