11 March 2011

Adventures in dating as a vegetarian or vegan

Dating. It can be awkward and complicated enough, regardless of your age. You want to make a good impression, while remaining true to yourself; a challenge that I feel most vegans/vegetarians encounter on the dating scene. Let's face it, even though veganism/vegetarianism is going more mainstream and receiving more attention, a significant majority of the people we meet are more likely to be omnivores.

So how do we seek out those vegan/vegetarian-friendly candidates?

How do we talk about something that isn't just a diet, but a lifestyle, without scaring someone away?

Everyone has their own limits about the lifestyle they feel most compatible with. I've met vegans/vegetarians who refuse to date meat-eaters (and vice versa), and others who are open to dating anyone regardless of their diet, as long as the personalities are compatible.

I've had some interesting experiences on the dating scene as a vegetarian, so I'm here to share my stories with you.

The Meat Lover: This person does not only eat their 2-3 servings of meat per day, they love to eat meat. They'll try to have a lot of it at every meal and have probably never given thought to where their food comes from. They laugh at vegans/vegetarians, and have an endless supply of belittling jokes. They'll attempt to convince you that you miss meat so much, and might even wave a forkful of meat at you over dinner, expecting you to salivate.

When I was dating a Meat Lover I was only beginning to do research on plant-based diets, planning on switching over to vegetarianism. When I tried to have a conversation about it (I was excited about all the information I was discovering!), he brushed it off as "stupid," making the usual (ignorant) claims about not having enough protein or other nutrients, or accusing me of obsessing over my weight. As if he wasn't bad enough, it turned out his whole family shared the same sentiments towards vegetarians. I recall the first (and only) time I went to a family dinner, right after "Hello" someone said, "You better not be vegetarian, we can't stand them!" During a break in the relationship, his "conditions" for getting back together were a) not being vegetarian and b) gaining 15 lbs in a month. Do I even need to say what happened after that?

The Fatherly Vegetarian: This person is a vegetarian guru. They've been at it a whole lot longer than you, and they make sure you know it. A fountain of knowledge if you ever have questions, and you don't mind being spoken to like a child, leaving you feeling uninspired after the preaching. Too much time with this type and you end up just going through the motions of vegetarianism, rather than embracing and enjoying it.

I can give credit to the Fatherly Vegetarian I dated briefly for at least making me realize that being vegetarian didn't have to be an ideal, but could very easily be a reality. Sure, I learned a thing or two about nutrition, so it wasn't a completely negative experience. But I can also thank him for showing me the kind of vegetarian I don't want to be. I would never want to be condescending to someone for not knowing the facts of animal cruelty (we know how well-hidden it is!) or for believing that meat is essential to a healthy diet (we know how well-promoted that is!) or for never realizing that the production of honey contributes to animal cruelty. And yes, those examples are taken from questions and beliefs I had as a newbie. For the record, he may have given me a push in the right direction, but he's not the reason I am still vegetarian!

The Respectful Omnivore: This person eats a balanced diet of the five food groups (including meat), but doesn't express any judgement on other people's dietary choices. They don't mind planning ahead for dinner dates to ensure vegetarian options are available. They ask questions about your lifestyle, either out of curiosity or to take into more serious consideration for their own lifestyle. They might poke fun at you from time to time, but it's in good nature and you don't mind laughing at yourself with this person. Possibly not ideal for all vegans/vegetarians out there, but for those tolerable of omnivores, your lifestyle choices rarely clash and can make for intriguing conversations and debates.

My boyfriend is a Respectful Omnivore. He regards my lifestyle with sincerity and respect and it's never been a conflict. Actually, he eats tofu regularly and is open to vegetarian cuisine. He's very considerate when we go to restaurants, always checking the menu or asking the wait staff about their vegetarian options to make sure I can enjoy a good meal and not just a side salad. He may not be vegetarian (yet!) but I appreciate his support and open-mindedness. Of course we don't agree on all things concerning animal rights and diet, but it always makes for meaningful conversations and he's never insulted my intelligence for being vegetarian. We're civil and constructive in our discourse. I wasn't sure how I would get along with an omnivore, but seeing as he's not in any way opposed to vegetarianism, I feel very comfortable in expressing my opinions and hearing his. Relationships often, if not always, require patience, respect and compromise; elements that I feel we have a pretty good grasp on. Kudos to P for being so cool! :-)

Through my experiences I've come up with a few suggestions about dating as a vegan/vegetarian:
  1. Don't be preachy about your lifestyle or judgmental about theirs. How is that going to inspire?
  2. Don't apologize for your lifestyle. If you're 'sorry' about being vegan/vegetarian, then why bother?
  3. Don't overwhelm your date with too much information at once. You probably didn't learn everything you know now in one day either, so be patient.
  4. Do express the benefits you've experienced since becoming vegan/vegetarian once that conversation has started, but also the challenges you faced.
  5. Do have a sense of humor. No need to be all doom and gloom about the reality of the food industry when you're on a date!
Of course, if you're feeling insulted by their jokes/comments, let them know! You're awesome for being vegan/vegetarian, but some people just can't see it.

Are there any tips you would like to share? Success stories? Nightmares? I know this is from a woman's perspective, so men chime in too. I encourage you to share your experiences in the comments.

Tanya Ayala | @tanya_lua
Tanya is a full-time student at Concordia University, pursuing a BA in Political Science & Professional Writing. She was initially inspired to become vegetarian because of the health benefits, but after watching Food, Inc. and Earthlings, and reading Eating Animals, she realized that her lifestyle had the potential of improving the environment and animal rights.  Follow Tanya on Twitter and on Tumblr.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/mcheras