For our first date, my husband, Hugh took me to a beautiful, rustic Italian restaurant in New York City. Even though we had only just met, I already knew I liked him. A lot. We were sitting in a cozy booth in the back of the restaurant, drinking red wine. And then, he ordered squid ink pasta. My heart sank a tiny bit. I had been hoping that maybe — maybe! — he was a vegetarian like me.
When our food arrived, he enthusiastically offered me a bite of his squid pasta. I casually declined and went back to my cacio e pepe. It seemed early in the relationship to bring up that I was a vegetarian and I didn’t want to make a thing out of it. I had been veggie long enough to know that people who aren’t vegetarians don’t like hearing about it. Plus, there’s no point in making someone feel bad about what they’re eating — especially when said-someone is a really handsome, funny, smart, grounded person who I was having a lot of fun with.
Over the years I’ve found that when I tell people I’m a vegetarian they either A) make fun of me, or B) feel like I’m judging them if they eat meat (I’m not!). I didn’t know if Hugh fell into either one of these categories. Luckily, he didn’t. When I told him on our second date, which was I suppose, an extension of our first because it was, um, breakfast the next morning… he shrugged and went back to his eggs.
But, Hugh is the exception. Almost 10 years later, I’m vegan and even though I’m living in Los Angeles (the soy-free, nut-free, sanity-free dietary capital of the world), I’m still surprised at the questions and comments I get. But, I shouldn’t be. I’ve been hearing them my whole life.
What Do You Even Eat?
So many foods we eat and enjoy every day are naturally vegetarian or even vegan. Salads, pastas, granola, half the menu at your favorite Chinese take-out place. After giving up meat, I never even thought about it — or missed it.
I decided — somewhat abruptly — to become a vegetarian when I was 12 years old, after reading an article in Rolling Stone that Howard Jones (Things Can Only Get Better!) was one. I loved that song. I told my parents at breakfast, but by dinner that night, I’d already forgotten about my new lifestyle as I chewed on a piece of steak while my entire family stared at me, waiting for me to remember. A few years later, as a teenager, I became a vegetarian for real. I just didn’t want to eat animals. Basing the decision on something that was important to me (as opposed to Howard Jones) made it stick. I loved the feeling that every time I ate, I was making a choice, that I wasn’t participating in an industry that hurt animals. It became a part of me.
I was surprised to see the strong a reaction others had. Just a few years ago, I had a boss that actually made fun of me — telling me that I didn’t know what I was missing. WOULD YOU SAY THAT TO BEYONCÉ WHEN SHE WAS VEGAN?
What About Thanksgiving?
This is a popular corollary to “What Do You Even Eat?” I get it — how can you have Thanksgiving without turkey? But the whole turkey-on-Thanksgiving thing is kind of manufactured anyway. Apparently at the first Thanksgiving, venison was the protein of choice. Do you want to eat Rudolph for Thanksgiving? Me neither. That’s also how I feel about turkeys. But I understand that it’s very deeply engrained. Still, my answer to this one is always the same, “Come over for dinner!”
I decided the best way to express my vegetarianism (and now veganism) was by feeding the people I loved great food.
I invited Hugh for Thanksgiving after we had been dating a couple months. It turned out he had no real opinion about my being a vegetarian. He respected my choices, but it wasn’t for him. At dinner he had two helpings of winter squash lasagna, my mother’s stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and multiple pies.
That Christmas, he invited me to spend the holiday with his family in Louisiana. His mom emailed me a few weeks before, to tell me me how excited she was to meet her son’s new girlfriend and that they were planning plenty of vegetarian courses for me.
I was so touched and also impressed. For Hugh’s family, it was new to have someone at the table who wasn’t eating meat. Instead of judging me or panicking, they made me welcome.
Will it upset you if I order a steak?
I know that asking comes from a place of consideration, but I DON’T CARE IF YOU EAT MEAT. Well, I do care. A little. If I’m being really honest, I wish you wouldn’t. But I don’t judge you. I was a vegetarian for years before I went vegan and every time I met a vegan, I’d roll my eyes and think “Here we go again,” when they started talking about nut milks and animal suffering. (Although, have you tried Beyond Meat?)
But Where Do You Get Your Protein?
They Have a Great Vegetable Plate Here!
I Could Never Give Up Cheese.
Yeah, I get it. I used to be the same way. I LOVED cheese. But I wanted to see if I could do it. It was a challenge – like cooking with one hand tied behind my back. Could I bake without milk, butter, and eggs? (Yes!)
Is Hugh Vegan?
This is the big question. Now that we’re married, and now that I’m vegan, people always ask me if Hugh is vegan, too, as if it were some giant, potential relationship deal-breaker like religion or whether or not to have children (neither of which I’ve figured out, btw). I’ve discovered that not everything needs to be solved ahead of time and that so much of what a marriage is, is figuring shit out together.
He drinks his coffee with almond milk. He grills veggie burgers for us on the weekends. The best part? He wasn’t doing it for me. It was his choice.
Recently, Hugh’s dad emailed me, asking for vegetarian sandwich ideas. He was curious and wanted to give it a try. I was thrilled. I sent him simple recipes and he reported back after making each one. Now, he’s almost entirely vegetarian, though he admitted, a little sheepishly, that he still eats turkey at Thanksgiving. He’s 80. He gets to do whatever the hell he wants.
And who cares? Maybe strict labels make things more complicated. Now, Hugh gently teases me for owning leather bags — I’m slowly getting rid of them. I’m wearing leather sandals as I type this and last month after drinking two martinis at my friend’s karaoke birthday party, I started shoveling cake into my mouth without asking first if it was made with dairy. But the rest of the time I’m vegan. I’m doing the best I can.