Monday, November 22, 2010

Being Vegan in a Portuguese (Meat-loving) Family

They don’t like the word “no” and they don’t like the sight of an empty plate. They go a little nutty on the garlic. And although they’re only 5 feet small you better be ready to defend yourself when you enter their homestyle-decorated kitchens, because they’ll be in your face, kissing you on both checks in a matter of seconds. So who are “these people” you ask?

My family. My Portuguese, meat-loving relatives.

The Crew keepin' it real on Thanksgiving. I'm the little pilgrim on the left.

They love their food. They love the creamy potatoes with extra butter, and crisp baked ham, and home-grown seasoned turkey, and sausage, and succulent sweet bread, and goat cheese. Really, it’s endless. So when I visit you would think that meals might not be that difficult. 

They could eat their meat lovers feast and I could be satisfied with the slim pickings of veggies. Right? Wrong…

In Portuguese culture food equals love. A “No Thanks Tia Maria” to the homemade family stuffing is a punch in the stomach. “I don’t think so” to the garlic shrimp, a kick in the shins. And denying the finely decorated, oh-so-sugary, succulent dessert options may be taken like a body check from behind. 

I love my family so I don’t want to hurt them, but I’m not going to eat anything on the table, so what’s a vegan to do?

It may vary depending on your family and the temperaments of your aunts, grandmothers, chefs, etc. but this is what worked best for me: Tell them what you want. Be cautious about offering to bring anything (No, you don’t make anything!) as this may offend, but rather tell them “If you make the peas without the butter, I will gladly eat some.”  And they appreciate that.

They may not understand why I chose to be vegan, they may not agree with my moral or ethical decisions, but they’re my family and they love me. So they help to accommodate my needs. 

Their efforts really make me enjoy the holidays now. With two sets of veggies, and a house full of family, the dining space is a little squishy. However, because more food is more love, I think they secretly love it.  

Some vega-fied family recipes are below thanks to my Tia Olga and cousin Jessie aka "Bitty".

Happy Thanksgiving!



  1. way to go on a family that helps accomodates your needs! my mom always tries to sneak msg into my food, even after telling her not to many times. ugh!

  2. Yes - I am lucky. I also have a very protective older cousin Nancy that will yell in Portuguese should anybody try to put something in my food that they're not suppose to. The past two years she has upped her game by starting to announce which food options are mine. Haha. Love it!

    Mothers will always contend they know best!

  3. What an interesting blog you have, Danie! It's got such a variety of types of posts. I feel for you when it comes to holidays. It wasn't until I had a family that relatives started to want to make food special for vegans. It takes time, but looking below, it looks like your family has come around. I'm looking forward to seeing some posts on how you deal with business lunches and clients and being vegan. I'm adding you as a link. :-)