When Your Partner isn’t Vegan: Vegans and Omnivores in Relationships, Dating Non Vegans & How to Keep the Peace at Home (Part 1)Oct 27, 2023
- Our online course The Roadmap, the ultimate guide that teaches you how to go vegan safely, deliciously, and handle any and every aspect of becoming vegan or when trying to make more vegan choices.
- The film Earthlings
- The Secular Buddhism Podcast by Noah Rasheta
In today's post and podcast episode we're going to start tackling all the ins and outs of being vegan and in a relationship with someone who isn’t vegan. In our 8 years (so far) of working with our students at Brownble, other than the practical aspects of cooking and planning meals, the most frequent questions are always in the relationship with omnivores department. Although I’ll be mostly focusing on romantic relationships as this is the area where people struggle the most, all of the tips I’ll be sharing can apply to all our social and family relationships as well, and it’s the perfect timing since as I’m writing and recording this, the holidays are coming up, a time of year where our way of eating and living feels like its slightly under a spotlight when it comes to comments and questions made around the table, sharing time extended family, sharing time with our partner’s family and more.
When you decide to make such a big change in your life and diet such as going vegan, so many fears, myths and issues are swirling around in your head. Many of these can even keep you from going vegan for months or years as was my case, and one of the big ones, perhaps the biggest, is our partner in love and life. This brings up so many issues in us that it can often be the most detrimental aspect of going vegan, but it doesn't have to be, and that's what we're going to talk about today. I'm going to tell you why this question kept me from going vegan for years and why in the end it didn't matter. We're going to talk about some of the most common concerns, and I'll give you some tips for living with an omnivore after going vegan. We're going to talk about shopping, prepping, planning, cooking, going out, your in-laws and even raising kids, a BIG one. I’ll also talk about the biggest emotional boulder when it comes to how we view the habits of our omnivore loved ones and why this is often where we get stuck, as well as dating vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians, and people who have reduced their consumption of animal products but haven’t gone fully vegan. We’ll cover some of the basics and some practical tips today in part 1, and additional tips, plus an exercise you might find helpful in our next episode, part 2.
A bit of a backstory
It took me a few years since reading the first book on the topic of veganism and actually taking the plunge. There were several reasons for this, but one was my husband. Not the fact that he was openly against it, because I hadn't told him a thing. It was this fear of even bringing up the topic and the fact that I had wrongly assumed he would never go for it. Nothing had really happened to make me feel this way, I just saw how he loved his pizza and cooking huge steaks on the grill. I laugh about this now because this was also me! I went crazy for pizza, burgers, barbecued ribs and steak. It was so wrong of me to assume that if I was thinking of making this change that he wouldn't go through a similar process.
When I did decide to go vegan, I had seen enough of our animal agriculture system to confidently walk out into the living room and say: "I'm going to give veganism a try, but you don't have to". He was so amazing and open to it that he immediately told me he would still be eating meat and dairy when we went out, but that we could cook vegan at home.
I know, I was lucky, I quickly skipped over a huge chunk of what concerns most people when it comes to sharing their life with an omnivore. As the weeks passed, I watched every single documentary on food and animal agriculture I could get my hands on, and he joined me for some of them. He was happily eating vegan foods at home, and I made sure to make them super delicious and hearty. He was still eating burgers, pizza and the like when we went out. Slowly but surely he tried to order vegan at restaurants when he started seeing what vegan food was actually like.
Then something happened...
We went on our first trip back home in 4 years, and he was making lists of all his old-time favorite restaurants and dishes he would eat upon arrival (none of them were vegan). We got there, and he had what I have since called his last 10 day supper. He ate all of his favorites until he was blue in the face, we came back, and just a few days later I came home and found him sitting on the couch with the strangest look I had ever seen in him (mind you we've been together for almost 18 years so I thought I'd seen it all!). He only said one sentence: "I watched Earthlings". For those of you who might not know this movie, it's the most graphic documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix about the treatment of animals in our agriculture system. We went out to dinner that night and he ate his first meal as a vegan, six months after I had gone vegan, and without me pushing it on him, or talking him into it. It just flowed, and it stuck.
But what about you?
I know I was incredibly lucky. I still remember the conversation we had over his first meal as a vegan. We talked about the film, the animals, and since I had just been so busy trying to adjust to my change, I realized then and there that I hadn't had the chance to talk about any of these issues or the things I had seen with him. It was such a powerful moment, and look at us now, we turned our passion and love of animals into a full online vegan cooking school, blog, podcast, helping others love their vegan life and find well-being through it.
I know I was so lucky to have a supportive partner, and even more so, a supportive partner that then wanted to join me. I also know that this is often not the case when it comes to our partners, and that the way to veganism for both of you, might be a long process or it might not even happen. I know how hard this can be, especially if you went vegan for ethical reasons like I did. Out of all the people I've helped go vegan, and my friends and family who are in relationships where the other person isn't vegan, I've found some common threads, and I've created the list of tips I’ll share today to help you along the process.
The Biggest Boulder When it Comes to Vegan and Non Vegan Relationships
If you’ve read or listened or have watched our content for a while, you know I have a very nuanced approach to most vegan topics. I get criticized a lot for some of my views and perspectives about veganism, and I don’t think I’ve ever been criticized more than when it comes to the idea I hold that vegans can be in relationships with non-vegans. Even though I do believe this is possible, I know and wish to share that this might not be for everyone (including my critics). We all have differences in the way we feel we can tolerate differences with our partners, and I know, that especially when we make the choice to be vegan because of our values, it can feel especially daunting to picture being in a relationship with someone who we think doesn’t share the same values.
Some people equate this to being in a relationship with someone who is racist, or who has a different belief system, or opposite political views from us, or sees life and our place in it in an entirely different way. We tend to choose our partners very much based on their value systems, likes and dislikes and the things we share and have in common, so a difference in our choice to eat animals or not can feel like a deal breaker.
It is for some people.
It doesn’t have to be for you.
The road will be different if you’re someone who has been in a relationship for years and you suddenly decide to go vegan and your partner doesn’t want to join you, than if you’re vegan and in the dating pool and choosing a partner, than if you and your partner have been vegan and suddenly they decide they don’t want to be vegan anymore but you do, than if your partner gets it and is supportive but doesn’t want to join you, than if your partner doesn’t understand it, is critical and unsupportive. The road will also look drastically different when you first make the change, and when your partner has had a chance to see and understand what this change will mean, and you’ve been at this for a while.
I mostly want to remind you of the biggest boulder I see in people’s minds when they are analyzing the fact that their partner doesn’t want to join them, it has to do with the meaning we give the resistance from others, and the expectations we often have of others changing their habits too:
We think that the ethical beliefs and value systems that are tied to our eating vegan are in the same way connected for our partner or family member when they choose to eat animal products, and that is usually not the case.
For them it might feel like the spotlight's on them and their choices, and for us it might feel like their decision to continue eating animals is as deeply rooted on their value systems as our new decision not to eat animals. We get into tricky territory here because we're not even speaking the same language.
There are so many reasons why people eat animal products and although I have encountered people who openly say “it is within my value system to eat animals”, most people eat animals while trying not to think so much about how they got on their plates. They live in a space of needing that to be disconnected from their values, and continue to eat animals products because it’s just the default as they were raised, as most of the world’s cultures are now, and a host of other reasons. For me to understand this on a very deep level all I had to do was remember my own journey before going vegan, and the huge gap I had to put between what I knew were my values (kindness, non violence, freedom, respect for animals, admiration and awe of other animals, etc), and the food on my plate. It’s why I closed my eyes when I passed the Casquerías in Spain (parts of the meat aisles in stores where the animal products look like the animals they came from), it’s why I couldn’t eat animals that looked like animals on the table, it’s why I probably would have never been able to kill an animal myself and then eat it, or watch an animal be killed and then eat it.
There are so many other reasons people eat animal products, out of habit, out of tradition, out of not wanting to learn about the consequences of eating animals, out of taste preferences, out of it being the only option that is available, out of not knowing about the issues vegans know when it comes to animal agriculture, out of thinking they can’t get all the nutrients they need through a vegan diet, out of health concerns because they aren’t familiar with the benefits of plant based diets, out of necessity, out of their history with food, and out of habit. It very often has nothing to do with their true values. Most of the people I love and share my time with have very similar value systems than I do, it’s what probably unites us. It is not as simple as saying “because you eat animals and I don’t” we don’t share the same values. There are probably countless similarities and points of connection between you and someone you love even if you are vegan and they aren’t.
Some people can deal with this difference if it’s friends or family but not with their romantic partner and if this is you, you know your limits. You’re also entitled, if you’re in the dating scene, to only date vegans if that is the only thing that’s comfortable for you, but of course, this narrows your options and in the previous case it might alienate and separate you from someone that is otherwise providing you with companionship, support, love, family.
I love a great podcast on mindfulness and Buddhism by Noah Rasheta called the Secular Buddhism Podcast and he always has this mantra or little introduction to his show where he says “don’t use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a whatever you already are”. In a way, everything I’ve been teaching you all these years, is to help you bring all the deliciousness of plants, all the health benefits of plants, all the kindness shown to animals, all the new dishes and all the new purchasing choices, to help support you in making these changes while still being “whatever you already are”, this includes the relationships and loves and supporters of your life. I feel so strongly about this that I would dare to venture out and say that this is the secret to a long and fun and positive vegan life, that you are able to bring all these new changes into still being who you are, enjoying what you enjoy, and living with the people who are in your life, in spite of the differences.
So let’s get to some tips.
Tips for Living with an Omnivore When you're Vegan
Emotional and lifestyle tips
Understand it's not about you and it does not make them a bad person
Remember that their resistance is not about you, and it certainly doesn't mean that they are bad people because they're "ignoring" the issues that made you go vegan. Going vegan can be really hard for some people, but it's much harder before you do it than when you've actually taken the leap. Why? Because we fear we'll never eat deliciously again or that our social lives will change, both of which are simply not the case for anyone I know who is vegan, but it’s that leap that is so hard for people, and it has nothing to do with you or their ethics. It has to do with so many other reasons like the ones I’ve mentioned.
Lead by example
Focus on your own journey and lead by example. We rarely inspire someone by being pushy, criticizing or shaming someone for their choices. I'm pretty sure that part of the reason Carlos (my hubby) went vegan as fast as he did was that I was so focused on being vegan and figuring my whole thing out, that I honestly didn't pay much attention to what he was doing. This gave him space and breathing room and I simply answered questions if he asked me and then I went on my merry vegan way. One day I turned around and he was right there with me.
You can do it even if they never do
Sometimes our loved ones just don't want to make the change. Don't use this as an excuse or a reason to quit your own journey. Every single day across the world, families are eating different diets under one roof. I know veganism is very different because it involves our ethics and has immeasurable consequences in the world around us and is also about more than just food and dietary choices, but if there's just no way around it, focus on the fact that if your partner had an allergy or celiac disease, you would probably still be having independent lifestyles when it comes to your eating. Not talking about the eating aspect specifically is silly because it’s the main sticking point for people. I haven’t encountered someone who is having arguments with their partners over the brand of cruelty free shampoo they want to buy or whether or not to go to the zoo. 90% of the time it’s food related, and there are ways to work around the fact that you and your partner might eat differently and order differently. Know that no matter what they decide to do, that you can still make this amazing choice all on your own.
So many people have a real fear that our personalities will change after we go vegan. I'm the first person that will tell you that being vegan changed me in so many ways, it's one of the greatest decisions I've ever made in my life. It gave me confidence, empowerment, made me more empathetic, more motivated, a better cook, a better wife, friend, more compassionate, but deep down inside, I am still me. This is such a big concern to our partners even if they never admit it.
Your partner might never see eye to eye with you on this, and some people are so resistant they won't even want to share this in conversation with you. I do think it is important that your partner at least understands where you’re coming from and where you stand and is respectful (especially if you’re heading into a new relationship), but if your longterm partner is having a hard time around these new changes, find some supporters for yourself while they get used to the idea. This is so important for your mental sanity and to feel like you're as normal as anyone else. If you don't know any vegans personally (I didn't when I became vegan), find community online, join facebook groups, listen to podcasts, and we’re always here for you at Brownble.
The in-laws can be tough. Remember that your partner comes from an entirely different world than you came from. They went through different experiences as a family, and they probably have plenty of their identity as a family tied into the food they eat. Understand that any comments they make about you or your choices have to do with their resistance and not with you. With everything I've seen, in-laws are much more resistant when your partner actually does decide to go vegan. Try to take a step back when discussing these issues with your in-laws and don't take anything personally. Many questions come from actual concerns, and many comments come from a very deep resistance to change or to feeling judged. Give them delicious vegan food to try, be kind in the way you discuss these issues with them, and expect kindness and respect in return, and if this is impossible, set boundaries with certain topics that you’ll agree should be off the table for a while.
Have the kids conversation
If you aren't parents yet and you're planning to be, have the conversation on how you will raise your kids before they actually appear on the scene. Not because having a mixed eating household will be a deal breaker, there are plenty of mixed eating families that have been able to find a perfect happy balance, but because you definitely don't want to send mixed signals to young kids when it comes to food and eating. Young minds are so sensitive and malleable and you really want to provide a peaceful approach to food, whatever you decide to do. They will already be bombarded with mixed cues about eating, food, weight, physical appearance, and you definitely want to provide a safe haven for them in this arena. Also, ask yourselves the questions, what will meals look like at home? Will they have more vegan based meals, 100% vegan, mixed? What will happen at family gatherings, when they go to their grandparents' or to birthday parties? Will you explain the differences between the way you two eat? Will you explain the reasons why you went vegan? All of these issues are so important when you're about to raise kids, or even if you already have them. Have the tough conversations in private, and always present a united front. Give them a solid base of expectations when it comes to food.
Tune into our next post and episode where we’ll be covering eating, cooking, shopping and other practical tips, we’ll talk about dating vegetarians, pescatarians, and flexitarians, I’ll talk about the curious social dynamic of small groups and I’ll share what I call the tiny bridges exercise to help you get reconnected with those you love (and even strangers), plus I’ll share a great resource for all my single vegans out there. All of this in our next post and episode.
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