How I navigate Lunar New Year as a vegan
Featured author: Katie Mai
As we approach Lunar New Year, over one billion people around the world will be coming together with loved ones to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit! The festivities bring with them an array of delicious, fragrant and colourful dishes, shared and enjoyed family-style at the dinner table, and offered to our late ancestors with respect.
However, for those of us who have chosen to eat more plant-based foods or live a plant-based lifestyle, these gatherings can be a source of stress as many traditional dishes and customs revolve around the use of animal products. But fear not! It is entirely possible to fully embrace the spirit of the festival without contributing to animal suffering or environmental destruction.
Cultural Perspectives on Veganism
“Veganism” is often criticized as being appropriative, expensive and even elitist. While veganism in the West is relatively new, there is a long history of plant-based eating in China, tracing back to 770 B.C. and even earlier in other Eastern societies. Vegan philosophy originates from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, where food is closely intertwined with spirituality, medicine, and principles of moral virtue. Abstinence from animal consumption is considered purifying to both the mind and body
Growing up in the Chinese diaspora in Canada, I have come to realize that the realities of my parents’ generation and mine are vastly different. My elders and relatives, due to famine and poverty in China, often did not have enough to eat. To greet one another, we ask, “Have you eaten yet?” which has become shorthand for “How are you?” Animals were a source of compact nutrition in an environment of scarcity and only eaten on special occasions, such as on Lunar New Year.
Because of their struggle, I now have the privilege of access to a whole foods, plant-based diet that is nutritionally complete and delicious. I am grateful to have the option to make this choice, however this doesn’t come without challenges at the dinner table where my views often clash with those in my family and community.
Tips for Navigating Lunar New Year Celebrations
Emphasize textures in your cooking. It is the textures and flavours that make food taste like food. While a lot of people eat animal-based foods for their texture, we can easily replicate tenderness, crispiness, and crunchiness from plants. For example, replace meat dumpling filling with textured vegetable protein or shredded tofu and jicama, and use a flax egg (1:3 flax meal and water) to bind.
Embrace the flavour of the plant ingredient in its whole! You can use mock meats in your dishes, but can take the deliciousness to the next level using whole plant foods as well. One of my favourite dishes is “Buddha’s Delight” – a truly delightful stir fry of mushrooms, wood ears, bean curd, carrots, glass noodles, and other vegetables. The dish brings out the unique flavour of each ingredient and is not masquerading as a meat dish. For dessert, make steamed red bean glutinous rice cake, or sticky rice balls with black sesame filling.
Be mindful of hidden non-vegan ingredients. Oyster sauce, fish sauce, and egg noodles are often found in traditional dishes. Check the ingredients before consuming or cooking with them.
Inviting open dialogue around a feast of traditional dishes – made vegan – is a respectful way to educate, spark conversation and understanding.
Our actions and choices have the power to either harm or heal. They impact not only our personal health, but the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants. We can honour our cultural traditions whilst honouring our values and the rights of all beings. With the New Year comes a new opportunity to take steps towards a brighter and more compassionate future.
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