I’m a vegan living with a non-vegan. My kitchen is not vegan because my boyfriend sometimes chooses to purchase meat, eggs and dairy. Although he doesn’t cook often, and actually loves most of my vegan meals, there are times when I can’t cook for him and he makes a meat or dairy laden meal for himself.
When we first started dating I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian, so having eggs or milk in the house was not a problem. I even cooked meat for him in the early stages of our relationship. About two years in, I transitioned to veganism. I could no longer deny the atrocities of the dairy industry and also the toll it had taken on my health. Due to my heavy consumption of dairy products, a high-stress job and lack of exercise, I was about 25 pounds overweight.
So I went vegan and never looked back. Although my boyfriend supports my lifestyle and ethics, eating vegan meals whenever I cook, he has not expressed a desire to go vegan himself. Due to my demanding job, I can’t cook all the time and he also chooses to eat meat and dairy when we go out.
It can be tricky navigating a vegan/non-vegan relationship and unless done tactfully, the differences can create a wedge. And because vegans are a minority, many of us plant-based eaters will end up dating or marrying an omnivore.
Here are my tips for making such a relationship work!
1. Be patient, not preachy
I think one of the biggest errors many new vegans (myself included) make is that we tend to evangelize our veganism to our loved ones, turning them off. While it is understandable that you will want to riddle off statistics and launch into a diatribe about the horrors of factory farming when you see your loved one eating or preparing animal products, that approach can do more harm than good when trying to win someone over to your side. What someone eats is a very personal thing and resentment can surface if they feel attacked each time they eat something they enjoy. Instead, talk up the benefits of veganism by saying how good you feel since you made the switch. Exercise and eat healthy so you can be an example even without saying a word. If they ask for advice, then explain why veganism is the best lifestyle. Remember, unless you were lucky enough to be raised vegan, you once were in their shoes and would not want to be attacked for doing what you see as normal.
2. Cook yummy traditional dishes with vegan replacements
A way I got my boyfriend to cut down on meat eating was just by using mock meats in dishes, such as meatless meatballs in spaghetti, vegan sausage with tofu scrambles for breakfast, or yummy vegan pancakes. Gardein and Field Roast make amazing mock meats. While I don’t think they should be eaten everyday, they are great to help people transition and eat less animal fat while enjoying the tastes they are familiar with. Curries are very popular in the Bahamas, but instead of chicken I use chickpeas and other veggies.
3. Offer to do more cooking and food shopping
Although I don’t have time to cook dinner every night like I would like, I do the bulk of food preparation in the house. My meals are generally healthy but tasty and that way my boyfriend is eating vegan more often than he is realizing. When shopping, I purchase vegan dairy products – the new options like Good Karma flax milk, Silk soy creamer and Daiya vegan cheeses taste so much like the real thing, they satisfy vegan and non-vegan taste buds alike. Nearly every week new vegan options are popping up in my supermarket, making it even easier for those of us outside the United States to not feel deprived.
4. Ask them to watch a documentary with you
As I said earlier, what someone eats is a personal thing. We connect food to our childhood, happy memories, our cultural identity. An omnivore may think giving up meat or dairy means changing who they are. Additionally, many people do not realize the Standard American Diet, which has spread to many other countries including mine, is detrimental to their health. By exposing your loved one to documentaries like What the Health, Earthlings or the Netlflix movie Okja, it can help open their eyes to the benefits of veganism.
5. Don’t expect change overnight
When you become vegan, it’s understandable to get angry when others around you do not become immediately enlightened and give up meat and dairy. Some people will make a connection right away once they start eating plant-based meals and see how much better they feel. They may want to eschew animal products right away after watching videos of animal cruelty. Others will be stubborn and can take years to make the switch. If you love the person, I suggest being patient and accepting them. Remember, you are planting a seed that undoubtedly will sprout someday.
6. Don’t compromise your ethics
Last but not least, do not be forced into compromising your ethics. While I understand my partner has the freedom to eat and purchase what he wants, I do not purchase animal products for him. Although he sometimes gets irritated, I just state calmly that I do not want my dollars going towards these items nor do I want to pick them up in the store. But he is free to do so if he wishes. I think the best way to cohabit with someone on a different spectrum than you is to respect their beliefs and that swings both ways. If the person you are with is frequently pushing you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with and not respecting your boundaries, then it is time to reevaluate the relationship.