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Nov 19, 2011 05:19 PM

Etiquette- The holidays. traveling and the vegan

Although I eat fish about three times a month, the rest of the time I am a vegan. (It is for health reasons.)

Most of my family still does not get it, although I have been a vegan for about seven years now. When I visit them, I am always prepared and bring a few essentials like almond milk, Earth Balance and so on.

In the past, my family told me they would have vegan food for me when I arrived, but their idea of vegan food consists of a spinach quiche loaded with cheese, cream and eggs, a broccoli casserole loaded with chicken broth or a lovely tureen of cream of tomato soup. My mother had a vegetable risotto last time I went that looked divine but was made with butter and cheese. If I eat dairy, I get sick.

I am traveling for over six hours to get to their place for Thanksgiving and they said I do not need to bring any food as they will have food I can eat. But based on the past, this will not be the case.

I feel I have two options so that I can be a participant in the family meals starting Wednesday night, which is when I arrive. I do not want to appear rude and ungracious. I need advice.

One thought is to bring a small cooler with some prepared dishes that I would be able to eat. I love to cook and can bring the basics, including a little pecan pie, gravy, stuffing, etc. As I am traveling by train and not in a car, I can't bring enough to share, which is a concern. (Funny enough, my meat eating family always loves the dishes I make that are vegan and the younger ones still request them.) I would also bring a few key essentials like Earth Balance, which I have done before. Note that I'd only be able to bring enough for myself.

The other option is to ask them to buy a few things for me that can be waiting, things that are easy to cook up quickly and veganize. Potatoes, stuffing, vegetable broth, etc. Then when I get there, I'd whip up a few simple dishes, including a pumpkin bread pudding, stuffed squash and so on, necessitating time in the kitchen right when I arrive. This plan would allow me to make more generous portions that are suitable for sharing, however the fact that I am cooking a separate meal rather than appreciating the buttery and creamy treats that my parents have ordered from the local caterer for the family Thanksgiving has created stress in the past.

Anyone with unusual dietary issues able to assist on this lengthy etiquette question? I do not want to make my family stressed out because I can't eat what they have planned, yet I'd like to feel part of the experience and just as happily full as they are when all is said and done.

Thank you!

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  1. I'm just sorry that your family doesn't seem to care enough about you to make a place for you at the table! We have one vegetarian who was vegan for several years. She always brings an "alternate main" which is always big and tasty enough to share. There were two gravys, two bowls of potatoes. Vegis were roasted with olive oil instead of butter. People would make an effort and point out those things that were OK for her. I don't think it's any different than when I was growing up and we had some zucchini bread with nuts and some without--for my Dad who was allergic. I like the idea of you giving them a shopping list and cooking there--you might teach them something!

    1. Do you have time to make a quick trip to the store when you arrive, go with somebody? If they truly don't care about your diet, then why go? I suspect that they just don't really know any better. Helping to prepare the meal with dishes that you can eat, and share, should be the best way to go. if you can't go to the store, then send a list, saying that you will prepare the food when you get there. Sounds like you need a heart-to heart with your family and whoever is doing the ordering from the caterer. Bring a bag of brown rice, just in case, and make your own risotto.
      I have a sister-in-law that was vegetarian for awhile. We hosted the whole family, camping, and I went to great effort to feed everybody, i did all the cooking (in our camper, and over the fire) There was a farmer's market, and the SIL didn't even bother to come with me to get vegetables for HER, let alone help prepare anything. She is a major PITA.

      2 Replies
      1. re: wyogal

        I like the idea of cooking while you are there so that maybe, just maybe, someone in the family will hang out with you and observe what you are doing ("What's Earth Balance?"), as well as what you are NOT doing ("Why don't you just add some cream to that soup?"). Maybe seeing how you make your dishes will make a lasting impression on your family, so that in the future they MIGHT be able to make dishes which are truly vegan.

        This reminds me of a dear family member who thinks red meat is undercooked beef and that as long as he cooks his beef really well, it's not "red meat." For years he has told his doctor (truthfully, he thought) that he doesn't eat red meat. :)

        Good luck!

        1. re: wyogal

          The one thing you can't reliably do on Thanksgiving Day is commandeer the kitchen without leave of whoever is in charge of preparing the principal feast (if you're not family, you can't even dream of doing what I am about to recommend), but you might be able to ask for time in the kitchen to prepare food in advance on Wednesday evening that can be quickly warmed up in the m-wave or eaten cold or a room temperature on TG Day itself.

          Generally, in US culture, food preferences that are not required by religious necessity (by this I mean the threat of eternal damnation, as it were, not merely ethical precept) or medical necessity (again, something like being under doctor's orders) are not given great deference in ritual meals. (I am being descriptive here of the cultural pattern, not saying it's good or bad. It just is.) It would be much nicer if family would grow in understanding of what vegan food really is and the burden their ignorance places on their vegan family members, but in my experience, ritual meals are times when families are least likely to be understanding of variations from ritual. It's a human pattern.

        2. Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I think I am going to do a combination - have them buy a few simple things that I can cook with and then bring a couple of pre-made meals that will travel well and that I can have when I arrive Wednesday evening. There will be no time for me to shop when I get there, unfortunately. I can do some cooking early Thursday morning but will keep it simple. I can make a bake stuffed squash, my favorite gravy, mashed potatoes and pumpkin bread pudding which are all easy to do and do not take a lot of time. But I'll also bring a few things in my small cooler for Wednesday night in addition to some ingredients that I will need like nutritional yeast.

          Last year one of the other vegans and I spent a lot of fun time cooking and we made enough to share with everyone just in case they wanted to try our creations. I think we made six or seven different things, including two kinds of pie. Roughly a dozen adults were there along with half a dozen kids. While no one expressed interest in the process, they all loved our food and by the next day, very little of what we made was left for us to indulge in on leftover day. Arriving late this time and being the only vegan, it will be different.

          My mom indicated when we talked on the phone that I could always have a green salad and fruit. She reminded me twice that it is apple season. She also said she has ordered a squash puree. Very thoughtful of her, but squash puree in her world is loaded with yummy, creamy butter.

          I'll make it through. Fortunately, this is a booze heavy holiday and I still drink even if I do not eat meat, eggs and dairy products!

          1. I'm with those who advise to send a shopping list to your family ahead of your arrival. They can't muck that up (well, they could, but that would be sabotage).

            We have a Vegan family member who we host every significant wife has nearly 40 vegan recipes she or I can prepare, thanks to the internet. Not at all hard given the already labor intense kitchen activity on Thanksgiving Day.

            Hope your holiday visit is delightful.

            3 Replies
            1. re: RedTop

              I have a huge collection of vegan cook books and favorite web sites that I rely on. As you said, it's easy to find creative and delicious recipes. You sound like great people to be so hospitable and welcoming to your vegan, RedTop. My quandary revolves around some history- they say they will have food for me and they don't- along with their total lack of interest in making even a halfhearted attempt to veganize something easy like mashed potatoes.

              I realize this says a lot about my family but I do care about them and want them to feel like I am not a real pain to have over the holidays due to my diet. There have been many times when I arrived and would have been staring at an empty plate had I not picked up some simple items to bring with me.

              Most of their Thanksgiving food is ordered from a caterer so I should have some decent elbow room in the kitchen on Thursday morning without being totally in the way. I've made a simple list of what they can get for me and should be fine.

              Holidays are stressful enough and I do not want to add to it with my dietary needs. But I also want to eat!

                1. re: mvi

                  In the future, perhaps your family can order some vegan-friendly dishes from the caterer. I'm sure it wouldn't be their first request. At my house, we have a turkey, but ALL the other dishes are vegan-friendly, including dessert. We use veggie stock and olive oil, though we don't do many of the traditional dishes loaded with cream and butter. It is possible, and quite delicious. Good luck to you, and happy eating.

              1. The real issue here is that the family doesn't seem to "get" the concept of vegan, and instead confuses it with vegetarian. You need perhaps to emphasize that you can't have dairy for health reasons, period. I know that the meaning of the word "vegan" may be obvious to you, but it is surprising to me how many people have no clue what it means. You mentioned that mom said she had ordered squash puree for you; did you respond with "Thank you so much for thinking of me; did you remember to ask the caterer to please leave out the butter?" (The butter can always be added at serving time for those who want it....after you've taken your share). If you have no luck with this, I also like the idea of trying to speak directly to the caterer. Most caterers WILL get it. Sending a shopping list would probably work as well, but maybe you can try the "I really want to make a special treat for the family" route rather than make it seem like its all about you. And are you sure you can't spend 30 minutes on the way to their house from the train station in a grocery store? Even if your family's meal is mostly catered, they will be cleaning and dealing with guests and asking them for additional shopping duties seems to be contrary to your genuine concern that they not be unduly inconvenienced.

                Interestingly enough, our family faces some similar challenges, in that my husband is (mostly) vegan, although he will probably backslide and eat a bit of turkey. And we have family members who have religious dietary restrictions. But fortunately my sister is a consumate hostess, and will go out of her way to make sure all are accommodated. (I know for a fact that buying some of the required ingredients will probably mean a long drive, since she lives in a mostly rural area). She has already asked me if she should cook another vegan dish for hubby. uh, no, she already has enough to feed either an army or one hungry grandchild (inside joke that a few chowhound friends who are also facebook friends might laugh at...:-) And fortunately she has never cooked with a lot of cheese or dairy, which hubby will definitely not eat. (A little cream in the soup is fine, just as he continues to put a little milk in his coffee; his concern is largely avoiding cholesterol....). Besides, even though cheese or crackers were on her appetizer list, if he doesn't partake I can eat his share:-)

                5 Replies
                1. re: janetofreno

                  "And fortunately she has never cooked with a lot of cheese or dairy..." Hah! Perhaps you've just been lucky (or unlucky) when you've eaten with us. Cheese is one of the four food groups; I thought you knew that.... :-).

                  Good squash soup doesn't require cream. A bit of broth or stock, sure, but I will use vegetable broth on Thursday.

                  And yes, many of the Thanksgiving dishes may be enhanced by butter, but can be made without it (and nothing wrong with adding a bit at the table if one wants to do so).

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    lol....I forgot about the mashed potatoes:-) Please don't tell DH exactly how they are made...remember, they are not part of his cultural background so he doesn't have to realize how much dairy goes into them:-) I keep trying to tell him that a little cholesterol once in awhile isn't going to kill him, but he's adamant. And I wasn't worried about the broth; we both know that you will use vegetarian versions to meet the dietary needs of others present. Cheese or no cheese, we've never had a bad meal at your house.....

                    But your comment about adding butter at the table is an important one for the OP to acknowledge...s/he needs to suggest that her family do just that with some of the dishes....

                  2. re: janetofreno

                    Believe me, I have gone over the whole thing with my family for years. I love my family and my question had to do with making sure we are all happy and well fed on Thanksgiving, I can not eat meat or dairy any more and they know that but it does not seem to resonate no matter what.

                    I arrive at 6 pm on Wednesday night.

                    I can not backslide and eat turkey.

                    As I stated, we have had fun cooking in the past and people have loved the food. That was actually part of my quandary.

                    Thanks for the advice.

                    1. re: mvi

                      I assume from this answer that you have in fact explicitly told them those many times; " I have an auto-immune disorder and cannot eat dairy or meat" (which is much clearer to the average person who may not understand the nuances than telling them, "I am vegan" IMO. and anyway, if you eat fish even a few times a month by my definition you eat a mostly vegan diet but you aren't vegan. which just illustrates the importance of being explicit).

                      Assuming my assumption is correct, than there are other issues going on here, and this is about more than food. Your family can't possibly be that clueless that they wouldn't understand the importance to a great holiday of staying well. Are they mean, or are they trying to send a message, or both? It could be all their issues, but why not accept responsibility for your small piece of whatever is going on? I happen to think it is stress-enhancing, and possibly rude, to ask others to shop for you unless they specifically offer to do so. So, do your own shopping. On a train, you can bring a BIG cooler, no problem. Or shop at six pm when you get there. (and perhaps consider driving or going earlier next time). The stores will still be open (in my rural area, they will be open till midnight on the day before Thanksgiving). or shop on Thanksgiving morning (again, most grocery stores will be open till at least noon or one pm).

                      It could be that your family does feel stressed and resentful that you are asking them to shop for you when basically, it sounds like they don't even shop for themselves (since most of the food is from a caterer). or it could be that they are getting a mixed message about what you can and can't eat, and think you are just being 'picky'.

                      Also, using the kitchen can be stress inducing, even if the meal is catered. So, as others have suggested, the easiest route for you if you can afford it, and possibly the best, would be to ask your Mom if you can call the caterer and have a few dishes added to the menu, and offer to pay the cost? Call them Monday! it probably isn't too late, and the caterer will be familiar with vegan requirements.

                      If you go the extra mile in those ways, and your mother and other family members still don't try harder, at least you will know you have done everything possible to make it an enjoyable and stress free holiday for all on your end, and perhaps next year you will make other plans, or bring along some vegan friends and supplies.

                      If, on the other hand, you have NOT explicitly said to them, "I have an auto-immune disease and cannot eat any dairy or meat", ask yourself, why not?

                      If you are still saying to them something like, "Mom, you know I can't eat the squash if it has butter in it." as opposed to just, 'sorry Mom, can't eat that, you don't want to see me that sick' they really may not have gotten the message no matter how many times you've said it.

                      1. re: susancinsf

                        I have to agree with Susan here....the family clearly has issues, but why? Some people are reluctant to discuss illness with family members (I know I'm one of those..) so perhaps the OP really hasn't outlined exactly how important the "no-dairy" rule is. In some families discussing illness is considered downright rude, and since s/he is concerned about not being viewed as rude this could be the case here. And the family clearly doesn't like to shop/cook, based on the catering perhaps the best way IS to do a little shopping beforehand. I find that asking others to shop for me when I'm cooking IS stressful....even asking my husband to do so (he just never seems to pick the fruit I would pick...and sometimes takes it on himself to subsitute items with things he views as "better" or less expensive)...Shopping at 6pm the night before Thanksgiving really isn't that bad...most people have finished their shopping by them and the stores might actually be less crowded than earlier in the day ..If you are really concerned about etiquette this is something you should consider. Asking others to do your shopping is to me very rude, sorry. Only someone who hates to shop (such as I do) would understand why your family may really find that rude. OTOH, if your concern is that your family will find it rude that you wanted to shop on the way in from the train station, then perhaps you could use the occasion to once again try and educate them as to EXACTLY why you must do so. And yes, painful though it may be, you must be specific. Most folks will assume your diet is a personal choice based on preference and therefore flexible unless you specifically tell them that it is a medical necessity. And yes, I would use those exact words, difficult though it may be.