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How to host a vegan for the holidays

Hosting the perfect holiday gathering can be a lot of pressure, to say the least. Add to that a guest or two with restricted diets, you might find yourself wondering just how to make sure everyone feels welcome, enjoys the food and has a great time.

Rest assured, it's not difficult to make this happen, as long as you make a few adjustments. As a vegan for going on nine years, I know that your guest will very much appreciate your thoughtfulness. Read on for my tips on how to host a vegan!

1. Know your guest's dietary restrictions thoroughly

It sounds simple, but it's easy to make assumptions or mistakes so do double check. If all you know is that your guest self-identifies as "vegan," this means she doesn't eat meat of any kind (including stock, gelatin, gravy, etc.), dairy (butter, cheese, yogurt, milk), fish (including fish sauce or oyster sauce), or any animal-derived foods like honey. But from here, the interpretation of "vegan" might vary from person to person: Most vegans I know (including myself) won't refuse wine or beer served at a party, even if it's not technically vegan (most conventional wines are filtered with animal protein derived from eggs, milk or gelatin). In addition, some vegans may choose to avoid gluten, soy, nuts or other common allergens for health reasons. The best thing to do is just ask!

2. Embrace simple swaps

Simply by swapping a few ingredients with their vegan-friendly counterparts, you can make many of your dishes 100 percent plant-based and no one would be the wiser, taste-wise. Try substituting milk with coconut milk, almond milk or soy milk. Any recipes that call for butter can be made with vegan butter, such as the widely available Earth Balance.

3. Separate your cookware, surfaces, servingware, etc.

You will win the love and admiration of your vegan guest by being conscious about separating your non-vegan cooking utensils from vegan ones. If you only have so many spatulas, please do wash them after they touch meat dishes! This means no cross-contamination, also useful for your celiac guests.

4. Prepare at least one vegan thing that isn't a salad

Most vegans are laid back about social situations where they don't have many options; they're used to it. But coming to a special gathering, like a holiday dinner, and not finding anything to eat besides crudite and a salad, can make them feel like an afterthought. Prepare at least one dish that you know everyone, vegans and non-vegans, can enjoy, like this gorgeous mushroom onion tart that I made this year for Thanksgiving, a favorite of my meat-loving brother-in-law.

5. Steer the conversation away from food, politics or philosophy

If your vegan guest is like me, she won't try to bring up animal cruelty or anything that might sound contentious or didactic over the holiday table. But one Thanksgiving, I was invited to a dinner where I sat next to a French postdoc, who kept saying that veganism is ridiculous, asking why exactly I don't eat meat. Needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable dinner and I felt powerless to defend myself. Play the art of genteel hosting and steer the conversation away from such calamities. "Charles, isn't it amusing that food is such a universal thing, and yet so personal. Now here's something that I know you and Juhea would both agree on. She just went to Paris and absolutely adored it." And so on.

6. It's the effort that counts

No matter what, it's the thought that will make your vegan guest feel welcome and warm. One Christmas, I went to a dinner hosted by someone who is a formidable cook, and yet very "traditional American." I was so utterly surprised to discover that she'd made so many of her signature dishes vegan, including mashed potatoes. She'd even baked absolutely incredible vegan dinner rolls (of which I ate maybe 3 or 4. Oh, who is counting?). But even if your vegan dishes are not such a spectacular success, your guest will appreciate and remember your thoughtfulness.

Are you hosting any vegans (or gluten-free, raw vegan, paleo, nut-free, soy-free eaters) during the holidays? Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section!

Image: Bill Couch/Flickr
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