Image (c) Dennis Marciniak
Since I started mentioning my boyfriend, Steven (name reveal!) on the blog, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about his diet: is he vegan, too? If not, how do we balance our lifestyles together? What do we eat?
On Sunday, I alluded to the fact that my boyfriend would soon be sharing a little post about his experience dating a vegan, and how his own attitude toward food has been impacted by our relationship. I wasn’t expecting Steven to be so keen on writing this, but I’m absolutely delighted that he’s willing to share. In my experience, a lot of vegan or vegan-leaning women have tremendous anxiety about balancing their values with romantic partnership or dating; I’ve even had clients tell me that they’d like to be vegan, but they fear appearing too “high maintenance” in the social (and thus the romantic/dating/mating) sphere.
I don’t think it has to be like this. Obviously, this is a personal matter, and I don’t expect everyone to be as comfortable taking a hard, fast, and public stance on veganism as I’ve chosen to do. But I don’t like to hear that any vegan would feel pressured to modify food choices for fear of making a prospective mate skittish. If an admirer or lover or potential partner values you, then he or she will find ways to respect the way you eat, even if the values aren’t shared exactly. He or she will also show interest in the food you eat to whatever extent possible. Is it sometimes difficult for omnivores and vegans to share meals? Sure. But there are ways, and in a loving relationship, those ways are cultivated with mutual care and enthusiasm.
Steven was an omnivore when we met. We didn’t discuss my veganism too much; in fact, I’d say it came up less frequently at first than it had in other relationships, in part because Steven didn’t make me feel exotic or strange or pepper me with bewildered questions (I’m all about sharing information, but there are only so many times a girl wants to respond to “so, what can you eat?” on a first date). Before our first date, Steven had clearly done a little reading about veganism, and while he expressed curiosity, he didn’t make me feel as if my lifestyle is some sort of novelty. He also wasn’t patronizing about it, didn’t make silly hamburger jokes, for which I was profoundly grateful. He was respectful, interested, and totally open to sharing food with me.
As you’ll see from Steven’s post, that attitude has permeated our entire relationship, and I’ve never before experienced such joy sharing food with a partner. Steven and I eat dinner together as often as we possibly can. We love cooking and cleaning side-by-side, and we adore eating out together. Steven is the best (and most enthusiastic!) recipe tester I could ever ask for, and our shared passion for food and eating is sweetened by the fact that he has expressed interest in veganism on a philosophical level as well as a culinary one. Steven has visited farm sanctuaries with me, helped me to share and promote my work, and listened to my viewpoints about veganism over the course of many long, honest, and respectful conversations, many of which were had on my sofa in the tender, early months of our relationship. His recognition of what veganism means to me–a lifestyle, an ethical cornerstone, a culinary passion, an ED recovery avenue–has touched me deeply, and I’m so lucky to dine with him, day in and day out.
Before I get too gushy, I’ll let Steven take over.
Hello, vegan world. It’s me – omnivore.
When Gena and I began dating, the only thing I knew about veganism was what I had heard from my uncle. He had been vegan for several decades, after visiting a slaughterhouse. I had tried some of his food at family reunions, and honestly, I was not the biggest fan. Beyond that, I knew nothing else – none of my friends were vegan, and I had never eaten at a vegan restaurant.
Until this year, I would say my dietary choices were similar to the vast majority of young people in this country; crap, loaded with more crap. In some twisted way, I thought I was eating healthy, with my bacon-egg-and-cheese, chicken sandwiches, and ice cream. Rare was the day that I chose to eat anything green. Fruit was a maybe, and veggies were a never. Even in the midst of training for some ridiculous athletic event, it never occurred to me to change the way I ate. I just loaded up on the pasta.
I knew Gena was vegan, of course, and I had read a bunch of Choosing Raw before we ever went on a date. Her veganism was one of the first things I knew about her. . (Thank god for the Internet, by the way. Anyone who says they don’t Google a person before going out with them is lying. You just are.) Was I skeptical? No, not really. I was stupidly excited to be going out with Gena. On our second date we went to a restaurant that I knew served a good lentil burger, and at least had a few additional vegan salads. Neither of us can remember if we had a conversation about veganism that night – but I do know that I never considered ordering anything that wasn’t vegan. There was no way in hell I was going to sit down and order a steak after reading Choosing Raw. C’mon people, I was trying to seduce the lady! And, in all seriousness, I wanted to respect her food choices. Besides, I wanted a meal that we could share.
The date went really well, in case you were wondering. We spent more and more time together, which meant I was exposed to more vegan food. I got banana soft-serve (addicting), tempeh and risotto (extraordinary), and every kind of smoothie known to humankind. With the food, came the talk – I learned quite a bit more about veganism and what it meant to Gena. There were more than a few palm-to-forehead moments for me. How did I not know that a cow must be pregnant in order to produce milk? That’s forced impregnation, folks. Basic mammalian biology, fail.
My relationship with Gena opened my eyes to a lot of preconceived notions about vegans and the food they ate. I thought that being vegan meant eating a salad for every meal, with no dressing. I assumed that their food was tasteless, boring, and that they were judgmental of others. I had never heard of seitan or tempeh, and had never even tried almond or soymilk. The vegans I met (and there were many) were the exact opposite of what I had envisioned; they were kind, intelligent and moral, and generally open-minded about trying new food combinations. Beyond a few online comments now and again, I have yet to see a vegan have an adverse, rude reaction to a particular person’s food choices. In fact, I’ve seen quite a bit of reactions in the other direction.
There are innumerable little bits and pieces that go into making a relationship work, and food sometimes encompasses quite a few of them. In some ways, Gena and I got quite lucky; I knew exactly where she stood from the beginning, and our experiences have pulled me in her direction. I am a now a full-on sucker for the food she makes (but you already know how delicious her food is, don’t you, readers?). Spoiled rotten, that’s me.
If being vegan is something you are passionate about, your partner is going to have a hard time not being dragged along. And it shouldn’t be kicking and screaming, either – if they care for you, and what you believe in, then the choice is an easy one. Maybe they won’t ever go vegan, and maybe you’re OK with that. But they will respect your choices, and won’t belittle you for expressing them at dinner parties, restaurants, and at home.
The key for Gena and I has been communication, and it should be the same for any vegan/omnivore relationship. Food is many different things to many different people, and there are lots of perspectives. Most vegans ate animal products at one time, so they know the deal. Omnivores, you can try vegan food, it won’t kill you (and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be addicted in no time). In some ways, I’m still the same eater I was before I met Gena: I still love me some carbs, particularly pasta, and yes, I eat cereal almost every morning. (With soymilk, duh.)
Will I be vegan someday soon? Probably. The more I learn about veganism, visit animal sanctuaries, and learn about factory farms, the harder I can justify any sort of meat or dairy consumption. Gena was the impetus for this change, but veganism has taken on a life of its own inside my head, and there is no stopping it now.
So perhaps the title of this post was a bit of a misnomer. Dating a vegan is easy, because Gena has converted me, bite by bite.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed Steven’s words. He and I were actually thinking that he might blog somewhat regularly here at CR; he wants to share a list of his favorite vegan comfort foods, and I’d love to write a bit about the ways in which our relationship has changed and expanded my own cooking style. So: think of questions for us! We’d love to share, especially if it involves telling you all about the food we love to eat together.
Speaking of, I have a killer holiday-themed meal sized salad on the way this weekend. Stay tuned, and good night.