Veganism vs. Christmas: Why being a vegan at Christmas is so important
Although we’re supposed to say Christmas is a celebration of family and gift-giving, carol-singing and church-going, we really know that Christmas is all about the food.
The first thing that springs to mind when we talk about Christmas dinner is the turkey. Or perhaps the gammon steak. Or the beef, or the hog roast, or maybe even duck. In any case, the meat is the main event. It’s the thing that takes the longest to prepare: first, you have to pick out the best-looking specimen in the shop. Then, you have to argue with every family member about how best to cook it. How long does it need in the oven? When do you put the stuffing in? How indeed does one stuff a naked, headless bird? The turkey, arguably, is more important than Father Christmas on the 25th December in many households.
But what do vegans eat?
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So, what do vegans eat at Christmas, then? I’ve learned, as a vegan, that it’s very difficult for people to imagine Christmas dinner without the star of the plate, the roasted meat. While I’m used to being regularly questioned about where I get my protein from, I find the interrogation intensifies at Christmas time. It really is impossible for most people to conceive of Christmas without the turkey, but being a vegan at Christmas isn't all bad.
The dark side of Christmas dinner
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It’s important we consider the dark side to the traditional Christmas dinner.
While the mad rush to get the biggest turkey is seen as quite a humorous yearly scramble, the sour reality is that turkeys are being genetically manipulated to be bigger. The demand for the bird grows each year, and so farmers are forced to grow the birds. In 1970 in America, the average turkey weighed 17 pounds. Nowadays, they are fed chemicals so they weigh around 28 pounds. Because turkeys are bigger, their bodies are often too heavy for their legs, meaning they can’t stand up.
What’s more, the turkey farming process itself is particularly unpleasant. Without going into the gory details (as I think PETA’s website aptly does this), I don’t think anyone would be able to stomach roast turkey if they saw what went on behind closed doors.
What's the alternative to eating meat on Christmas Day?
Luckily, nowadays, and particularly in this country, we have so many meat-free options available to us. For three consecutive years, I’ve tucked into excellent Christmas dinners without any meat on the plate. If you’re feeling lazy, it’s so easy to nip to M&S and get a vegan nut roast. Or, Holland and Barrett offer ‘Tofurkey’, a plant-based imitation of the traditional Christmas classic. Really, if you think about it, we don’t even need there to be one central focus of the plate: there’s not one part of the meal that isn’t exciting. Being a vegan at Christmas means challenging the whole concept of “meat and two veg”, which has been a really interesting experience for me since transitioning to veganism. And, frankly, I can think of far worse things than omitting meat and filling up on Yorkshire puds and roast potatoes.
Personally, I love to make a nut roast. It’s cheap, straight-forward to prepare and takes less than an hour in the oven. Imagine not spending the whole of Christmas day checking on the bird in the oven! It’s healthy, full of protein, ethical, and fairly inexpensive. Let me tempt you with this recipe.
A re-imagined Christmas dinner
So, perhaps instead of the mad rush to grab the “best” turkey in Tesco’s and the stress of preparing it, why don’t you experiment with something new? What’ve you got to lose? I’m going to anticipate the habitual retort of “But I love the taste of meat” and tell you, yes, I understand—I ate meat for almost 19 years! But, is a moment of pleasure on the tongue worth the lives of hundreds of turkeys?
10 million turkeys are killed every year for Christmas Day.
This, to me, does not exactly scream Christmas cheer. I think the truth about the production of turkey meat is very frightening and unsettling, but sometimes it’s the rude awakening to this sad reality that can help inspire change.