I often hear many vegans say they can never date anybody who eats meat. Being in a long-term relationship with an omnivore, here’s how we make it work.
For the past three years, I’ve been in a relationship with a non-vegan. While being in a relationship can be challenging enough, the clashing of vegan and non-vegan values adds an extra dynamic to the mix.
Many of my friends who choose to live a vegan lifestyle say that they would never enter into a relationship with somebody who isn’t vegan as well, or at least transitioning to it. In fact, 56% of American vegans feel the same about dating a non-vegan.
While sharing common values is one of the strongest foundations of building a healthy relationship, and many people seek a partner who shares common beliefs about veganism with them, I fear that many people might miss out on a really great relationship if they immediately cross somebody off the list just because they are currently not vegan.
Case in point: a close friend of mine started dating a man who eats meat, only to watch him transition to a fully vegan diet within the first month of being together. Close to four years later, that relationship is still going strong and they both remain vegan to this day. They are able to enjoy the benefits of shared meals together, an easy choice of what restaurants to eat at, and grocery shopping is a whole lot easier. And you also have a partner to support you emotionally when you’re at family events where everyone else eats meat.
But there comes a time in life where you meet someone who is so special to you, you look past this one belief system, and you do your best to make it work. For those of us who are willing to give it a try, here’s how to make it as easy as possible for both of you.
Eating out at restaurants
One difficult thing when you’re in a mixed relationship is deciding which restaurants work for the two of you. In my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, there are many different all-vegan restaurants, such as Native Foods Cafe and a vegan Chinese buffet. As my girlfriend chooses to avoid too many processed vegan meats, choosing those restaurant options wouldn’t work well for us as shared meals. Whenever I went to the vegan buffet, it was always with a group of my friends who are vegan.
When we spent time living in South America together, I experienced the opposite problem on my side. In general, the only options for me while going out to restaurants with her friends and family were side plates of chips and salads.
Nowadays, it takes more planning to view menus online before we go somewhere to see if they have a mix of vegan and non-vegan options. Just tonight, we went to a Freshie Mex in Sydney, Australia, where they have a separate menu listing all their traditional Mexican dishes made vegan. While we each have our own preferences, relationships are about meeting in the middle to something we can both enjoy.
So in the end, the best way to make this work is to understand that it’s give-and-take. While you may want to support 100% vegan establishments most of the time, there are more restaurants nowadays that have vegan menus, even if it’s not a 100% vegan establishment. It just takes an internet search and some extra planning to make it work.
And if your partner really doesn’t like fully vegan options, it could always be reserved for a night out with friends.
Going food shopping together
I also found it’s important to have clear boundaries about what you will and will not buy while shopping at the supermarket. In our first week of living together, we went grocery shopping at Aldi and, unlike when I was living on my own, she began placing various meats, cheeses, milk and eggs in the basket. This took me back a bit as for the previous two-and-a-half years, I hadn’t once purchased any non-vegan products at grocery stores.
Unsure how to balance the wellbeing of the relationship with my ethical values, I decided to pay for all the items that were vegan, including things like pasta, rice, and things we would share in meals together. She paid for all the items that were non-vegan and I explained that I didn’t feel comfortable paying for those items. I made sure to list my reasons why.
Even if I’m not eating those products, the cash I spend is put into supporting a system that goes against my personal values in life. But at the same time, some couples might say the same items will be purchased anyway and it doesn’t make a difference if they are paid for by his credit card or hers.
I recently came across two other mixed-diet couples who buy meat and dairy products for their partners, but the boundary is drawn where they won’t cook it or consume it themselves. This is where it’s important to have clear boundaries with what you will and won’t purchase and cook. Just as important, you should explain why you make that decision.
Cooking different meals
In the culture my girlfriend grew up in, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. For that reason, the biggest difference in our eating habits comes when we decide to cook lunch together.
The way we make this work is that we take turns cooking the “shared” part of the meal. This includes boiling pasta, making tomato sauce, cooking rice, roasting vegetables, or making some fried potatoes. Each day, it is the other person’s turn to do this cooking. Other couples split it up on a weekly basis.
Then, whether I’m eating a bean burrito or have plant-based meat alternatives, I would cook that myself. When she wants to eat meat, she would cook that herself. While this does require us both cooking each meal, it never takes me more than five to 10 minutes to heat up something like vegan mince beef on the stovetop, and it’s built into our patterns long enough where it’s not seen as an inconvenience. And many times, she makes vegan versions of sauces and dishes for me.
The more difficult part is when we go to family events together. In that case, some family members know to prepare an all-vegan side dish or a bowl of pasta for me. At my parents’ house, I do all my vegan cooking myself. In other instances, I bring something myself and heat it up to make it as effortless as possible for our hosts.
Can a vegan and non-vegan relationship work?
I think the biggest thing that makes our relationship work is an empathy of different belief systems and our own personal reactions to when somebody around us chooses to eat meat.
I know many ethical vegans who will not sit at the same table as somebody who eats meat. They often get an emotional reaction to the thought of it and would lose their appetite in the process. If this is the case, it would be much more difficult to be in a relationship with somebody who isn’t’ vegan as well. In fact, one vegan man I know refused to let his girlfriend eat meat in the house with him. She transitioned most of the way but still ate meat and eggs when she was at her family’s place.
For myself and the other vegans who are in long-term relationships with non-vegans, I noticed a common pattern of being able to be around people who eat meat, without the overwhelmingly negative reaction when we are around it. All the while, the thought of eating it ourselves just isn’t an option for us. That might be one of the driving factors for you.
But in the end, I notice you tend to take on the traits of those people around you. On many occasions, I hear my girlfriend tell family members that she is eating more plant-based foods and less meat as a result of dating me.
So for many vegans like myself, yes, we find a way to make it work. That’s not to say life is all perfect and we don’t go through our own unique share of struggles and frustrations. But when you find a person you want to be with, and they want to be with you as well, many times, they will be more willing to eat plant-based because of you.
Or if you’re currently single, the world is trending more plant-based by the day and it is becoming increasingly easy to find vegan partners as well.