Illustration by @veggiewitchysoul

How to Get Your Christmas Dinner Table Curious about Veganism

Christmas to me means family. I have lived abroad for many years, so it’s the only moment of the year when I see my family and spend real quality time with them. I never realized how much it meant to me until I missed it one year when I lived in Argentina and couldn’t fly back home to France. Zoom doesn’t cut it; I need and want to be physically present with loved ones to share this special moment of the year. Sharing love through food and thoughtfully chosen gifts makes it truly magical. 

For me, Christmas starts way before December 25th: I’m already scouting out recipes for inspiration two months prior. I also like to agree on the menu with my aunt and cousin well beforehand. My brother has been vegetarian for over 10 years now, so there is always a veggie option on the table. But ever since I started eating plant-based in 2017, I began to take the Christmas menu more seriously and was on a mission to prove to my entire family that vegan dishes could be as good and even better than their meat-based options! 

I’m proud to say that, so far, it has been a success: I got them all curious about the vegan Christmas menu!

The intention behind Christmas is to spend time with people you love over delicious food. The atmosphere is cheerful and full of joy, so it is a great opportunity to share your life choices, your journey, and inspire others with recipes they might have never tried before. In this article, you’ll find ideas to bring the topic of plant-based and vegan diets to the dinner table. And of course, I’ll be sharing my favorite recipes for Christmas!

Keep in mind that there will be two types of people at the dinner table: those who are curious and those who don’t give a sh*t. For the latter group, don’t tell them about what’s inside the food—if it looks good, they’ll eat it. For the curious ones, here are a few tips to generate meaningful conversations around vegan food.

9 tips to generate meaningful conversations around veganism this Christmas

Something I always try to do when it comes to food habits and beliefs is to understand where the other person is at first. As the conversation goes on, spot the values of the person you’re talking to and adjust your arguments and sharings based on what could be most interesting, insightful, or helpful to them. Not everyone likes to nerd out on flavor combinations like me, so if I pay attention to their questions, I can steer the conversations in a direction where they’ll truly listen. The more you focus on understanding each others’ emotions and feelings, the more both parties can enjoy the conversation and keep it going.

Then, take note of the tips below and sprinkle them into your dinner table conversations as needed:

1. Focus on the delicious food.

Don’t come with the intention of converting everyone to becoming vegan, rather, focus on eating delicious food that is based on your values. Food is food, and something I’ve always cared about is that it tastes extra damn delicious, especially for Christmas. I love cooking and I always use Christmas as an opportunity to try out new things, impress my family, and express my love for them through food. 

2. Share your why. 

People may ask questions, so for those who are curious, explain why you decided to start eating this way. Personally, I started my plant-based journey because I was dealing with eczema and wanted to cure the root of the problem; I knew that corticoid creams that were prescribed to me by my dermatologist were not doing it. When I found out that eating plant-based would be a possible solution, I felt overwhelmed. I’m French, and food is my biggest passion—the idea of having to give up my beloved croissants, crepes, and patisseries was giving me night sweats!

As I continued on this journey, I realized that taste didn’t have to be sacrificed when eating plant-based, and I even discovered a whole new world of flavors. That’s when I knew that my mission was to help others eat more plants and make them see it is delicious, fun, and abundant to eat this way!

Now, I work as a plant-based coach and help people eat more plants and reconnect to their body through intuitive eating. Most people who reach out to me don’t want to go full-on vegan, they just want to eat vegan at home and be flexible outside. They eat this way because in the beginning of their journey, they add more plants to their diet and realize that they feel much better. They also find it easier and tastier, so they don’t even need external motivations (like diets or having a specific body goal).

3. Share how creative you get to be in the kitchen.

For me, eating plant-based has opened up a whole new world of flavors, dishes, and cooking techniques! When I started looking for recipes and going to the market with a plant-based mindset, I realized that there were a LOT of veggies, fruits, beans, and grains that I had never tried before. Slowly but surely, I delved into a whole new world of taste and flavors that I never knew existed. Being a digital nomad, I love traveling and trying new food. This year with COVID, like everyone, I have been stuck at home, and my roommate and I started a new tradition called “a weekly international vegan dinner.” We would travel with our taste buds to a different part of the world every week! It has been the perfect excuse to be even more creative in the kitchen. My favorite place so far has been Sri Lanka, their cuisine is so packed with flavors, no wonder most of the spices come from there! 

Also, did you know, you can make egg white peaks with the water from a chickpea can and consequently make vegan macarons? This is the kind of thing I discover and then share with my fellow creatives who are curious about transitioning to a vegan diet. Anything you can think of can be made vegan—your imagination is the limit!

Anything you can think of can be made vegan—your imagination is the limit! / Photo: Ines Schubi

 

4. Approach the topic from a health perspective.

Some people are worried about the nutritional aspect and restrictive side of adopting a plant-based diet. I’ve never seen it this way because all I did was add new things, never removing. Ok, along the journey I dropped meat, but I never forced myself to do so—the desire to eat meat just faded away naturally. I focused on getting fresh produce that is organic and locally grown, which tastes so much better that I never felt like I was missing out on anything. You don’t need complicated recipes and sauces, the produce is the star of the show and it’s about supplementing it with a few other simple ingredients. Anyone who is curious by nature will love going on a plant-based exploration!

When you eat more plants, you naturally add much more variety and diversity into your diet. You become creative with the local, seasonal food and you discover a whole new world of ingredients. Plants come in all colors of the rainbow—lots of different textures, shapes—and these differences represent diverse nutritional elements that a typically meat-focused diet doesn’t have. Your body thrives on receiving an array of nutrients on a daily basis. 

Nature truly knows what our bodies need. After all, each veggie or fruit that grows in a specific season, in a specific place of the world, meets the nutritional needs of the humans living in that area at that time. If someone at your dinner table is particularly interested in nutrition, this is a way to invite them to look beyond diets or the latest health trend and instead focus on eating seasonally and locally.

Share these resources with your table:

The Game Changers | Watch on Netflix

What The Health | Buy or Watch on Netflix

The Daily Dozen | Watch on YouTube 

5. Bring up how animals are treated in order for meat, eggs, and milk to get to our plates.

This is a sensitive point so definitely bring it up gently rather than pointing fingers. To meet the needs of billions of meat-eaters around the world, our food systems are made to go fast and to completely bypass the health of animals that end up on our dinner tables. Right now, most of us are disconnected from nature and the ecosystems of our world, and it has become the norm to ignore what animals go through for us to eat them. 

Even though this was not the reason why I decided to eat plant-based in the first place, the more I started to eat this way, the more sensitive I became toward animal welfare. Did you know that pigs are smarter than dogs and as smart as toddlers? They’re able to solve puzzles and play video games! Animals are living beings with souls and deserve to be treated as such. Society and culture have desensitized us to the meat industry, mostly because we don’t see what is happening behind closed doors. If we all knew how violent the meat and dairy industry is, many, if not all people, would choose not to be agents of that system.

Illustration by @veggiewitchysoul

Share these resources with your table:

Draw my Life – A Cow in Today’s Dairy Industry | Watch for free on Youtube 

Dominion  | Watch for free on Vimeo

Earthlings (narrated by Joaquin Phoenix)  | Watch for free on Vimeo

14 facts That’ll Turn You Into An Animal Rights Activist | Article

Factory Farming, the problem | Info page 

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer | Read book | Watch documentary (based on the book)

6. Invite people to see the environmental impact of meat consumption on the planet.

Meat consumption is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet, responsible for the current climate crisis we are experiencing. Animal agriculture accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all modes of transportation combined (13%). These greenhouse gas emissions are CO2, but also methane, a highly toxic gas to all living beings. If anyone is looking for a single thing to do to help the climate crisis—besides holding fossil fuel companies accountable—then invite them to see why decreasing your meat intake or eliminating it altogether is a worthy goal.

To raise animals, you need a massive amount of land to grow their food, and the energy used during the farming process is enormous. This is especially true for raising cattle. It creates huge ripple effects on the planet, like deforestation (less trees to capture CO2), waste, species extinction (vital to the wellbeing of our ecosystems), and increased water consumption. Did you know it takes more than 2,400 gallons/9000L of water to produce just 1 pound/ 500g of meat? Only 25 gallons / 100L of water are required to grow 1 pound/500g of wheat. You can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months!

Illustration by @veggiewitchysoul

Share these resources with your table:

The Sustainability Secret | The facts & Infographic on environmental impact of the current animal agriculture industry on climate change 

Cowspiracy | Buy or watch on Netflix

Why beef is the worst food for the climate | Watch for free on Youtube

7. Share your journey as well as how you’re feeling after adding more plants and reducing the amount of animal products.

If the above facts conjure up any tension from relatives, you can always share your own experience. Nobody but you is in your body; you are the only judge of what feels best. So if you feel the conversation is turning sour and you want an ‘out,’ you can always say, “This way of eating is what makes me feel best, I don’t judge you and what you’re eating, I’m not trying to change the way you eat, so I would appreciate you do the same with me,” and move the conversation to a different topic. 

“I feel much better, I have more energy, I feel better mentally.” Nobody can counter-argument that. 

As I mentioned earlier, the reason I started eating plant-based was for health purposes, more specifically to cure my eczema. I was looking for the root of the problem, and was fed up with quick fixes. At first, I was stressed out about making this change. Butter and cheese are crucial elements in French cuisine! How could I live a happy life without them? I decided to go straight into it and set myself a challenge: I would go vegan for 1 month.

I was tired of quick fixes to cure my eczema, so when I found out that eating plant-based would be a possible solution, I decided go vegan for 1 month. Photo: Ines Schubi

When I started eating this way, I felt so good and light, and my skin started to clear up. I was sold! It did create some frustrations, and that’s when I decided to be flexible about it. I found a balance that works for me. I consider myself plant-based, i.e. eating mostly plants. At the moment, this means 95% vegan and 5% whatever I feel like, and usually that’s a croissant or any viennoiserie (pastry) on the weekend. I also make an effort to source out my produce in bulk, locally and organically as much as possible, and make my food from scratch. When I go to the restaurant and there is no vegan option, then I eat vegetarian and feel good about it. This is what brings me happiness!

8. Tell them about the psychology of eating animal products and social conditioning.

We think eating animal products is a given when it is, in fact, a choice – we just don’t know we’re making it. Melanie Joy, a researcher on the psychology behind meat-eating, coined the term ‘carnism’ to explain the belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals and not others. It is so difficult to see that it is, in fact, a matter of beliefs, because 99% of the world population abide by this system. 

When we try to bring up this aspect, there are three defense mechanisms we might encounter. First, we deny that this is a problem; it is easy to do since it isn’t named. Everyone has heard of veganism, but carnism?! Then, we justify that we eat meat, eggs, and dairy because it is normal, natural, and necessary. Those are myths that we have believed to be facts. Think about it: in many countries around the world, it is unthinkable to eat pigs or cows. And finally, we have adjusted the way we think and talk about eating meat, eggs, and dairy in a way that we can distance ourselves from them as animals, living, breathing beings. How would we feel if we started saying we eat cows, not beef? Pigs, not pork? This point will bring the plant-based diet home for animal lovers.

Share these resources with your table:

The most important video that you’ll see on your behaviour (cognitive dissonance, explained) | Watch for free on Youtube

The Secret Reason We Eat Meat | Watch for free on Youtube

Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices, Tedx by Melanie Joy | Watch on YouTube

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy | Read book 

9. Share your favorite recipes. 

Everyone loves food! You can eat plant-based while still getting all the nutrients your body needs to feel better, healthier, and more energized and having a positive impact on the planet and animals. Isn’t that the best lifestyle switch? My favorite thing to cook is brioche filled with custard and chocolate chips. I make it often for occasions like Christmas brunch or tea, and people are amazed when they discover it’s vegan! So after sharing that delicious Christmas meal, share the recipe with your friends and family and encourage them to try it at home. 

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be intimidated or hurt by those who vehemently argue against you, your values, and your life choices. Return to the beginning of the tips in this article for some motivation and remember to enjoy the holiday!

Vegan recipes you can try this Christmas

Even though this year you might not be able to celebrate it in a traditional way, food will still be at the table, and you’ll get to eat it. So why not spend a bit more time on it and make it a fun experience? You could even cook live on Zoom! Christmas celebration, for me, is an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, and I want to invite you to do the same! Explore new recipes and new tastes. We need to make it EXTRA SPECIAL. It’s Christmas, not your regular Tuesday lunch, right? 

Below are some recipes I’ve tested and approved. They are great for appetizers, main meals, and desserts. I hope they inspire you. Feel free to adjust them and make them your own depending on your tastes. Except for baking (which is a bit trickier to improvise as it requires precise measurement), you can play around and work with ingredients you love or have available.

Enjoy this moment of looking for Christmas recipes. Play Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You,” serve yourself a nice cup of tea or hot cocoa, and get inspired!

Appetizer: Blinis with capsicum cream

Here’s the blinis recipe by Coconut Bowls. I love it because I’m obsessed with crepes and pancakes (yup I’m your stereotypical French).

My tip: If you don’t have soy cream, just use coconut cream or coconut yogurt. You know what a pancake batter consistency looks like, you’ve got this!

Here’s my blinis sauce. The best thing about this one is that you just have to gather all the ingredients and put them in the blender. Mix, and, tadaaa!

Capsicum cream ingredients:

  • 2 cups of cashews
  • 2 preserved roasted red peppers
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • ¼ cup tahini (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Soak the cashews overnight or bring water to a boil and pour onto the cashews, put a lid on, and wait for 15 min.
  • Place all the ingredients in a blender.
  • Blend. If too dense, add a bit more water.

Main: Roast Wellington 

Everything Avant-garde Vegan creates is DA BOMB, and this one will for sure blow everyone’s mind and reassure Uncle Mark that no, you haven’t given up on delicious food! Here is his Vegan Christmas Roast Wellington recipe.

My tip: I know what it’s like to buy crazy spices for Christmas and never use them again, so my recommendation is to buy those spices at a bulk shop so you can buy the exact quantity you need without having it hanging out for years in your cupboard! If you can’t find them all, ask your aunt and cousin if they have them but if you can’t get them all, that’s OK. It will still be good! 

Dessert: Salted Caramel Tahini Bomb

Probably one of the best desserts you’ll ever eat, yep, I’ve got your back this Christmas! And the best thing is that you can make it in advance and it’s raw – we all know how hard it gets on Christmas Eve to get a spot in the oven!

My tip: Make sure you use a food processor. If you don’t have one, I managed to make it in a nutribullet, but it required a lot of “stop and scrap the borders” actions! 

Salted Caramel Tahini Bomb / Photo: Ines Schubi

Ingredients:

Bottom layer

* 200g hazelnuts
 (you can sub for any nuts you like/have)

* 10 medjool dates

* 2 Tbsp peanut butter
 (you can sub for any nut butter you like/have)

* Pinch of sea salt

Middle layer

* 6 Tbsp melted coconut oil

* 230g tahini

* 10 medjool dates

* Pinch of sea salt

Top layer

* 100g of dark chocolate

* Pinch of sea salt
 flakes

Instructions:

  • Take out your cupcake pan or a cake pan.
  • Make the bottom layer by placing all the ingredients in a food processor and place at the bottom of the pan, then place in the freezer while you prep the medium layer.
  • Make the middle layer by placing all the ingredients in the food processor (don’t bother cleaning it!). Add on top of the first layer and place in the freezer while you prep the top layer.
  • Make the top layer by melting the chocolate and add on top of the medium layer with a pinch of sea salt flakes.
  • Keep in the fridge and take out 30min before serving.

Tea time: Vegan brioche with custard and chocolate chips

Vegan brioche / Photo: Ines Schubi

My favorite recipe of all time, my brioche! Here’s the recipe.

This has been a staple for years in my house! My grandma, aunt, and cousin always arrive around 3 pm on the 24th and we all have “un 4h de noël” which in English would translate to a Christmas tea time.

As I transitioned to eating plant-based I went on the mission to create the best vegan brioche, so good that my family couldn’t even tell it was different from the regular one with eggs, butter, and milk!

My tip: Make the dough the night before, and let it rise in the fridge overnight. This way you’ll be able to make it the day of, as a brioche ALWAYS tastes better fresh!

I invite you to continue your search. My favorite way to search for new recipes is to browse Pinterest with any ingredients I like, just type in: pumpkin + Christmas + recipe to find some more inspiration!

Above all, remember what the holidays are about for you, and let food be a source of joy. Have fun with it, get curious, explore new recipes, try new tastes, and even if the recipes fail, that’s ok, it’ll be a fun holiday memory! Happy Christmas!

Co-written with Ely Bakouche

Edited by Jordan Reed

Featured illustration by @veggiewitchysoul


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