Help! I'm dating a vegan
So how on earth did I end up dating a vegan?
As a child I was raised on a macrobiotic diet which meant that I did not have red meat or dairy products. So perhaps there were buried in my early memories the seeds of a vegan-lover. On one occasion, in my early childhood I asked my mother if she would buy me a frozen fish. She anticipated that it would be for supper (at a time when money was tight), but when the frozen fish arrived home, I placed the fish in a Sainsbury plastic carrier bag filled with hot water and tried to thaw it back to life.
There ensued a rapid lesson on the nature of life and death. I cried and cried as she explained that we needed to eat the fish. I was inconsolable, and in the end my tears won. The fish was buried in the garden, to be eaten by worms but not humans.
So, deep in my psyche, is an empathy with animals. And I am on the road to being a fully-fledged vegetarian. But dating a vegan, particularly in London, is a whole different life experience.
I am aware of all the compromises you vegans have to make to be with us. I know we’re a little less enlightened, and a little less considerate. We know we should be vegan, for so many reasons. We know it’s likely to be one of the key ways to save the planet. We just struggle with having to make so many adjustments in a world that doesn’t cater for vegans. But you tolerate us, because we are making progress. Slow progress.
But have you ever wondered what it's like for us? Is the compromise all in one direction?
I hope I might shed a little light on our own coping mechanisms.
I used to detest people I perceived as fussy eaters. Or at least I thought so. Isn’t food a proxy for many things in life? I am a particular fan of puddings. Gooey, sweet and luscious puddings. I have the sweetest of sweet teeth. If someone doesn’t want their sticky toffee pudding, drenched in caramel and cream, then I start to wonder what’s wrong with them.
It helps that the Vegan is worth making the effort for. Trampling on all those vegan stereotypes. She’s not emaciated. She smiles politely when people say "You don't look like a vegan". She has oodles of energy. She has time in her life for lots of things. She just happens to think that animals should not be harmed or worse, simply to feed her.
She was vegetarian when we first met, so I was eased into a new way of life. The biggest challenge, since her switch to veganism, is undoubtedly going out.
I love to go out. I am a terrible cook, but also don’t have as much time as I would like. I love to socialise with friends and have the freedom to head wherever the night takes me.
Now, as you vegans know, that is simply not possible if you’re vegan. Current estimates are that 1 in 400 people in the United Kingdom is vegan, which means that bars and restaurants are not able (or perhaps not inclined) to cater to vegans. You know this. You get used to ordering a bland side dish of vegetables, grilled just to make sure there’s no contamination. Drinking water, rather than anything more glamorous. Having the fun sapped out of going out. Splitting bills even though you’re subsidising the meat-eaters. After a while, you stop going out. You’re fed up with being marginalised. Being made to feel awkward just because, quite rightly, you didn’t want to have to kill anything so you could have a snack. Tired of paying your fraction of the bill which, bearing in mind your wilted spinach and mushy carrots, is dispropotionate and unjust.
Interestingly, there is not such a problem in the United States. The number of vegans is greater (approximately 1 in 50 according to some estimates) but also there is a greater acceptance of customer foibles and a desire to ensure that the customer is genuinely happy.
Here in Blighty, where the customer is most definitely last, there is a battle simply to get people to understand what vegan is (No, she’s not from another universe! That's Vulcan, not vegan) let alone to cater for a diet free from animal products.
But there are places to go. It’s just finding them that’s the chore. And vegans of course, so used to being unable to find anywhere they can eat or drink, have come to have low expectations of bars and restaurants. But not us non-vegans. So how do we square the circle?
This thorny issue is what caused us to set up Extraveganza.com. A site for vegans and non-vegans alike. Places that anyone wants to go. They just happen to cater for vegans. It’s a slow process, but we’re optimistic and more and more places are considering vegan options.
In the meantime, the top tips that have smoothed over grumbles at mealtimes, for me (the Extra) and her (the Vegan) are:
(1) Realising that I am the one who is going to have to compromise, but not do it in a way that makes anyone feel guilty. Words that should roll off the tongue are: “I really feel like falafel tonight”, or “I just fancy somewhere that does a good vegetable curry”, whatever my deep-seated desire for a pizza covered in cheese. If you’re the vegan in the relationship, go along with this ruse, and don’t secretly feel guilty that the food world has to revolve around you. Truth is that it will have to revolve around you in the short term (at least until Extraveganza has persuaded a few thousand more restaurants to cater to vegans and non-vegans alike). But that is not something that should play on any deep-seated Catholic guilt you’re carrying. It’s fine to be the fussy one, particularly when it comes to mealtimes and reducing animal suffering.
(2) Whatever the Vegan says, making sure that there’s a good supply of fruit and nuts in my rucksack or her handbag every time we head out. I know she doesn’t want to be difficult, and think that we have to pack for her. And being the beautiful optimist that she is, she convinces herself that we’ll have no trouble finding suitable food as we embark on that romantic stroll along the South Bank or head out on a Boris Bike to Shoreditch. But once the sugar low hits, and there are only burgers and milkshakes in food range, then optimism alone cannot overcome the vegan food emergency. Be prepared. If you fail to plan, you plan to ...
(3) Under no circumstances fly on an airline that doesn’t offer vegan meals. It’s all well-and-good forgetting a backpack of almonds and bananas on the ground, but imagine the ordeal when you’re 40,000 feet in the air, and there’s nothing dairy-free. This has happened. You see, the Vegan will tell you (it’s part of the “I don’t want to be difficult”) that it doesn’t matter, because she’ll pack food before you travel and it will be fine. But then in the hurry to get to the airport, the rucksack is left on the kitchen table, or it’s impounded at the airport when 100ml of hummus is considered a flight risk, or frankly you under-estimate quite how much food you need to cross the pond.
I’ve got many more tips to survive, but I’ll save those for another time. In a way, it’s a wonder that she’s put up with me. There’s a great statistic about more vegan women tolerating a non-vegan in a relationship than the other way round. I suspect the next article should be how to cope with a non-vegan if you’re vegan. I will leave that to her ...