Traditions are always changing, but when people think about going vegan, food traditions can be a big hang-up. What will replace old favorites?
For Iowans, the Iowa State Fair is summer’s last hurrah.
With midway rides, art and cooking competitions, and dance performances aplenty, the thing that gets people talking year after year is the grease explosion that is fair food.
Even political candidates get in on the action, eager to show Iowans how authentic and down-to-earth they are by getting photographs eating this “everyman” fare.
When asked what keeps regular people heading back to sample this stick-based cuisine, the answer is simple – tradition.
It’s an interesting thing, tradition. People hold onto it so tightly, but really, it’s always evolving.
The state fair started way back in 1854. While I didn’t have any luck finding out what they were serving in the 1850’s, one thing is for certain – corndogs were not involved.
They weren’t invented until the 1920’s.
Think about the first Thanksgiving.
I’d wager that the pilgrims didn’t even know which NFL teams would be playing that day. (The pilgrims and I had that in common.)
Yet, it’s tradition that can be a sticking point when people desire to go vegan. I know when I went vegetarian and then vegan, it was something that concerned me.
Of course, resistance to change is not isolated to veganism alone.
It’s not uncommon to hear about someone who wants to make a new lifestyle choice meeting some resistance when it comes to the people who know them best.
Whether it’s the drinking buddies of a person who has decided to forgo alcohol or the restaurant aficionados whose friend wants to trade five o’clock tapas for evening bike rides, the people who know us best aren’t always delighted when we want to change our rituals.
When we think of food traditions, for Americans the fourth Thursday in November comes to mind, of course. But also those foods that we share with particular people in our lives plays a part.
In my pre-vegan days, I’d have a big box of Hot Tamales at the movies with my cousin. I’d go out for deep fried puffy tacos with my best friend at our local taqueria.
In the late evenings while hanging out with my parents, my dad and I would microwave mock crab meat (actually white fish), melt garlic butter, and eat the smelly concoction together. (Much to the chagrin of my mom who had no interest in the whole affair.)
So when I stopped eating animals and animal products, there was suddenly an awkward gap of “what now?”
New traditions were born
When Thanksgiving rolled around, I sought out vegetarian restaurants in the area, where they were making totally plant-based versions of the classic foods I’d grown up eating.
At that point, I had never been to a vegetarian restaurant before.
I still remember sitting at the long bar at Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park, California and ordering their Thanksgiving special on the day before the holiday. I read on the menu that their vegetarian feast was an annual event for which people would fly in from around the country.
On my packed plate of fall foods, I sampled seitan, also known as wheat meat, for the first time. It was a revelation.
And the gravy? Well, I had no idea that it could be so rich and full-bodied while being totally plant-based.
I asked if I could buy some to-go to eat the next day. And the server poured me a container-full on the house.
After that, going to the Follow Your Heart Thanksgiving feast was a yearly tradition.
Then I started volunteering at Animal Acres (now a part of Farm Sanctuary). And Thanksgiving meant spending the days leading up to the holiday with birds who were spared from the event which spells the end for 46 million turkeys in the United States.
I’d pet them, find that sweet spot on a turkey, which if scratched actually makes them giggle. And I met up with other likeminded people to share food that celebrated the bounty of the season, rather than the misery of those who are slaughtered for it.
With other interpersonal food traditions, it took more time, but it happened.
My best friend and I take a yearly trip to the orchard with her husband and kids to pick apples.
My dad and I traded out mock crab for vegetable potstickers with tamari dipping sauce. They’re totally different things, but they fulfill the same function.
When we share foods with our hands, there’s something tactile and bonding in it.
Whether it’s a shared plate of nachos, a spread of Ethiopian wots, or a platter of pita and homemade hummus, when we eat together in that hand-to-mouth way, there’s something cozy and intimate about it.
So potstickers easily fill the bill in that old gap. (Much to my mom’s approval since she actually likes them.)
What’s interesting too is that my dad, who didn’t make a dietary change, doesn’t eat the mock crab anymore either for the mere reason that he’s moved on to other things.
Veganize old favorites with simple tweaks
Another way to keep old food traditions alive is by updating them! With lots of family favorites, it’s easy to make simple swaps to veganize former standards.
- At Christmas, I make a vegan quiche, which is similar to the quiche my mom used to make every year.
- The taco pizza I grew up eating just requires a few simple swaps – like using black beans instead of meat, and grabbing a different style of tortilla chips. Now I make vegan taco pizza almost weekly!
- Everyone in my family loves chili. It’s easy to leave out the meat, and add a couple different types of beans instead for three bean chili.
- Which means the next day there are leftovers for that old family favorite, vegan chili dogs!
Traditions, like so many other things which at first seem like roadblocks when a person goes vegan, eventually smooth out. People adjust. Situations change and new traditions are born.
Content and photos updated January 2020. Originally posted September 2012.