If you're foregoing meat (and dairy, and eggs) this Thanksgiving, things can get a little hairy. Here's how to be diplomatic and uncompromising.

Congratulations! You’re vegan. Thanksgiving can be a tricky time for those who’ve decided to forego meat, dairy, and eggs. From appetizers to desserts, Thanksgiving fare is typically laden with animal carcasses and excretions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to survive the holiday, whether you’ve been vegan for four days or four years.

1. Make and bring your own food.

This is the oldest trick in the book for vegans young and old. Think that your family will be less than thrilled to make a separate meal for you? They don’t have to. If you think it’ll be a problem to eat wherever you’re going, do some simple preparation and pack yourself a meal the night before. It’s good if the meal you pack resembles what everyone else will be eating so you can avoid scrutiny. Extra points if you volunteer to bring a few dishes (see number 10) and everyone loves them, showers you with gratitude, and decides to go vegan!

2. If someone else is cooking, let them know in advance what you can and can’t eat.

If the person cooking asks you about dietary restrictions, or is a generally accommodating person, let them know casually that you won’t be eating meat—or eggs, or dairy—this year. Don’t make a huge production out of it, and assure them that you’ll be fine with side dishes and bread. Again, always offer to bring your own food if you expect that this will be a problem; the important thing is that your host knows your deal so that they can plan the menu.

3. Suggest substitutions.

You’ll be doing everyone a favor by suggesting that whoever is cooking use oil instead of butter, soy milk instead of two-percent, and vegetable broth instead of chicken. If your host worries, “What will I make that you can eat?” just ask how they usually make their mashed potatoes. If they list milk among the ingredients, just ask whether it would be possible for them to use soy instead of dairy.

If you’re helping to cook (which I highly recommend you do, because it’s a kind thing), simply make these substitutions quietly and don’t bring them up unless people ask. If you see your co-cook about to pour butter into something, gently stop them and ask if it would be possible to use oil instead.

4. Practice a five-second explanation about why you’re vegan.

When people see that you’re not taking turkey or mac and cheese, especially if you’re a new vegetarian or vegan, they’re bound to be curious. Make sure you have a sentence-long explanation in mind that it’s polite and to-the-point. You know why you’re vegan, obviously, but when pressed, it’s hard to know exactly how to phrase your explanation.

5. Don’t compromise.

Families love to pressure; it’s what they do best. If relatives egg you on (no wordplay intended), begging you to try a slice of a turkey’s body and making you feel guilty about refusing to do so, stand your ground. When people are uncomfortable with your choice, they’ll often make jokes, such as putting a slice of a turkey’s body on your plate even though you’ve asked them not to, or insisting that something that’s clearly not vegan in fact is. If the gentle harassment becomes annoying or infuriating, put a stop to it by glaring stone-faced at the most recent offender to let him know that he’s crossed a line.

6. Get off your high horse.

Yes, meat is murder, and Thanksgiving as a holiday capitalizes on the biggest genocide in history, but you’re not going to convince anyone by standing on the table and saying that. You might be vegan, but you’re hardly Gandhi. The moment people feel they’re being judged or condescended to, they’ll become more resolute in whatever choices they’re making. Never, ever judge someone else’s food choices. You can disagree with them, and you can talk to them about why they’re making these choices and try to convince them—gently, and carefully—to change them, but judging and shaming are toxic. Besides, you don’t know what other people are going through; maybe they were vegan for 15 years, and maybe they usually eat a plant-based diet, but today they’re eating eggs. In short, don’t look at someone’s plate and remark, “That bird wanted to live,” even though it’s true.

7. At the same time, take this opportunity to dispel myths.

Just because you’re not judging other people’s choices doesn’t mean you can’t set them straight about their misinformed opinions. If they shout about protein deficiency, let them know that vegans, like all people, can get more than enough protein by eating a diet balanced with grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. If they say that the eggs they’re eating are free-range, so it’s okay, gently let them know that although the egg carton says “free range,” in reality the birds are still packed into tight spaces and are living in their own filth despite the fact that they’re not technically in cages.

8. Gather reinforcements.

Don’t want to be the only vegan at the table? You don’t have to be. Invite a few vegan friends or colleagues to back you up. And you can make it playful, too. You and your fellow vegans can whip up a few dishes and compete with those made by meat-and-dairy-eaters: Have your guests see if they can guess the difference, and see which one they prefer.

9. Remember that activism, not personal consumer choices, is the moral baseline.

You can feel good about yourself for being vegan—you’re helping the planet, saving non-human animals, and doing wonders for your health—but activism is what the movement is really about. Join a Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) protest in lieu of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and remember why you’re really vegan.

10. Make it delicious.

There are countless recipes to which you can turn for phenomenal vegan Thanksgiving fare, and many store-bought options if you’re not much of a chef. I’m excited to make non-dairy butternut squash soup, stuffing, and sweet potato pie.

  • Hanh Nguyen

    It is contradictory to say that “activism is the moral baseline” and at the same time recommend that people “not bring up animal rights unless asked.” Refusing to be silent whenever animals are being brutalized is the strongest statement of your commitment. Learn about the Liberation Pledge: http://www.liberationpledge.com/

    • Zachary Groff

      Agreed. Took the pledge!

    • Jenny

      Hi Hanh! Thanks so much for reading and giving feedback. I love and support DxE and think that the Liberation Pledge is a fantastic choice for some people.

      I completely agree that refusing to be silent about animal suffering is the strongest statement of your commitment–that’s why I recommend non-judgmentally talking with people about their choices (see numbers 6 and 7).

      I actually never wrote that people should “not bring up animal rights unless asked” or that they should keep quiet about their veganism; I recommended more specifically that people not bring up the cooking substitutions they’re making unless asked. I should have explained this more fully in the article, but I think that for newer vegans, or for people not ready to take the Liberation Pledge (i.e. people who are still choosing to eat in the presence of meat- and dairy-consuming family and friends), announcing each time they use butter for oil or soy milk for dairy is taxing and unnecessary. Your co-cooks know you’re vegan and will be extra sensitive to and scrutinous of every move you make anyway :)

  • Zachary Groff

    Thanks for giving a shout out to grassroots activism and reminding people that activism is the moral baseline! I have to agree with Hanh, though, that if we believe activism is the moral baseline, we should be clear that we do not accept people’s choices to support violence against animals.

  • Rachel Atcheson

    Awesome work!

  • Bob

    Just call it a cheat day.

  • Anonymous

    You lost me at “genocide”.