WHEN MY PARTNER ISN'T VEGAN...
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 in this post. 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.
Silly little bird...
If you've read the story of how I went vegan, you probably know by now that it took me a few years since reading the first book on the topic 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. Although I'm all for equality of the sexes, it was even more of a problem in my mind because he was a man, and I thought men would never feel comfortable asking someone in a restaurant to leave off the cheese. Silly little bird.
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, but don't worry, we're going to cover it all here. 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 from work 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 16 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 hardcore 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. Look at us now, starting this blog and business together, helping others love their vegan life and find health through it. Yes, I know I was a lucky girl, the luckiest! 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 this list of tips to help you along the process.
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. It's that leap that is so hard for people, and it has nothing to do with you or their ethics.
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 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 bam! He was right there with me.
You can do it even if they never do
You CAN be vegan even if your significant other never wants to join you. Let's face it, 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, 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. Sometimes you simply have to understand and accept the situation, and realize that you can still make this amazing choice all on your own and help change the world.
Meet your new identity: the seed planter
You are planting seeds even when you don't realize it, so just focus on being your own glorious, happy self, and do your thing like the rockstar that you are!
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 and a better woman, but deep down inside, I am still me. I didn't start bugging my friends asking them how they could eat animals when they loved their dogs, I didn't start bashing people online, or scaring people with health statistics. Why? Because that isn't who I am. I am still me, and 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. Find community for yourself. 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, forums, and you'll always have a space and a place for you here with us 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. This is when comments usually come flying in. We'll cover that in another post, but for now, just 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.
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, 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.
Eating, cooking, shopping and other practical tips
Kids negotiate all the time and so should we.
Don't be afraid of having conversations with your partner on what things can be set in middle ground. For example: would your partner consider keeping the home vegan like my hubby said he wanted to (i.e. no animal products in your meals at home)? Will you have to cook both vegan and meat-based dishes or can you share the task so you don't have to cook meat if this doesn't agree with you anymore? Can you have certain days a week in which all meals are vegan? You get the idea. Have the conversations, I promise you there is a place where you can both feel a little more comfortable in.
Cook amazing, delicious vegan food
I can't tell you how many friends who are total omnivores have started making weekly vegan meals because of the foods they've had at our house or at vegan restaurants. I always say it! The hardest obstacle is the fear of the food and social situations, so feed them delicious vegan grub and show them how nothing needs to change when it comes to being social. You have some yummy recipes here and tons more in our online vegan program.
Make the vegan dish the foundation of your meal.
Build your meal upon delicious vegan sides, or even main dishes, and then it's easy for anyone who wants to eat an animal-based dish to make it and add it to his or her meal.
Make all classic dishes vegan so everyone can enjoy them
Things like mashed potatoes, desserts, pastas, sauces, gravies, soups, pancakes, french toast, muffins, cupcakes. All of these can be made vegan. Nobody will know the difference and everyone will be able to enjoy them.
It will be much easier and better on the relationship if you start sharing tasks. That includes the cooking itself, especially if cooking meat now makes you uncomfortable, but it's especially true with shopping. There's something really powerful that happens the moment you shop. That's the moment in which you're really making the tough choices and it's the moment that causes the impact and the difference between contributing, or not, to an industry you don't want to support. If not buying meat is not an option in your household, sharing the experience of the shopping trip will help you. Your partner can get what he or she needs and you can get what you need, but there's less separation between you. For the health of the relationship and your own emotional stress, this really helps.
Find restaurants where you can both enjoy delicious food
There are plenty of restaurants that cater to both omnivores and vegans, and all you need to do is a little research and look at some menus ahead of time. An app or website like happy cow really helps. You don't have to settle with a house salad made out of iceberg lettuce and some tomato, and your partner doesn't have to settle for something he or she doesn't like and then having to stop at Burger King on the way back. There are so many ways to find a joyful and scrumptious middle.
Introduce vegan meatiness
Nowadays there are so many incredible vegan restaurants that you and your significant other can dine on anything from pulled BBQ jackfruit tacos or sliders, to triple vegan cheeseburgers (with a chocolate milkshake!), vegan donuts, vegan pot roasts, seitan Philly cheesesteak, you name it we can find it or make it. If you're dealing with a resistant loved one who just won't budge, don't start by feeding them a kale salad no matter how delicious you think it is, start with something meaty and cheesy. You'll create some breathing room and they'll be much more open minded to trying the healthy goodies later on.
Talk and set boundaries together, especially if you're the one doing the cooking
What are you or aren't you comfortable with? Sometimes having some simple boundaries is necessary in order to keep the peace at home. Especially if you're one of those "hold it in and then explode" people. Are you ok with making different meals? Are you ok in handling or cooking meat at all? Have the conversations before the road gets rocky because of lack of communication.
Don't make it all about the food
Remember that your relationship is based on so much more than the food you share together, so if eating is causing some issues, take a step back and do something together that has nothing to do with food. Go to the movies, see friends, go on long walks or hikes together, go bowling, or on a quick day trip, relax on the couch and enjoy some time together. If your relationship is flowing, everything else will fall into place with time.
Don't forget to share this post with anyone who you know is struggling with keeping a healthy balance in their relationship and their home. We'd also love to hear your story in the comments below, what are some of the challenges you've faced when sharing your life with an omnivore?