We recently gave a talk at Vegan Connections covering some of the potential challenges of being vegan at this time of year and we thought it would be handy to cover it as a blog post with links to some of the things we mentioned. This will be of most use to new vegans and people who are not yet vegan, but longer-term vegans may also find some helpful tips. The talk seemed to go well, with people finding it useful so we hope you do too!
Firstly, an easy one. What to eat!
In terms of food and drink, there are so many options now that it's impossible to cover even a fraction of it. We can only highlight some of the things that came to mind.
Most high street supermarkets have a wide range of vegan options now and most are doing a Christmas range this year for the first time. Many have vegan mince pies, Christmas pudding and some kind of nut roast or alternative main plus extras like cheese boards and boxes of chocolates. The three main areas to check out for specialist vegan foods are the Free From section in the chilled area, dry foods area and freezer section. For products you don't know, take care to check for the "vegan" label/ingredients as most supermarkets mix free from gluten / free from dairy but not eggs etc with fully plant-based products.
You can search on line easily. Putting vegan into the search function on a shop’s website will usually bring up everything vegan they have to offer and you can filter for types of food. You can also get lots of suggestions from vegan social media pages and groups, including our Food and Treats photo album on our Facebook page. When you know what a product looks like that can help. https://www.facebook.com/pg/goveganscotland/photos/?tab=album&album_id=354603121330038
If you would rather avoid the big supermarkets there are online vegan businesses such as Alternative Stores and The Vegan Kind, and independent shops such as Quality Vitamin & Herbs in Glasgow and Hanover Health in Edinburgh. There are also many independent plant-based businesses in Scotland such as Nutcrafter Creamery, Sgaia Vegan Mheats and Cool Jerk Vegan Pies. It's great to support local vegan-run businesses whenever possible.
Most people cook at least some of their Christmas meals themselves. There are so many recipes online. One of the easiest things to do until you find the recipe pages you like is to search for your whatever dish you want to make and add the word "vegan". Loads of recipes will come up and you can check a few to find one that works for you in terms of ingredients and how complicated it seems. We have some recipes in an album on Facebook, mostly easier recipes with few ingredients, and each has a link to the page so you can follow them / find other recipes if you like their style. https://www.facebook.com/pg/goveganscotland/photos/?tab=album&album_id=357558601034490
Main meal options
Easy to follow videos are a great help. Maybe practice beforehand to reduce the stress if you are hosting. Make what you can in advance.
Here are a few recipes for this time of year.
A personal favourite for Christmas dinner is Bosh and their mushroom wellington.
Someone else cooking for you
Many of us are lucky enough to have Xmas dinner made for us. The worst thing we can do to someone preparing a meal for a lot of people is to turn up and tell them on the day that we’re now vegan! I try to think about it from their perspective, they're cooking for a bunch of people with lots of different preferences, if I was the cook I’d want to know well in advance about any particular needs. If they've cooked for me before they're going to assume there's no change unless I tell them things have changed. Tell them as soon as possible.
It's important to make it clear what we don’t consume. Many people only have a vague understanding of what vegans do and don't eat, so I always make sure they know I don't eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs or honey. It can also help to explain why we don't consume animal products. Without that explanation many assume it’s a diet or preference. If we explain that it’s a moral issue hopefully most will be understanding. For family and friends you will want them to be aware of this in any event, as we’ll come onto. I'd try to be as helpful as possible, remembering that they will not necessarily know about products that are suitable for vegans. We can offer to bring our own main / trimmings etc. We can ask them what they're making and how (e.g. butter on veg / tatties) so that we know what to bring. Most people will want to accommodate in which case we can help them with alternatives, being ready to answer any questions they have.
Most spirits are vegan just look out for things like milk, cream, honey which can be in some special spirit drinks or cocktails. Most supermarkets now label the wines that are suitable for vegans. Barnivore is a handy website to check alcohol for suitability, as is Vegan Tipple. We have examples of suitable alcohol in our album https://www.facebook.com/pg/goveganscotland/photos/?tab=album&album_id=354908847966132
Examples of supermarket searches for vegan wine:
Vegan baileys style drinks include Besos, Bailey's Almande and the M&S drink:
But it is very easy to make your own. One option is Khalua or the salted caramel flavour with your choice of plant milk, over ice.
A very easy Vegan Baileys recipe:
Mix together cashew milk, whisky and a dash of maple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice to chill and pour over more ice in a short tumbler.
Talking about Veganism
Everyone’s family is different and you will know them best. We can only talk in very general terms here, based on our experience.
Sitting around the dinner table on Christmas day is probably not the best time to challenge people about their consumption of animals.
However, a vegan at a dinner table is a challenge to non-veganism, even if they don’t open their mouth. They are living without consuming animal products and that’s a challenge to people around them who do. We should always expect our veganism to be asked about when we eat with non-vegans. It will come up. It’s a question of how we manage that.
It usually helps to let family and friends know in advance that you’re vegan and why. Giving that clear explanation of your decision should help them to understand more and make it less likely that they try to undermine or ridicule you on the day. It can also be really helpful in terms of encouraging them to consider their own relationship with other animals. You're talking about your own perspective, rather than challenging their behaviour, making it more likely that they will hear you out, and many people will be prompted by that to consider their own actions. Don't expect that to happen immediately, or at least don't expect them to let you know what they're thinking. My approach with family, friends and colleagues has been to make sure they understand what veganism is (respecting the rights of other animals), why I’m vegan (because I realised I was paying people to use and kill animals for me), leaving them in no doubt about what it means to me, but then to let it sit with them. There is something to be said for living by example with family & friends, but only if we’ve made sure they understand what it is and why we’re vegan. I then wait for them to bring it up with me, and they do!
Even if we tell people in advance, it will probably still come up on the day. The best thing to do is anticipate the questions and think about your answers in advance. "Why are you vegan? What do you eat? Don’t you miss….. What are you eating? What is it? Is that healthy? Where do you get your protein?" etc etc. These are questions vegans hear all the time, but can still be asked genuinely. I always assume questions are genuine unless very clearly not and even then, answering logically and factually can lead to a genuine discussion.
Then there are the situations where the vegan is being picked at, they’re looking for a debate or maybe an argument. You’ll probably know if there’s someone in your family who is likely to be like that. "Lions though; what if you were on a desert island?; animals would take over the world; these animals wouldn’t exist" etc etc. Again, even if said in a derogatory way I find it best to respond logically and factually wherever possible. The book Eat Like You Care by Gary Francione and Anna Charlton is an excellent resource for great answers to most of these questions. Try to stay calm, remember there are good answers to all of these questions, which have all been asked many times before. If you don’t know the answer you can just say you don’t have the answer right at that moment but you’ve no doubt there is an answer and you’ll ping it to them later. We don't become experts in animal rights overnight. Try to keep in mind that very often people behave like that because they’re grappling with their own conscience about what we’re doing to animals, they feel defensive, they might be putting up every argument they can think of for why they shouldn’t look into veganism more themselves. Answer logically and rationally as best you can and hopefully they reflect on the new information they go home with. Try not to get into a heated debate, but if you do get a bit emotional later on after a few drinks don’t feel too bad about it, most of us have done that at some point!
Sides and sauces
Cranberry sauce and gravy. Quick & easy. https://youtu.be/N14vSvpVfGE (This link has recipes for stuffing, Xmas pudding, mince pies and Christmas cake too.....12 recipes altogether plus other stuff like whipped cream!!)
Bread sauce (Makes approximately 1 litre)
600ml Oatly of choice (other plant milks will do)1 onion, halved & studded with approx 12 cloves 1 bay leaf pepper corns150g fresh white breadcrumbs50g vegetable margarine, optional
Method. Put the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns into a medium saucepan and pour in the Oatly oat drink. Bring the liquid up to just below boiling and take off the heat. Leave for 2 hours to allow the aromatic flavours to infuse the Oatly.
Remove the onion, bay & pepper and keep them to one side. Add the breadcrumbs, put the pan back on and cook gently over a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs have swelled.
Season with salt and pepper and stir in the marg, if using. You can use this immediately or chill and reheat it. If you are going to keep it for any time, pop the onion and aromatics back in to continue adding flavour.
Obviously vegans are not going to spend money on animal products, even if they are for someone else. That’s obvious to us but it may not be to others. It's best to explain to friends and family where we’re coming from, why we won’t be buying animal products or anything tested on animals etc as gifts. If they suggest something specific that is not suitable for vegans you can source a vegan equivalent. It is now very easy to find a vegan alternative to commonly bought Christmas gifts. Check out Etsy for hand-made gifts, or search vegan on line. ‘Not on the high Street’ has a good selection too, and again Alternative Stores or The Vegan Kind. Check out specialist vegan products like Eden Perfume, or vegan artists or photographers who will do commissions and maybe donate the fee to a vegan charity. Many gifts can be bought at fairs such as this one, saving on postage costs. You can also get vouchers for many of our vegan restaurants, cafes and shops.
Again, it's always best if people know you’re vegan and what that means in advance so we avoid the awkward situation where you’re given something non-vegan. If you get something that’s from animals you’re not going to want to use, wear or eat it. There are a number of possibilities for what you can do with it. None of them is perfect. A product made from or using animals has been bought and we can’t change that. Options include giving to charity, a foodbank, a work raffle, non-vegan family or friends, or sell it and donate the money to an animal sanctuary. None are ideal as we’re putting animal products back into circulation. If it’s something non-vegans would buy anyway, from another source, then donating it is usually preferable to binning it.
The bigger question might be, will that person give you non-vegan things again? It can be awkward to raise that but some will ask you if you liked your gift or say if you don’t like it they have the receipt and can replace it. That gives an opportunity to explain why it’s not suitable. As ever, there are better ways of saying this. "It's a lovely colour / design, but I don’t wear wool because ……" etc. It's another opportunity to explain veganism, and again it's about your perspective so they can't really argue with it and they may reflect on it.
Traditional Xmas pudding can be bought vegan from many supermarkets and served with vegan cream, ice cream or white sauce.
You can make your own easily, although the cooking time is quite long because of the steaming process. Recipe in this 12 days of Xmas: https://youtu.be/N14vSvpVfGE
Some supermarkets are selling vegan desserts now. Asda have a chocolate Torte, and a new chocolate and raspberry dome. Sainsbury are stocking Daiya chocolate cheesecake. Waitrose have chocolate torte in a 2 slice pack. Tesco have a couple of desserts in the Wicked range. Frozen apple strudel is often accidentally vegan. Search supermarkets on line for vegan or check out Accidentally Vegan or Vegan Womble for the latest vegan offerings, and our Food and Treats photo album on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/goveganscotland/photos/?tab=album&album_id=354603121330038 . There are now too many to keep up!
Mince pies are marked vegan in Asda, Waitrose essential are vegan and the Co-op puff pastry mince pies are suitable for vegans. Greggs also have accidentally vegan mince pies this year, and Waitrose are selling a vegan Xmas cake this year.
Most supermarkets sell ice cream, Birds custard powder (not the instant) is sfv made with plant milk. Or buy Alpro ready made custard. Alpro, Asda and M&S have off the shelf vegan cream alternatives. Oatly have creme fraiche and pouring cream. If you go to a specialist shop or shop online there are other alternatives, such as soyatoo.
Or you can make your own:
Clotted cream: 50g vegan butter (vitality or Pure)75g icing sugar4-6 tblsp coconut cream (the thick stuff at the top of the tin) Mix together the vegan butter and icing sugar using an electric whisk. Whisk for a few minutes until you have a buttercream. Add the coconut cream a bit at a time until you have a light fluffy cream with no lumps. I like to add a few drops of vanilla essence or a vanilla pod.
Many of us donate to foodbanks at this time of year (and at other times). It's a sad fact that so many in Scotland are relying on foodbanks rather than being properly supported by the state. Of course vegans will only purchase vegan products to donate, and there are plenty of options (e.g. dry pasta, tins of beans and pulses, coffee, tea, chocolate etc etc, non-tested and vegan toiletries from Superdrug etc, reusable sanitary products etc). Since everything we are donating is suitable for vegans it makes sense to make the food bank aware of that, and to package up our donation so that it is kept separate from the general stuff, so that the foodbank has the option of keeping it separate at the foodbank and making it available to anyone who lets them know they are avoiding animal products. We know from previous years that some foodbanks are being asked about this and are doing their best to provide suitable stuff. To help foodbanks and people who are trying to live vegan in difficult circumstances, I box up my stuff and label it "Everything in this box is suitable for vegans. Food is free from meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey. Toiletries are not tested on animals and free of animal ingredients. I know you will be very stretched, but it would be great if you could make this available to people who are trying to avoid animal products. Thank you for everything you do."
Cheese and chocolates
There are so many vegan cheeses in the supermarkets now. Personally I like the Tesco Jalapeno one, and Asda's cheddar. Daiya mozzarella (Sainsbury's) also melts really well. When I first went vegan I liked the Vegusto piquant, available online and in specialist shops. Something to keep in mind, particularly in relation to cheese and chocolate is that your taste buds change a lot when you stop consuming animal products. It happens quite quickly, after only a couple of weeks of no animal products you will likely notice a difference, but it continues to happen over time, so if you don't like a particular vegan alternative at first you may well like it later. For a cheeseboard I'd recommend nut cheeses. Nutcrafter do an amazing range which are available online, at festivals and in Hanover Health in Edinburgh and QVH in Glasgow. You'll be surprised how easy it is to make your own. This is a favourite as it's so easy and fast, and often you don't even need to drain it much before putting in the oven. You don't need a cheesecloth, you can just put it in a kitchen towel / strainer. Oh and you don't need dill oil! http://www.maplespice.com/2011/04/baked-almond-feta-with-dill-oil.html
There are so many chocolates now too. Check out an up to date list on Vegan Womble: https://veganwomble.co.uk/boxes-of-chocolates-biscuits-and-more/?fbclid=IwAR2ItSml5T9rstExNLI3JLAdvTVYsxhgcfKBIfiASPCpx6BPcJgfYF8Rw5Y and see our Food and Treats photo album on our Facebook page for the ones spotted in Scotland https://www.facebook.com/pg/goveganscotland/photos/?tab=album&album_id=354603121330038
We hope this has been helpful. We hope you have a lovely time over Xmas. If you're struggling you may want to turn to vegan friends and/or closed vegan Facebook groups for a bit of venting / support, although these groups can also be a bit much at times so just find what works for you. You're doing the right thing, you're avoiding animal exploitation and killing, and that's what matters.