Birthday Celebration without Meat or Alcohol?

My family back home in the States kept asking how I would celebrate my birthday this year.

I replied that my girlfriend was going to cook me a dinner of Cauliflower Mushroom Marranca and Kale with Cashew Cream Sauce from FatFreeVegan, but I guess somehow cauliflower and kale didn’t sound festive enough, because they persisted in inquiring about my birthday plans.

In recent years, due to long working hours, it had become increasingly rare to celebrate my birthday on my birthday (let alone find time for a relaxing meal anytime), so I would celebrate a little here and there, whenever I could over the course of what became “birthday week”. Usually, this added up to an excess of rich foods and alcohol, and extra weight that had to be exercised off.

Prior to becoming vegan, I would usually request my favorite comfort foods such as stewed lamb shanks, coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine),  or spanakopita for special occasions. Now, I still celebrate with rare foods (kale was unknown here in Japan until recently) and new methods of cooking (or even raw dishes).

People frequently ask me if vegans are allowed to drink alcohol. Technically, alcohol is fine for vegans, provided it doesn’t contain animal products or use them in production. You’d surely be surprised (according to Barnivore.com’s alcohol directory) how many alcoholic beverages do.

In fact–after giving up meat, dairy and eggs–I was comforted (literally) that I could continue my familiar habit of drinking a glass (or 3) of red wine every night with dinner. I was reassured by oft-cited research into red wine’s benefits (for blood circulation, etc), while conveniently ignoring the caveat not to start drinking wine if you don’t already.

So why give up drinking alcohol, if–as a vegan–you don’t “have to”? For me, it just happened naturally, out of an increased awareness of my health.

It wasn’t because of alcohol’s intoxicating effects or any addiction that I gave it up.  In the process of marathon training, I just realized how much easier it was to wake up at 4am to train without drinking the night before.

The high calories in alcohol were another factor. A glass (just 6oz) of red wine has 128 calories, and a double martini close to 400 calories! Each of us has only so many calories allotted in a day, and I prefer  nutrient-rich and delicious plant-based foods over the empty calories in an alcoholic drink.

If the occasion calls for celebration, there are always non-alcoholic beverages: For example, Kirin makes a malted beverage called Zero (yet to confirm whether it meets vegan standards) that has 0.0% alcohol and close to no sugar, resulting in only 67 calories per 350ml (12oz) can.  Consumed in the company of good friends, it can make you tipsy!

How has becoming vegan changed your way of celebrating? If you’re an aspiring vegan, what social aspects worry you the most about observing special occasions? Don’t let giving up meat and alcohol take away your pleasure!