Getting on with the in-laws can be tricky at the best of times.
Mention that you’re going vegan, however, and Sunday lunch at theirs can suddenly get a bit awkward.
On the one hand, the plentiful supply of plant-based products on the supermarket shelves – from non-dairy crème fraiche to vegan no-chicken nuggets – means that skipping the meat, fish and dairy has never been so easy.
In fact, for anyone going vegan in 2019, there’s no end of foods to replace the animal-based products in meals. So, finding a quick and easy alternative when you’re eating with non-vegans, (asking for tofu in your portion of tikka masala rather than chicken, for example) is fairly straightforward.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s on board.
Some relatives (understandably) might need a few pointers on buying vegan alternatives – weirdly, not everyone’s social media feed is up-to-date on every flavour of dairy-free ice-cream. Others might be genuinely concerned that you’re not getting the right nutrients or wonder where you’re getting your protein. And many people simply won’t want anyone to challenge what’s on their plates – and now you’ve made a positive decision to eat a plant-based diet, they worry about being judged.
So, how can you make sure that your opposing positions don’t ruin dinner, or worse – your relationship?
For some ideas on this, I flicked through my stash of vegan magazines from the 1970s (I stockpiled them while writing my book, The Homemade Vegan – a collection of vegan recipes and stories from the 1970s).
And there was some great advice.
There was an anonymous letter, (published in 1972), from a woman who was a relatively new vegan and who was struggling to get on with the in-laws when it came to eating together. The parents-in-law were unsympathetic to their new way of life, she wrote, and while she and her husband took margarine and plant milk to his parents’ house, they didn’t dare take anything else in caused it caused offence. Things weren’t going well.
She wrote: “No concessions to our taste is made at meals and an awkward sort of atmosphere develops.”
I think many new vegans can relate.
And the person at the magazine seemed to as well, as the reply was sympathetic and sensible. This was a difficult issue, he or she said (the person who replied was anonymous too) and the reader needed to do everything she could to improve the situation. This would be easier, the reply said, when the in-laws came to theirs.
The advice was that there was no need to prepare a meat/fish/dairy meal for them. Instead, an inclusive, non-challenging meal should be made. One that everyone can enjoy. (“Be prepared to go to some trouble with the menu, avoid unusual flavours or ingredients.”). And the reply goes on to suggest that soup, a well-baked potato and salad are “usually acceptable to meat eaters”.
Fast-forward to 2019, and as we know, there are millions of vegan recipes available – from vegan pizzas to coconut chickpea curry, and lime and lentil tacos to sticky toffee pudding and creamy lemon cheesecakes and crunchy aquafaba meringues… so cooking up a fantastic dinner when meat-eating family members come to yours, is a lot easier.
But that’s the practical, pragmatic stuff.
What do you do about the sharp intake of breath when you arrive with some oat cream for your crumble instead of the “real cream”? Or the tension around the dinner table when your father-in-law refuses to touch his Tofurky?
Back in the 1970s, the advice was to: Let. It. Go.
“If [a dish you’ve made] is refused or ‘left’ make no illusion to it, ignore any unfavourable comment – with an understanding smile, if you can manage one!” (The Vegan, 1972).
And the magazine also went on to add:
“If in spite of your efforts things do not improve in the near future, avoid visits at mealtimes and make no attempt to convert.”
And in 2019, when enough divisive opinions are flying around, on everything from Brexit to the Greggs vegan sausage roll, keeping the meals delicious and confrontation to a minimum is probably still good advice.
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