Holidays can be tough for vegans. Usually it means spending time with family members who are obsessed with food – and for most of us that means family members who eat dead animal carcasses. My family is no exception to that. While some of them are more vegetarian curious – meaning they are at least slightly interested in the food I eat – others are die hard carnivores who think I’m going to die from not eating meat. As if vegetables are the cause of all the major health problems in this world!
Typically for Christmas or Thanksgiving I make my own little dishes that I can quietly eat while everybody else eats the “main” course. This year however my mom rented a house for all our family to share in Carmel, California. It was a great way to spend Christmas … a block from the beach … with beautiful views. Yet there is always the touchy subject of food.
My family has a long tradition of making pork tamales for Christmas dinner. Of course for the last seven years I have not participated in this tradition. Instead I munch on some salad or bread and try not to make an issue about not eating the tamales. For Hispanic families, tamales are a BIG deal. My 91-year-old grandma spends days preparing the masa and then my mom and step-dad go to her house and help make a zillion tamales assembly-line style. I get that tradition is important. I absolutely do. But if I asked why the tamales have pork in them, the answer would likely be “because it’s always been done that way”.
This year I felt adamant about not being left out of our family tradition. I really wanted to learn how to make tamales from my grandma. Long before our Carmel get-together, I broached the subject of making vegan tamales with both my mom and my grandma. This caused quite the uproar. I heard many excuses about why we couldn’t make tamales at the beach house or how they just wouldn’t be good with vegetables, etc. But I pressed on. After all I am part of this family and I want to be part of our traditions. Finally, my grandma agreed to teach me how to make tamales with VEGETABLES!
I was so excited, I could not wait for our cooking session! I found this great vegetarian tamale recipe from razzle dazzle recipes. It sounded delicious with edamame, corn, zucchini. We spent an afternoon cooking the vegetables and assembling the tamales. My grandma showed me exactly how to spread the masa in the corn husks, how to fold the tamales exactly right so they don’t fall apart, and how to cook them in a steamer. It’s a day I will never forget.
Now here’s the best part. When it came time for dinner, we served both the pork tamales and the vegetarian tamales. I didn’t bring out many of the veggie version because I assumed most of my other family members wouldn’t be interested. But they were! Practically everyone tried the vegan version and several asked for seconds. I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy to spend the day with my grandma and absorbing her 90+ years of experience making tamales. I’m even happier to think that perhaps I’ve changed the family tradition just enough to accommodate those of us who prefer compassionate food choices.
During this holiday season, I know it can be tough to be vegan. Remember why you have chosen to live this way. Is it for the animals, the planet or for your health? Any and all of those are great reasons to bring your vegan message to your friends and family who may not think about how their holiday traditions effect animals, the planet, and their health. How can you help others make compassionate food choices?
Cheers to making new traditions!