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Dealing With a Mixed Relationship
have been vegan for about a month, after being a lacto-ovo
vegetarian for eleven years. My boyfriend of four years
eats some meat, and loves cheese, cream sauces, etc. He
hates brown rice and is not fond of fresh fruits and vegetables.
He has eaten soy cheeses and meat substitutes but still
prefers the "real" thing. This makes having meals together
very difficult! I am planning to get your "Uncheese Cookbook"
and possibly signing up both of us for a vegan cooking
class. Do you have any suggestions on how to bring our
eating habits more in synch with each other? I have tons
of recipes, but I'm tired of suggesting meals that don't
appeal to him, and it doesn't feel right for us to eat
separately. Even though he is making some effort to be
tolerant, he's still skeptical. Thanks for any insight
you can give me on this situation!
Relationships between people with divergent
lifestyles can be extremely frustrating. It is especially
hard when one person is a vegetarian and the other one
is not, because eating is such a frequent and important
activity. For many people, sharing food with those we
love is an act of nurturing and an expression of unity
and harmony. It can be devastating when someone you
love and care about rejects the food you painstakingly
prepare. On the other hand, food choices are very personal.
Everyone's preferences differ, and what excites one
person may be unpalatable to another.
Being vegan is different from being
a vegetarian, not only with regard to food options but
in terms of all aspects of living. A total vegetarian
is someone who eats no animal products whatsoever. A
vegan, as you define yourself, is someone who has made
a conscious, ethical decision to lead a fully compassionate
life. This means that vegans not only avoid products
of suffering in their diet, they also refrain from contributing
to other forms of suffering, directly or indirectly,
through their relationships, activities, and purchases.
For many practitioners, veganism becomes a core value
system and a beacon for guiding all aspects of their
lives. As a result, relationships between vegans and
non-vegans parallel the challenges of interfaith couples.
Most relationships endure because of
a shared value system. When fundamental values between
people drastically change, the relationship can be put
in peril. Frequently love, trust, and the heartfelt
desire to please the other person can help weather the
distance created by differing beliefs. Sometimes, however,
this is not enough. If vegans believe that eating animals
is wrong and there is never a time when it is acceptable,
watching a partner consume meat can be disconcerting
and painful. Nevertheless, vegans in mixed relationships
often feel guilty about causing their loved one grief,
and may be torn between their principles and their partner.
Vegan values extend beyond the palate
and plate. Vegans who do not like particular foods will
seek out alternatives to meet their nutritional needs
and satisfy their tastes. For vegans, eliminating the
products of animal suffering from their diet and lives
is a matter of conscience, not an issue of denial or
inconvenience. This is what can make living with a non-vegan
There are many compelling reasons for
becoming vegan. Nonetheless, when people are pressured
to change, they tend to rebel rather than embrace new
ideas. Even when people understand a subject intellectually,
it doesn't necessarily follow that they will open their
hearts to it. And opening one's heart to the suffering
of animals, people, and the Earth is the only real motivating
force there is toward lasting veganism. However, no
one can open our hearts for us. This is something each
of us must do in our own way and in our own time.
Your partner may not fully understand
what prompted you to adopt a vegan lifestyle. You may
want to set aside some time to explain what inspired
you to make this change and why it is so important to
you. Your boyfriend may be more willing to listen if
he does not feel threatened, berated, or intimidated.
Let him know that you would like to be able to share
this part of your life with him because it is so significant
to you, but don't bulldoze him in the process. Allow
him time to speak and to share his side of things. Lend
an empathetic ear and listen nonjudgmentally. He is
hurting, just as you are, and may feel confused or belittled.
Provide literature and videos for him to explore when
he is ready -- not for the purpose of transforming him,
but for him to more fully understand where you are coming
Because food has been such a point of
contention for both of you, once you have aired your
viewpoints, jointly devise some guidelines that you
each can accept. For instance, you may not want to purchase
or cook meat for your boyfriend, but would agree to
him buying and cooking it for himself. Or, you may feel
that having meat in your home is intolerable, but you
would agree to him eating meat out of the house. You
could decide that when you go out to eat you will select
a restaurant that serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian
dishes, and so on.
Attending a cooking class is a great
suggestion, but don't insist that he attend with you.
Let him make his own decision, and if he chooses not
to go, let him decline with dignity. Using recipes from
"The Uncheese Cookbook" is
also a good idea. These recipes are rich-tasting and
creamy, and should appeal to his fondness for cheese
and dairy products. You may also want to check out my
book "Vegan Vittles." It contains
lots of recipes for meatless meats and satisfying traditional
dishes that taste incredibly like the "real" thing.
Because you can prepare these foods easily at home,
you can adjust the seasonings to make them exactly the
way your boyfriend prefers.
Bear in mind that transitioning to new
flavors and textures in food can be emotionally taxing,
and giving up foods that one has known and loved since
childhood can feel like a tangible loss. Try preparing
foods that are commonplace but not considered strictly
vegetarian. For example, bean burritos or tostadas with
all the trimmings, spaghetti with mushroom or marinara
sauce, baked potatoes, baked beans, stir-fried vegetables
with rice (if he doesn't like brown rice, try fragrant
basmati or jasmine rice), curried vegetables or dal
with chapatis, a hearty soup or stew, vegan pancakes
and french toast, or vinaigrette potato salad and coleslaw.
If you make dishes that are familiar and delicious in
their own right, and are not "substitutes" for anything,
your boyfriend may find them more appealing because
he's not comparing them with their meat counterpart.
Acknowledge that you may never come
to a full agreement on the issue of veganism, and realize
that employing tolerance and acceptance may be the only
way to preserve your relationship. We all feel that
our opinions and perspectives are the "right" ones,
and it is very tempting to foist them on others. Your
boyfriend probably feels just as strongly about his
position as you do about yours. If you extend your love
and compassion to him, without coercion, reproach, or
condemnation, you may one day find his heart opening
in directions you never imagined.
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