When it comes to hosting holiday gatherings, there often is a mix of vegans and non-vegans to please. While this could seem like an impossible task to satisfy everyone, remember that people just want to have fun! Follow these tips plus advice from long-time vegans on how to host a successful holiday shindig.
The best strategy when hosting a vegan party for a variety of palates is to go with crowd-pleasing dishes and stay away from experimenting with new recipes and funky ingredients. Veganizing popular dishes or making foods that are naturally vegan are a safe bet.
Offer fruits and veggies alongside heartier options. A hummus board is a great option! As for drinks, don’t feel like you need to offer limitless options—just pick a few animal-friendly sips like a nice vegan wine and make sure people have plenty of water to drink. Consider a fun alcohol-free beverage, too!
Think festive and cheery. If you’re crafty, now is the time to show off your skills. There are also loads of ethically-produced holiday decorations you can find online and in stores. Or, turn to nature! Go for a stroll and snip some branches of eucalyptus, pine, or rosemary to use to bring a season feel to your home or dinner table.
Chances are, you already have some animal advocacy pieces hanging out around your place—no need to hide those. But it’s also not the time to set out animal rights propaganda or play graphic animal industry videos. Remember that animal advocacy comes in many forms, and that serving yummy food and having a good time with friends and family shows how you can live a compassionate lifestyle and still have an enjoyable social life.
Gifts are by no means a requirement, but they are a nice way to prolong the holiday cheer and spread around more vegan goodies. Whether you send your guests home with some yummy roasted nuts, decorated sugar cookies, a naturally scented candle, or even a little booklet of your favorite holiday treat recipes, make it small and sweet. Again, not a time to pass out vegan literature.
“I would say that hosting a holiday party for omnivores is not the time to test out that new fermented nut cheese you’ve been wanting to make. New foods and unfamiliar flavors can make people feel very anxious. (In other words, use a light touch with the nutritional yeast.) What I typically go for is familiar foods that can easily be made vegan, like tacos, stir-fries and casseroles, and I also tend to avoid vegan proteins and cheeses unless I know that the people have tried them and enjoy them.
Beautiful foods full of contrasting colors and complementary textures, like vibrant kale salads, silky bisques, and marbled cheesecakes, disarm people but trying too hard—like insisting that your wheat gluten “tastes just like meat”—makes people wary.
In the end, taste is very subjective and all you can do is your best. As vegans, we put so much pressure on ourselves to please omnivorous palates that we can come across as very needy or pushy. Remember when you were a kid and your mom chased you around the house to make you take that really icky medicine? Let’s not be a reminder of that. Allow yourself to relax a bit so you don’t come across as too desperate and you will be fine.”
Marla Rose is an author, journalist, event-planner and mother. She co-founded Chicago VeganMania and Vegan Street, which opens people’s hearts and minds to compassionate living through powerful stories, images and support.
“For holiday parties with mostly omnivores I like to make really tasty, non-starchy vegetables to balance the inevitable trays of brown foods. Some favorites are asparagus, Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Emphasizing flavor (I use lots of garlic and sauté in olive oil) and texture (by avoiding overcooking) is a way to remind people that veggies can be very tasty.
For my own main I usually bring something relatable, but veganized. Since I grew up in an Italian-American household, lasagna, manicotti and other pasta dishes were standard on holidays. A good, flavorful sauce, that isn’t gravy, can go a long way and usually I’m thanked for adding variety to dinner.”
–Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD
Matt Ruscigno is a registered dietitian and 20-year vegan who has a private practice in Los Angeles, CA where he lives car-free.
“I like to focus holidays like Thanksgiving around a shared activity if I’m hosting. Something that’s focused on giving back, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or just spending quality, engaged time with loved ones playing a game. There’s always good food around, but an activity helps people bond and also helps avoid focusing so much on food, which, if you’re the only veggie in the family, can help avoid a heated, defensive discussion.
When I first went vegan, I was very intense and I viewed every holiday as a chance to do activism at the table. After many tense holidays, I choose to let the food do the talking and have that be my activism, as opposed to getting into draining lectures about animal rights. It’s not that I don’t love having educational, civil conversation about animal rights (those are important!), especially during a holiday that is marked by the largest mass-slaughter of sweet, sentient animals in the United States, but I find people are most receptive when they’re enjoying something tasty without being put on the defensive.
Let your easy demeanor and joyful, tasty food show your guests and loved ones that tradition can still be honored without hurting a single being. They’ll get it and the message is far more resonant and better digested (food puns!) without so much force.”
Ashlee Piper is an eco-lifestyle expert, TV personality and journalist who lives in Chicago, Illinois with her rescue dog, Banjo and about 65 red lipsticks.
In this Plant-Powered People Podcast episode long-time vegans Toni Okamoto and Michelle Cehn discuss how to survive the holidays as a vegan. Many vegans will tell you that the holidays can be the most challenging time of year because you may attend parties and dinners where you can’t enjoy anything at the table. Here’s how to make sure you feel comfortable and ready to tackle any holiday circumstance with confidence and grace!
Cover photo by Pressmaster from Canva.com. Veggie platter photo by Michelle Cehn.