For most of the year being vegan isn’t that hard. When I transitioned into a plant-based diet five months ago after my high school graduation, it was June and I worked at an ice cream shop.

My first summer as a vegan faired pretty well seeing as though my occupation quelled my love of frozen dairy treats, so that was squared off. If it ever got hot out – like more than 85 degrees – I’d go to Foodland after work and buy a watermelon or any other seasonal fruits in bulk to cool off. And if I ever wanted something to hold me over after work, I’d simply head over to any fast-food chain and use the “urban tastebud” website to guide my vegan menu choices. At first this seemed like an easy adjustment, nothing like quitting cold turkey.

When fall rolled by and my first semester of college started, eating vegan was a skill that I thought I mastered. With a hot, grande, Starbucks Oprah Chai Tea Latte in hand (because the original Chai Tea Latte has honey in it, obviously), I felt accomplished.


Smoked jackfruit pithivier, starfruit cranberry chutney, whipped ʻulu, madeira sauce with baby portobello. (Photo Courtesy of Juicy Brew)

Then came the social gatherings: the baby’s first lūʻaus, the weddings, the graduation parties, but most of all, the holidays. It was at these events that I realized that my omnivore friends and family would have the upper-hand.

I didn’t think this far into the future when I chose to become a vegan. The biggest trial that most vegans can attest to being harder than actually committing to the lifestyle itself is eating with family. One of the values that I grew up learning was “no grumble if you don’t get your way,” which I found particularly trying when I was surrounded with people who ate their kālua pig wholeheartedly and suggested I “go make a plate.”

Most of my family can’t even conceive the idea of a vegetarian. When they hear the word “vegan” they don’t know how to react to it. Often they resort to making fun of my diet, questioning my intake of protein and other nutrients. Suddenly they’ve all become registered dietitians.

By the time they get their jabs in, they bring me to the buffet table and give suggestions as to what I may be able to eat, to which I’d have to kindly explain otherwise. Depending on what’s usually served at the party, I can usually try my hand at making a vegan plate consisting of mostly sides. For example, at a party that caters Hawaiian food, I’ll fill my plate with poi, rice, fruits, and, for dessert, haupia.

Sometimes when no compromise can be reached, there comes the feeling of being trapped behind a plexiglass wall. I am present and very aware of the enjoyment that’s going on around me while people eat, yet there’s nothing that either of us could do to reach across this division. At a time where food is supposed to bring together people to bond and exchange with each other their time, I feel particularly segregated from everyone else.

Once Thanksgiving and Christmas came around, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss drinking hot cocoa or eating pumpkin pie without having to worry what it’s made of. Sometimes I have to eat prior to a family function or bring an alternative meal for yourself if there’s nothing for me there.

This isn’t to say that I’m always discouraged when it comes to eating with family or friends.

It’s a completely different story eating out with friends and immediate family who already know of my lifestyle and the restrictions that come with it. Those closer to me are more accepting and are willing to forgo certain restaurants if they don’t serve anything “vegan-friendly” for me.

Even though the guilt slowly starts to seep in once you receive the side-eye from a family member when you shut down their suggestion of going to Curry House, you just have to take it in stride.

For a vegan to survive throughout the holidays, or for the rest of the year for that matter, it is important to stand firm in what you believe in but also be forgiving to other people’s ignorance. Not everyone – especially your collective family members – is going to understand why you chose to live a life free of animal cruelty. Just remember that the holidays are more than just food but also the people you love. They’ll love you whether you eat meat or not.