Summer, beaches, barbeques, family celebrations… These traditional festivities often present their own set of challenges for vegetarians, both food-wise and socially.
Traditionally in New Zealand, Christmas dinner includes a lot of meat and vegetarians can not only go hungry, but can also become the uncomfortable subject of table conversation and even mocking. As well as that, sharing a meat-laden table and watching your loved ones consume animals in front of you can be upsetting.
Christmas should be a happy time, spent enjoying good food and good company.
Helpful Christmas tips
- Remember you love these people and they’re not trying to hurt you.
- If anyone gives you a hard time, just remind them that it’s the season of goodwill towards everyone.
- If you find it difficult to share a non-vegetarian table, make a plan beforehand to cope. If it’s something you just can’t overcome, gently make arrangements to share dessert perhaps, or a Christmas breakfast of waffles and strawberries.
- Many of us eat differently from the way we were raised, and that can be hard for other members of our families, especially the ones we don’t see very often. So as well as expecting them to be respectful of your choices, try and see it from their point of view too.
- If challenged, stay calm and polite. Depending on the motivation of the questioner, and how you feel at the time, you can either enter into productive conversation or avoid it. Plan a simple escape phrase, such as “Let’s talk about it another time. We’ll focus on Christmas today.” You don’t want to end up in an argument at Christmas!
- Bring a delicious vegetarian dish to add to the table to ensure you eat well. It also shows others you’re not missing out on a feast. Take plenty to share – tasting your food might just broaden the minds of the naysayers.
- Tell your host well in advance that you’re vegetarian. It’s not fair to spring it on them last minute.
Watch out for those hidden ingredients
Many of the foods you’ll find at Christmas time have hidden non-vegetarian ingredients. Look for the Vegetarian Society Approved logo to find vegetarian items or our Vegan Certification logo. Otherwise check labels carefully.
- Christmas Fruit Pies – Animal fat. Both the filling and the pastry can be non-vegetarian.
- Wine – Gelatine, isinglass (the swim bladder of fish), milk and eggs are frequently used to clarify wine.
- Soft Drinks – Some canned orange drinks use gelatine as a carrier for added Beta Carotene. (This would not appear on the ingredients panel).
- Juice – May contain gelatine.
- Olives – The stuffed varieties filled with garlic or sundried tomatoes can be favourites, but check they haven’t got anchovies in them. Vegetarians don’t eat fish!
- Chips – Often use whey as a flavour carrier. Ready Salted are the certain choice, though some others are also suitable.
- Chocolate – Watch out for whey and emulsifiers. Some dark chocolate is vegan, but you need to check the label.
- Roast Vegetables – Ensure they’re cooked separately from meat and in vegetable oil.
- Gravy – Traditionally, gravy is made from meat juices, so check before you pour. Vegetarian gravy can be made using veggie cooking water (add stock, savoury yeast, soy sauce for colour, Bragg’s liquid aminos for flavour, etc) or from vegetarian gravy mixes or check out our recipe here.
- Stuffing – Obviously you won’t want to eat anything that was cooked inside an animal! But you don’t have to miss out. Stuffing can be made in separate dishes with tinfoil over the top. Some commercially available stuffing mixes are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
- Glacé Cherries – checks that they don’t contain red cochineal colouring (E120), made from crushed insects.
- Jelly – Usually made with gelatine. Vegetarian jelly crystals are available in some specialty shops. As with glacé cherries, look out for the source of the colouring if using red jelly.
- Trifle – If making with jelly, choose a vegetarian jelly.