by Sarah Withrow King
You’re hosting the holiday meal this year and have the menu all planned out when you learn one of the guests is vegan. Hospitality is important to you. You want to share the gifts you’ve been given, welcome people with open arms, and create a space where all of your guests feel warm, safe, and seen. But you’ve been making the same dishes for the last twenty years and have no earthly idea what vegans eat or whether they’ll take one look at the table spread and scream, “Murderer!” (<---they’re not going to do that)
I’m here to help. I haven’t always been kind or compassionate to plant-based eaters. I hosted a birthday party once and fed my one vegetarian friend a salad while we chowed down on burgers. I laughed at another friend who was trying to be vegan. Then I learned some of the reasons why my friends left meat, dairy, and eggs off their plates and decided to follow suit. Guess what I was served at the very first event I attended as a vegan? A plate of lightly steamed summer squash. I had it coming.
If you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian coming to dinner and want to welcome them with open arms and a full plate, here are six top tips:
Ask What Kind of Food Your Guest Likes. Some vegans looooove meat substitutes like Gardein Chick’n or Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs or Tofurky’s Holiday Roast. Others just like straight-up vegetables. Some vegans are in it for the health benefits and others relish a meal that’s rich and decadent. It’s okay to ask. It’s good to ask.
Make Easy Substitutions When Possible. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock; substitute Earth Balance and a plant-based milk for butter and dairy; make a chia or flax egg to help that casserole bind. If you would normally sprinkle cheese over the top of a dish, leave it to the side and let people add their own if they choose. Here’s a good substitution guide to help get you started.
Offer a Vegan Dessert. If your guest is very health-conscious, fruit or sorbet is fine. But if they love pumpkin pie and other sugary treats, you’ll be a hero if you present them with a baked goody. Seriously. A cape-wearing hero. Not sure how you can make a pie crust without lard or a cake without eggs? Seize the opportunity to learn some new tricks. You might just find a new favorite! Maybe the family tradition is a plate of Uncle Dave’s killer brownies? Pick up a vegan brownie at the local grocery store so your guest can indulge, too!
Offer a Vegan Protein. If you’re not sure what kind of protein your guest likes, just ask! Let them send you some of their favorite recipes. I promise we will put a great deal of thought into ensuring that the suggestions we provide are affordable, practical, and universally delicious.
Let Your Guest Help You. I don’t mean, “let your guest bring all their own food.” That’s no fun. Of course you can ask them to bring a dish that they love (and be sure to give them first dibs at that if there aren’t a lot of veg options), but let them help you figure out what’s available and easy-to-do. We are eager to answer questions, to help you find substitutes, to offer up recipe suggestions. One long-time vegan says, “I find there's a dungeon-master forcefield around hosting and a lot of people feel that if they involve their guests, they're somehow not hosting well. No! Ask the vegan! They've been figuring out what egg subs work best for years! Team Host-Guest FTW!”
Let’s Talk About Being Vegan...After Dinner. The vast majority of vegans I know want everyone at the table to have a good time. We don’t think mealtime is the best place to share the details of what we’ve learned about factory farming and slaughterhouses. Let’s do that over drinks or while we’re washing dishes.
I do hope you will ask your guest about their preferences, but here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that might get your creative juices flowing.
One last word. I eat with meat-eaters all the time. I don’t love to see meat, I don’t love to watch people eat meat. I’ve seen and read too much to be able to turn off my heart and brain, but I’ll still sit down at a table that includes meat. That said...if, like me, your vegan guest is vegan for animals, they might appreciate if a big meat dish wasn’t the center of the table. They might appreciate the cutting/carving/serving being done away from where the eating happens. Or maybe not. It’s worth having the conversation. It’s always worth having the conversation.
“Let all that you do be done in love.”