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How to make your Christmas more veggie friendly, according to the people who've done it

It’s easier than you might think.

CHRISTMAS CAN BE a tricky time of year for many, what with the inevitable family politics and the over-indulgence at the drinks trolley from all involved parties.

Throw in to the mix the decision to go vegetarian or vegan for the year ahead, and you’re sure to have yourself quite the party (and a few blank expressions thrown in for good measure).

“My first vegan Christmas was a disaster,” Annabelle Terzic, a recent Trinity law graduate currently teaching in Spain, tells DailyEdge.ie. “I remember it so well. My family are such meat and cheese lovers, they found my veganism baffling, especially my dad like he actually thought I was mad.

“I went to the Quay Co-Op in Cork and bought a nut roast, and I helped cook the vegetables and my own batch of roast potatoes in olive oil because my dad always does them in fat!

And so we are all sitting at the table and my dad always likes to serve up the plates you. He ended up pouring gravy all over my f**king dinner.” 

“But since then they have obviously learned much more and are more conscious. Usually I cook my own food now and we avoid any mistakes like that.”

It’s similar, though slightly less disastrous story for TheJournal.ie’s assistant news editor, Aoife Barry, who’s been vegetarian for more than a decade.

“The main thing I remember is that I missed the gravy, and the potatoes cooked in the turkey fat,” she says. “I was a bit worried about finding a turkey replacement, but there are even more options out there today.

“I think the main thing was that my mum was stressed about making sure that I would have my own ‘turkey’ option and that I’d be fed.

My granny also asked me if I’d just eat turkey as it wasn’t “really meat”, which I thought was actually quite cute.”

They all have their own reasons for making the lifestyle change. Annabelle initially went vegan because she simply did not like meat, though has since reverted to vegetarianism due to what she describes as “self-inflicted” health issues as a result of her diet. (She’s hoping to go back to veganism full time when she returns to Ireland and has a full time job.)

Aoife made the decision to become vegetarian because eating meat “didn’t gel with her feelings towards animals.

When it comes to the advice they would give to any veggies or vegans facing into their first year as a reformed meat-eater, they’re in agreement that there’s a period of adjustment involved.

“If you live with your family and eat with them, then explain your reasons and what it entails first,” Annabelle says. “Don’t get frustrated if they put something on your plate that you can’t eat, they will get it with time.”

In terms of culinary slip ups over the holidays, Annabelle reckons the best way forward is forgiving and forgetting.

If you have a slip up IT’S OK! The next day is a new day, just because you slip up once does not mean that you can’t do it or have to give up! Keep trucking and trucking and eventually you will not slip up anymore and you will be super content and proud and happy.”

Aoife recommends keeping it cool, calm and collected over Christmas when it comes to dinner.

“Often, it’s the people around you who get more het up about what you’re eating. And this is usually because they love you and want to make sure you enjoy your dinner, not because they’re judging you,” she says. “But you may come across people who don’t understand your viewpoint or who are actively annoyed about it.

It can be hard, but try not to take it personally – just trust in yourself. I don’t think dinner table arguments do any good – and your job isn’t to ‘convert’ anyone.

“If you don’t want to talk about it, just politely say you’d rather concentrate on eating nice food than arguing.

She advises letting the host know that you’ll look after your own main dish, and that you can have any side dishes, so long as they’re not cooked in animal fat. 

“If you’re very worried, you can always make/bring your own sides,” she says. “Once your host – and you! – know you’re taken care of, it all feels less stressful. Being sound and casual about it just makes the whole thing more relaxed.

One year at my house we had a veggie, a vegan and a nut/egg allergic person sitting around the table – so it is possible for you to have a lovely Christmas meal even with different dietary choices.”

“Nut roast roasting on an open fire…”

Whatever your reasons – be they dietary or environmentally-motivated – Christmas can still be the most wonderful, delicious time of year.

“I love nut roast for my main dish, more so than fake turkey, mainly as it is like a big loaf of stuffing, and you can have heaps of cranberry sauce with it,” Aoife says. “And give me all those roast potatoes please.

And beforehand, some of those M&S prosecco crisps – my favourite festive notions treat.”

Annabelle’s signature dish is mushroom wellington.

“I love mushrooms, and the pastry is tasty. Most ready roll pastries are actually vegan funnily enough.”

Baby steps

We all know what state the world is when it comes to environmental matters. Whether we’re willing to accept it or not, change needs to happen. No one’s asking anyone to go cold turkey (pun very much intended) if they don’t want to, mind. There’s a few simple ways you can enjoy a more sustainable Christmas.

“I would say firstly don’t buy just any old cheap turkey/ham or whatever,” Annabelle says.”Factory farming isn’t as prevalent in Ireland but if you have to buy meat go to a local farmer – buy free-range, well loved and looked after animals. It’s worth the little bit extra to know at least they weren’t locked up and abused, these things are just more important than a bargain.

“Secondly, switch from roasting your veg in animal fat. It’s really unhealthy and potatoes/veg in olive oil and rosemary for example are sooooo much better and taste equally as good!

Another thing is maybe to try some vegan or fair trade truffles/chocolates instead of Roses – you luckily end up eating less and the high quality chocolate leaves u more satisfied anyway!” 

009873_A Booja Booja Champagne Chocolate Truffles from Holland & Barrett

“I think it’s time people start the think about where their food comes from,” Annabelle continues. “Whether that be related to eating less animal products or making an effort to buy local or ethically produced products instead of the cheap mass produced shite we are so used to accepting. Like for example thing how much plastic is produced from buying quality streets or celebrations? No need for it.”

Environment, animal welfare, ethical buying/production, these are all things that we should think about when choosing what we eat at Christmas especially.”

Aoife’s in agreement, though does acknowledge that Christmas can be a hard time of year to kick start your New Year’s resolution.

“In one way, it’s really easy – decide on what’s most feasible for you and what your aims are. Are you going to forego turkey this year for nut roast? Or will you use oil instead of duck fat on your roast potatoes? Will you buy your vegetables at a local market?

But on the other hand, Christmas is so bound up with tradition and family that it can be really difficult to change habits or to be the ‘odd one out’. So go easy on yourself. If you’re currently a meat-eater, I wouldn’t advise deciding to go whole-hog (er, whole-tofu?) and cook a vegan Christmas dinner.”

“Instead, can you use some dairy-free alternatives to milk and butter, or replace that sausage stuffing with meat-free stuffing?” she adds.

“If you think about where you buy your food, can you buy it more locally, and cut down on the meat and dairy products you use in the big meal itself? How about a vegan dessert? Can you make the most of your leftovers? Small steps all add up.”

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