I met my boyfriend at a mutual friend’s birthday party. He walked into the bar, gave my friend a copy of Lean In as a birthday present, and told her he "really enjoyed reading it." So basically, I knew immediately that he was perfect for me. On one of our first dates, he took me to my favorite vegan restaurant, clearly a tip-off from our friend. I had been vegan since shortly after college, inspired by books like The Kind Diet and documentaries like Food, Inc. — but also motivated by the search for better skin and an overall sense of well-being. Though Dave was a great sport on our vegan date, it was obvious he had no idea what he was eating ("What’s seitan?" he asked, pronouncing it like "Satan") or what being vegan actually meant. But unlike other dates, Dave didn’t make me defend my diet choices — or point to his incisors and growl, "What do you think these are for?" Instead, he made me feel at ease, even though he was out of his comfort zone. So I had no problem opening up to him as we continued dating. We talked politics, families, feminism, and how we both wanted to leave our jobs in advertising. We tinkered awkwardly on our guitars together and spent one entire date watching ‘90’s music videos. Still, despite our compatibility, I knew it was going to be hard to find common ground on the food issue. Bless him, but my new boyfriend was a bacon-loving, label-ignoring carnivore from the south who thought the term "all natural" meant something and that "organic" was just code for "more expensive." As our relationship progressed, it became more tempting to share with him everything I knew about food and the food industry. Didn’t he know that high fructose corn syrup may be worse for your health than refined sugar? Or that many adults can’t digest milk after infancy? What about how cows are the leading source of methane gas in our atmosphere? How could I not tell him these things? But since I was worried about sounding like a vegan vigilante, and because this was one of the only subjects we had wildly different opinions on, I kept my critiques of his fridge to myself.
If I wanted harmony in our kitchen and relationship, I needed to be tactful — and take baby steps, so we could meet in the middle.
When we decided to move in together after two years of dating, despite everything I was looking forward to about cohabitation, there was one domestic fantasy I worried about: cooking together. If I wanted harmony in our kitchen and relationship, I needed to be tactful — and take baby steps so we could meet in the middle.
Peanut butter cookies are Dave’s kryptonite, so I stealthily made him a vegan version. After he had about five, I broke the news. "They’re vegan?" He was skeptical. "Yep. No milk or eggs." "But they don’t taste vegan." A watershed moment. After that, he stopped equating vegan with "grassy." (And I felt pretty smug.) Later, he realized he liked the taste of almond milk in his cereal better than regular milk. Another win. But when I tried different meat substitutes in our meals, he was honest. "Doesn’t this taste like chicken?" I’d ask, though it had been so long since I’d had real chicken, I couldn’t really remember. "Not at all," he’d say, but he’d eat it. And that was fair enough. I was just appreciative that he was open to trying anything I put in front of him, and that he knew sharing a meal together was maybe more important than what the meal consisted of.
He never rolled his eyes about the many meat substitutes I served him, or made me feel like a crunchy weirdo.
Plus, there was one upside to having such different approaches to food: I was able to see how accommodating and nonjudgmental Dave was. He never rolled his eyes about the many meat substitutes I served him, or made me feel like a crunchy weirdo. I didn’t have to be the "perfect" version of myself around him — the chill girl who kept her mouth shut and pretended not to know the difference between Smart Balance and Earth Balance, for example. At the dinner table and in our relationship, I could be fiercely opinionated, sometimes preachy, or even totally hypocritical, and he still liked me that way. Sure, it might be easier if we both shared the same diet, but I’ve realized that I don’t want him to radically change what’s been working for him, and I want him to continue to enjoy the foods he grew up loving. Dave will probably never be a vegan or vegetarian, but I’m proud of the small changes he’s made, and I respect his choice to eat meat. He’ll watch maybe one in five of the food documentaries that I suggest. He’s more conscious of buying organic now, and reading labels is almost second nature to him. And sometimes, I’m a "bad" vegan and can’t resist joining him for pizza after a late night out. But the compromises in our diets don’t feel like concessions. If we’re spending time together, it’s an investment in our relationship, no matter what we’re eating. We still do our grocery shopping separately, but we find two to three days per week when we make dinner together — veggie tacos, or pasta, with sausage on the side for him. And though the smell of that sausage still makes me nauseous, every time I see him open the fridge and drink the Almond Breeze, usually right from the carton, I feel as enamored of him as the day we met.