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Politely 'veg'ing out at the holiday table

A Vegetarian dinner table doesn't mean it's all "rabbit-food"
A vegetarian dinner table doesn't mean it's all "rabbit-food"

By now you’ve gotten through your Thanksgiving meal.  Whether you are a long-seasoned vegetarian or newly test-driving the idea, holiday meals can be a challenge.  Defending yourself against Grandma’s defensive “but it’s chicken broth, not actual chicken!” and politely passing on the roasted turkey can be a daunting task.

The holidays are surely also steeped in tradition.  Gravy and giblets, however traditional, are not typically on the vegetarian menu.  Being prepared and open about your dietary lifestyle may help to prevent confusion and help everybody attending the dinner feel more comfortable with your choices.  Here are some social and dinner table survival skills:

Before the dinner

            Think about what your limits are as a vegetarian.  Some can’t stand being around meat but others can be more flexible and simply pass the plate of carved turkey on to their neighbor.  If possible, when responding to a dinner or holiday invite, give the host ample notice of your dietary preferences and clearly describe what your limitations are (ovo-lacto, pescatarian, vegan).  Offer to make or bring a dish to pass that is acceptable to you or suggest some suitable recipes for them to try out.

            Once the meal starts and you are feeling the heat for passing on the gravy, sliced ham and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes simply smile and let your host know you are very satisfied with the vegetarian offerings.  If others ask why you’ve made the choice to not eat meat, openly explain without preaching, getting angry or appearing to pass judgment.  They are likely more curious about your choices rather than offended you haven’t touched their bacon-filled mashed potatoes.  If you do feel as though your explanation may not go over well, a simple polite “No thank you” should suffice when the gravy boat comes paddling by.

Hosting the Holidays!

            Try to make foods that are familiar to your guests that are either already meat-free or that may be easily vegetarianized.  Offer pita and hummus, 3 bean chili and corn bread, vegetable lasagna, eggplant parmesan, squash risotto or a vegetable filled shepard’s pie.  Hearty soups made with veggie or mushroom broth will win over even the most skeptical of guests.  If you feel comfortable, prepare a meat dish yourself or offer your kitchen to your guests if they wish to prepare something.  For guests new to your lifestyle, do a quick run-down of the menu for them to quell any fears about a “rabbit-food” dinner.

At a restaurant

            Be polite and ask the servers if they know or would find out which entrées can be made without meat or if the chef would be willing to prepare something meat-free.  If you are particularly concerned, search for the restaurant’s menu online or call ahead and inquire – this saves time and the potential for miscommunication ahead of time.  Remember that these occasions are more about the company and less about the food – a drink and a side will often tide you through the meal until you are home – don’t let it stop you from enjoying good friends and family.