10 Tips on Going Vegan for the Holidays
Posted on November 11, 2011 by Christopher Hirschler: Professor of Health Studies
You or someone you know has probably wanted to "go vegan", but not knowing how stood in the way. Maybe the desire to eat a plant-based diet was prompted by a desire to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of certain cancers, address the environmental problems associated with meat consumption, or out of concern for the animals who bear the brunt of our dietary choices. This Thanksgiving maybe you'll adopt a turkey instead of eating one. The following ten steps will help you reach your goal of maintaining a vegan diet before the holidays.
1. Develop habits
No one asks, "Do I feel like brushing my teeth today?" It is performed out of habit. Developing healthy food habits start in the grocery story. Beyond what you put in your cart, consider preparing food for the week on a Sunday, having numerous easy to make snacks, and frozen meals that you can combine with fresh vegetables. The transition to a vegetarian diet often includes a number of "bridge foods" meat analogs and other comfort foods. As you progress in your diet, you'll likely include fewer processed foods.
2. Ask new questions
What does it take from the environment, the animals, and slaughterhouse employees to bring a meal to my plate? What are the most health-enhancing foods I might choose today? While the ground up remains of spent female dairy cows (hamburger) or the fried wing from a chicken might taste good, is it the best choice when you consider your values, people, the planet, and animals?
3. Answer your questions
Answering these newly formed questions will require research. In the process you will learn information that will motivate and surprise you. Additionally, it will provide you with the answers you need to defend yourself against those who think you're nuts for eating such an "extreme diet", even if it's motivated by a desire to avoid an extreme medical procedure such as open heart surgery.
4. Avoid mental gymnastics
The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance indicates that we like our thoughts (i.e., "I'm a compassionate person") to agree with our actions (i.e., "I don't eat sentient animals who have been killed to be eaten"). However, it's common for individuals to keep their meat-eating behavior and perform mental gymnastics that require rationalizations. In a study of 32 vegans one of the major findings was that vegans' eudemonic well-being improved significantly as a result of aligning their actions with their values.
5. Garner social support
Figuring out what to eat is actually the easy part for most people who go vegetarian or vegan. The social implications are more challenging. Dr. Carol J. Adams, in her book Living Among Meat Eaters, provides numerous suggestions for getting along with the meat-eating majority. Dr. Adams explains that we should "show them, don't tell them." Rather than trying to convince or convert through dialogue, invite your family, friends, and co-workers to try some of the wonderful foods you eat. They will discover, like you, that they will enjoy a life of abundance, not deprivation.
6. Learn to fish (figuratively)
Eat fish? Fish populations are dwindling and the fish who are consumed often contain high levels of mercury or other contaminants. However, learning to prepare delicious vegan meals will provide you with a lifetime of highly pleasurable and inexpensive dishes. To get up to speed, find local vegetarian or vegan potlucks, meet with a registered dietitian who specializes in vegetarian nutrition, visit, Happy Cow to locate restaurants at home and on the road, attend Vegetarian Summerfest, and search for recipes online or at your local bookstore.
7. Get to know joy, Dr. Melanie Joy
In her video, Melanie Joy explains that carnism is "the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat (certain) animals" and revere others. Gaining a better understanding of the cultural influences that act upon each member of society does not bring immediate joy. However, being aware of the psychic defenses one employs to enable their own meat eating is an important step on the road to an animal-free diet which itself is a joyful and affirmative practice.
8. Uncover hidden truths
Did you know that infants who breast feed receive a huge dose of dioxin when they consume human breast milk and that much of our dioxin exposure comes from animal products? Of course, infants who breast feed are eating at the very top of the food chain; they are literally eating human. Experts still recommend that women breast feed, but vegetarian women have much lower levels of dioxin in their breast milk. As each hidden truth is revealed, desire for what was once a craving-inducing food becomes something inedible.
9. List the pros and cons
Write down reasons for and against adopting a vegan diet. Then find a way to minimize the importance of each con. For example, if one con is concern about finding enough food to sustain oneself, a person might decide to dedicate themselves to improving their culinary skills and be reassured by the fact that vegan athletes are able to perform at high levels on a plant-based diet. With a long list of reasons to be vegan or vegetarian, and a ready-made way to reframe cons, you'll have the motivation and mental approach needed to thrive.
10. Choose it
Making the decision is essential. Rule out the option of backsliding. This Thanksgiving you'll have even more to be thankful for.
Christopher Hirschler Ph.D., MCHES (Master Certified Health Education Specialist) is Assistant Professor of Health Studies and Faculty Director, Study Abroad at Monmouth University. He is a United Nations-DPI-NGO representative for the Institute for Global Understanding and author of "What pushed me over the edge was a deer hunter": Being vegan in North America (2011) and What If Her Grandmother Really Did Die? (2011). Chris has presented at numerous conferences and he has created a variety of videos that can be found on YouTube.