Holiday meals can be a tricky time for vegans. You’re gathered with family who has only known you as a meat eater and now you have this whole new lifestyle that they may not understand.
Or you may be dining with a group of new faces who you know nothing about, and who know nothing about you.
Whether it’s your first holiday as a vegan or you’ve been doing this for years, knowing the proper etiquette as a vegan dinner guest can help put you and the host at ease.
As a bonus, I’m also including tips for hosts who have a vegan coming to their holiday dinner.
Before we get into it, here’s a tip that is universal for guests and hosts:
Do not try to convert them
Vegans: Don’t go into this meal seeing it as an opportunity to spread the vegan message. You are there to enjoy the company of others and celebrate the holiday season.
Hosts: Don’t expect that your cooking will convert them back to being a meat eater. It’s their choice what they put on their plate and you should not be offended.
Etiquette for vegan dinner guests
Know if it’s appropriate to mention your diet
A good rule to go by is the closer the relationship and the smaller the gathering, the more appropriate it is to mention your dietary preferences.
If you’re joining your friend at their house for a holiday meal with their family of 30, It’s probably unreasonable to ask the host to keep your vegan diet in mind when preparing the menu.
If you are having a holiday dinner with your parents and grandparents, You have the green light to be open with your family to ensure you have something to eat.
Offer to bring something
Ask the host about the planned menu and offer to bring a dish. After hearing what will be on the menu, you can either bring a vegan version of something that is being served or you can bring a dish to complement the other items.
Make sure with the dish you bring and the rest of the menu that you will have enough food to eat.
More importantly, make sure you bring enough to share. You may be the only vegan at the table but that doesn’t mean Uncle Bob won’t want to try your mashed potatoes or lentil loaf.
Don’t make a scene
If there isn’t anything for you to eat on the table, be tactful while you sit there politely joining in friendly conversation. There’s no need to let everyone know that you didn’t have anything to eat.
After dinner is over and everyone is relaxing, be quiet as you sneak out to grab a veggie burger. You don’t have to announce it to the group.
At the same time, not everyone there needs to know that you’re vegan. Keep that to yourself unless someone asks you about it directly. And even then, try not to make a huge deal out of it.
Understand that the host may not know what vegan means
There was a point in time that you didn’t know what the word vegan meant either. Offer a simple explanation. They don’t need a full course on what it means to be vegan. Just that you don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs.
Use your best judgment when it comes to informing the host of the detailed ingredients. At my first Thanksgiving as a vegan, my sweet grandma listed jello as one of the vegan options that would be available.
I chose not to inform her that gelatin wasn’t vegan because it wouldn’t have done any good. I simply didn’t put any on my plate and that was that.
Eat ahead of time
If you find yourself invited to a large gathering where you pretty sure there won’t be anything for you except cranberry sauce, grab a bite to eat before you go. Also, stash some snacks in your pockets for later in case it turns into a long night.
No animal cruelty talk
While someone may ask you why you are vegan (which is a no-no for this type of setting), try to divert the question or at the very least downplay your most honest answer. Don’t go all PETA on them talking about murder and enslavement.
A great way to divert the conversation is to say you really love fruits and vegetables. Share your favorite and ask others what theirs is.
Don’t judge others
There’s no need for making faces or snide comments about what someone chooses to eat (this goes for non-vegans to vegans as well). As the platter of turkey gets passed around the table, keep a smile on your face as you politely ask to serve the person next to you.
I must say, I have a terrible poker face and everyone can read what I’m thinking instantly. So I have to be very conscious of this. I often try to distract myself if I feel a grimace coming on by starting a conversation with someone.
Etiquette for hosts with a vegan guest
As the host, it’s possible you’ve never encountered someone on a vegan diet. This can feel a like uncharted territory. If you’re willing to be a bit flexible, this can be a wonderful holiday meal for you and all your guests.
Let your guest know what will be on the menu
By telling your guest what foods will be available, they will have a clear sense of what their options will be.
This conversation can also naturally lead to asking your guest to bring a dish. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone with special dietary requirements to bring something even if they don’t offer.
Once your guest arrives, you are expected to let them know which dishes on the table are suitable for them to eat.
Make a vegan-friendly dish
Just because you have a vegan joining you for dinner, you don’t have to swap turkey for tofu and remove all the dairy from the mashed potatoes.
You should, however, make at least one dish completely vegan. As a host of any dinner you should always be willing to make one dish that appeals to each guest.
(From a vegan’s point of view: It’s always so appreciated when the vegan option is a dish that could fill me up, rather than just green beans. That is totally up to you as the host though.)
Do not ask your guest why they do not eat meat
Just like you are not required to justify why you do eat meat, your vegan guest is not required to justify why they do not.
If you’re that curious, take them aside after dinner and ask them in a private conversation.
Don’t expect them to participate in animal-related traditions or rituals
Vegans probably won’t want to break the wishbone or help carve the turkey and they shouldn’t be asked to. If your vegan guest offers though, feel free to accept.
If your cultural rituals involve eating meat, you can’t expect your vegan guest to participate. If you do want them to be involved, have a vegan option available for them.
Being a guest with a special dietary requirement can feel a bit stressful. But I’m sure it’s no more stressful than a host expecting a guest with a special dietary requirement.
The bottom line is no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings and everyone wants to have an enjoyable dinner with good food.
So whether you are the guest or the host, work together to make it a pleasant evening.