Balancing a Non-Vegan Partner

I often receive questions on navigating dating or thriving in long-term relationship where one partner is vegan and the other is not.  Most partnerships can survive a litany of differences – but food can be an especially tricky one. Food is deeply personal and rooted in tradition. Food also happens every day, several times a day. This is not only an important way to ground yourself in your culture and family, but also necessary for your survival! It’s ok to feel concerned about what a change in your eating habits could mean for your relationships.

I have a unique perspective having lived with both vegan and non-vegan partners. Years ago, I lived with a partner who actively ate meat, eggs, and dairy,  while I was a vegetarian.  I also have plenty of friends who are not vegan and have navigated these situations with various degrees of grace. On the other end of the spectrum, my husband Ty and I were both vegetarians when we started dating and became vegan at the same time a few years ago.  All that to say, I’ve had a spectrum of experiences.

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Photo by Scott McCormick 

I’ll start off by saying that having vastly different food choices is not a deal breaker by any means. I know lots of couples and really close friends who have different dietary choices. It’s similar to being a teetotaler when your friends or partner like to drink. The key here is setting boundaries and communicating. Below are some tips.

  • Communicate about what your partner can expect of you. Be open about your comfort level. For example, are you willing to cook chicken or eggs for Sunday brunch but not ingest? Or will you expect your non-vegan partner to handle all the animal products? No boundary is too extreme, so long as you have an honest dialogue about what lines you are unwilling to cross. 
  • Designate a main meal that is vegan. For example, if you eat dinner together every night, consider making it easy on both of you and designating that animal-free. This way, you will be able to eat together, but won’t face the added stress of cooking two separate meals. Then, maybe lunch and breakfast can be fair-game.
  • Don’t make meal-time a debate. Don’t project your own feelings on to your partner, no matter how fervently you believe in your choices. Don’t reveal statistics or disturbing information at your partner in hopes of swaying him or her to the light-side. Engaging in this type of behavior will do nothing more than create a rift between the two of you and it may end the relationship altogether. This is the same rule for close friends (unless they ask, and then, just like in a court of law, they have opened the door!). Don’t show the movies “Dominion” or Earthlings” at dinner (but maybe afterwards, muhaha). 
  • Remember that you were finding your way once too; and it is not your job to change them.  I can’t emphasize this enough. That doesn’t have to mean agreeing with everything they do, but you can coexist in a mindful way. You never know when you may be planting some seeds!
  • Look at restaurants and menus ahead of time to determine where you can both find a satisfying meal. This is just common courtesy, whether you have friends or a partner with dietary restrictions, allergies, etc.
  • Focus on the things you have in common! When people aren’t happy, they tend to look for differences between them to justify their unhappiness, and ignore what unites them; when happy, they celebrate the similarities and ignore areas of conflict. Look at where your likes and interests intersect and concentrate on expanding these things.
  • Cook together! You may be surprised by the delicious dishes you come up with together, and that will only bond you closer together.
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Ty & I. Photo by Scott McCormick 

One comment

  1. These tips are applicable to all aspects of our relationships with others. Food is indeed very personal. As you say it is not only for nourishment. It reflects culture. It makes us happy and it is the most important ways we welcome others.

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