It’s all about creating a safe and welcoming space for everyone involved.
Tis' the season for family gatherings around the dinner table, holiday events with your co-workers and friends, and all around indulging in some of your favorite comfort dishes and meals. It's a time for letting go of the rules and enjoying those closest to you as you prepare to close out one year, and usher in the new. But, what happens when your friend or family member is vegan or has differing dietary needs or restrictions?
Serial entrepreneur and musician Dominique Side aka Vgn Bae Dom understands exactly how that scenario can go. As a fully transitioned vegan for over 5 years, Side has learned how to navigate the sometimes uncomfortable spaces in which everyone involved may not be vegan.
"My veganism is grounded in compassion," said Side. "Compassion for other beings, including humans, because veganism doesn't really focus on human rights per se. Also, compassion for the planet and then for myself—that's where the health component comes in. There is a spiritual aspect for me, too."
With a household that is half vegan and half non-vegan, she has learned how to find balance and practice that same compassion when it comes to everyone understanding each other's choice. As you prepare for upcoming gatherings, we wanted to highlight a few ways that you, too, can come to understand your friends and family members' dietary choices this season, especially as vegans.
Extend some grace
This applies to vegans as well as non-vegans in your family or household. During gatherings, non-vegans may have genuine questions in hopes of getting a better understanding of their loved one's lifestyle. Rather than going into dinners with your guard up, mentally prepare in advance for the questions to come.
"The questions are not coming from a place of your family member wanting to be cruel," she said. "If they ask why you choose to eat or not eat certain things, just explain your reasoning without making the other person feel bad. Always aim to create a safe space, and that goes for everyone."
As for non-vegans, don't judge your vegan family member for their choices.
"Oftentimes in Black families, and this is honestly common human behavior, we tend to make jokes or get passive-aggressive when it comes to an issue we don't understand. Just don't approach the topic at all unless you're going to ask thoughtful questions."
Debone all meats ahead of guests arriving
Sitting at the table and watching a turkey or ham being carved can be uncomfortable for a vegan person due to their beliefs around animal cruelty. Consider pulling your meats off and discarding all bones and inedible pieces prior to guests sitting down to eat.
"Another thing that people often don't realize is that you can smell the fat from meats, even while carving, and it can be overwhelming. When I've hosted Thanksgiving with my partner and other family members who aren't vegan, I've had the turkey completely deboned before being delivered to our home. This way it makes things more tolerable for everyone involved."
Allow vegans to bring dishes or even offer extra vegan-friendly snacks
If you're in charge of hosting, you typically want your menu to look a certain way. Whether that means knowing that you prepared everything yourself or by assigning guests specific dishes to bring. Side says consider your family member by allowing them to bring at least one vegan-friendly dish as well.
"If you're entertaining people with dietary restrictions, it's nice to allow them the option to bring something that they can also enjoy with everyone else. Even when you're trying to make concessions for them, sometimes you may still accidentally include animal products or ingredients they cannot eat in dishes. For instance, people will try to make salads to accommodate me, but oftentimes I still can't eat it because they've already mixed in things like cheese or eggs. Or, they may only have ranch as a dressing."
To plan ahead for these types of mistakes, she suggests instead allowing guests to build their own salad and individually separate the toppings. You could even set out other vegan-friendly items for them to snack on, like almonds, or fresh fruit and veggies.