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Christmas dinner through vegan eyes

January 6, 2017

It’s the time of year when everyone hears what I had for Christmas dinner and fails to hide their abject lack of enthusiasm. They’ll say: “That sounds nice,” with charitable chirpiness and a tint of uncertainty.

Perhaps they’ll say nothing at all and simply look at their knees, biting their lip as they try not to picture their own Christmas dinner, which we both know would have resembled a miniature apocalypse.

Vegans commit the terrible sin each year of not eating turkey. No turkey? onlookers say, aghast. What else could there possibly be? What a boring diet you must have! they say, stacking a turkey on a pig on a cow on a pig on a turkey.

I reveal my colourful medley of vegetables they’ve never seen before, despite these being directly in front of them every time they walk in through the supermarket doors. Noses crinkle. Such a colourful display of vegetables is practically obscene.

I go one audacious step further than most veggies every Christmas by daring to dislike nut roast, meaning that whatever I’m eating is something no one’s heard of. That’s weird enough, since it’s only ever going to be pastry and vegetables and things. You’d think people would have heard of those.

I can’t get them to understand, either, that the Tofurkey roast I have been enjoying cold in sandwiches for several days is nothing like tofu as they know it. If they know it. (It’s soy bean curd. Soy beans. Beans. You can do a lot with beans.)

Christmas dinner this year was in fact a mushroom, spinach and sun dried tomato roulade. That’s a roll of pastry, baked in the oven. Across vegans and non-vegans alike, who can dismiss the decadence of a good pie or pasty? Despite having at least a whole three vegetables in it, it was plenty rich enough for a Christmas centrepiece.

So much so, I found myself wondering how in the past we managed an entire roast bird, bits of pig wrapped around other bits of pig, a quarter of a cow – and one year, potatoes cooked in a giant great vat of bird fat, sitting there glistening wetly in plain sight for several days. We should have been fatter than the animals purposefully fattened to contribute to our fatness.

More alarmingly still, immediately after the main course we somehow managed to pack away the usual parade of stodgy puddings filled with cow juice, covered in a different kind of cow juice and a sauce of cow and hen juice.

Most Christmases, I felt bloated and lethargic. You could shit for days and never be rid of it all. For the sake of tradition, I’d eat my way through things I didn’t like much. There was nothing to like; they were basically just salt and fat, in quantities that would close your throat up.

I’d eat more of everything than I wanted. It was heavy and difficult to finish but someone had taken the time to cook it and therefore All Must Be Eaten, even if it is a grotesque excess. I often felt that job went to me, being hearty of appetite.

Then there’s the addictive quality, whereby you think: “GOOD LORD, that’s salty and greasy, I couldn’t eat another bite but I’m going to eat all of it in the next ten minutes.”

Contrary to popular perception, my family and I have been a lot less farty these past couple of vegan Christmases as well. A ton of meat doesn’t do your bowels much good even in the short term, not to speak of the horrors of the long term effect.

If this is all a bit of a disgusting read, that’s because traditional Christmas dinner is basically a repugnant set of practises and habits. Enslavement, death, gluttony, obesity, lethargy, indigestion, farts and shit. Merry Christmas!

We actively encourage everyone to eat more than they need or even want. We see thoughtless excess as a sign of jollity as opposed to something you approach with trepidation. ‘Tis the season to have stomachache, tralalalalah, lalalala.

I’ve heard people talk about “working up” to the Christmas meal by overeating for several days running. Then we have to put up with these same people making daft purity New Years resolutions and complaining about how they’ve put on too much weight. Why? ask they to the Christmas gods. I only did my Christmas duty. Why dost thou punish me? Never does it occur to them to just not do the bad things that make them feel bad.

How come we don’t eat as little as we want over Christmas? There’s no benefit to taking more than you want, yet we act as though we think there must be, somewhere, in some indefinable way that we’re all supposed to intuitively understand and must never question. Or else we will be EXPELLED from Christmas. We get the idea that if you aren’t eating as much as possible, you somehow aren’t extracting the true value of the season.

The fact that it makes many of us feel miserable seems entirely besides the point. The Christmas gods have provided a time of plenty, and to spurn them would leave you cursed with humbug; whereby you will never enjoy Christmas again, and will be ostracised by the family, on whom you have brought shame and dishonour with your weak and puny stomach.

This excess of excess is easy to reach because we pretty much eat to excess all year round anyway. Some of us may train ourselves to eat less or eat better – at least, in short bursts. But in large part, we eat what we want, when we want and have minimal restrictions, self-imposed or otherwise. You have to overeat phenomenally at Christmas, because otherwise Christmas feels like everyday life. Which would, of course, be a tragedy beyond all measure.

There is some truth to the idea that if you restrict yourself a bit in your everyday life, you end up happier, because on the occasions when you do let go, you appreciate it more. We don’t do that anything like often enough when it comes to food. We should do it most of the year, but we’re obsessed with the idea of being able to have what we want all the time, because it means Freedom, or something.

Once upon a time, being able to overeat was considered enviable, because it meant you were rich. The tradition of Christmas as we know it is basically just festive overeating – a flamboyant and sometimes false demonstration of wealth.

It’s especially pointless when no one cares to observe this smug display. They’re all too busy working on their own performance, which somehow translates into worrying about whether they have enough breadcrumbs to stuff up a bird’s arse.

At Christmas, I didn’t just eat worse food. I used to eat a great deal more than I have this year (which was still more than plenty). Veganism teaches you to think about food differently. Because there are barriers to what you can eat, it is rarer to find special food. Then when Christmas comes, you don’t have to shovel it all down like some hideously vociferous alien creature.

You can eat a heavy, stodgy, fatty meal with pastry and chestnuts, roast potatoes and stuffing without thinking: “It’s just like any other Sunday.”

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