Herbivore-omnivore relationships: Can a vegan and a meat eater make it work?
Dietary differences can cause trouble in relationships when conflict breaches moral views, says psychologist
It was a dietary difference that Dr. David Poon thought he and the woman he fell for could overcome.
"When we first met she said, 'I can only date a vegan.' I said we'd work it out," he said.
"Seven years later and a breakup, turns out we didn't work it out."
Poon's eating habits caused tension in the relationship right from the start.
Cheese became the other woman.- David Poon
"I remember, I was cooking chicken and she said, 'You know, the chicken's name could have been Mark.' And so that was a challenging first year."
During the second year of the relationship, Poon tried to go vegan, but had a hard time stopping himself from eating meat and dairy when he was working long hours at the hospital, or out with friends.
"Essentially, cheese became the other woman," he said. "I felt like I was cheating on her with food, which was a challenge because that erodes the trust in a relationship."
Breaching moral views
Psychologist Jeannine Crofton knows about vegan/meat eater relationships first-hand. Her sister-in-law runs a vegan restaurant in the south of France. She says in a lot of cases, it comes down to values.
"Conflicts don't get out of hand unless they breach somebody's moral views," she said. "I think a lot of what we'd see is someone feeling misunderstood or that their partner was opposing some of their views around eating," she said.
Crofton says it's not a superficial difference.
"It's about, 'if you don't believe the same way I do, then what does that say about us as a couple?'"
That's what Karine Brighten had in mind when she started her company, Veg Speed Date. She and her husband are both vegans, but she knows from friends' experiences that a relationship between a vegetarian and a meat eater can be a minefield.
"It's going to impact a lot of different things, like what happens in the kitchen, and whether or not there will be any meat allowed in the house … whether you go to zoos," she said.
"Having a like-minded partner just takes away a lot of those potential difficult situations."
Veg Speed Date holds dating events for vegans and vegetarians across North America.
'Not all vegans'
Georgia Jardine says her diet caused some conflict when she first started dating her boyfriend, Ethan Munro — she's vegan, but he likes to hunt.
"I did get the feeling from him that he was judging, at the beginning, that I was vegan," she said. "I think he had some preconceptions about vegans, and then it took him getting to know me to realize that not all vegans are a certain way."
Jardine feels that wild game meat is more ethical than meat from a factory farm, so her partner's hunting isn't a huge issue for her. Ultimately, she says it's about being flexible.
"I've been given this partner by the universe," she said. "So I just see it as an opportunity to grow, to expand my mind and realize not everyone's going to be vegan, not everyone's going to believe the same things I do, and to be okay with that."
And a lot of couples have managed to make it work, despite their differences. Owen Chan's wife became vegan just two weeks before they met. He says that most of the time, it's not an issue.
"It's a moral choice," he said. "She doesn't want to spend money on cruelty for animals … so for her it's just about not supporting those industries. Then it gets tricky because we share finances."
If he had to make a choice, Chan says his relationship comes first.
"I really like chicken wings, but I don't like them more than my happy marriage. So if it came down to it, I'd probably choose my happy marriage," he said.
Post-breakup Spam splurge
As for David Poon, he said he agreed with the ideology behind his partner's veganism. But he found giving up meat and cheese harder than he anticipated.
"I think a large portion of the problem was nostalgia," he said. "As soon as she and I broke up, I ate a can of Spam. That's not good food nor is it lovely food, I just ate it because I remember having it as a kid."
He warns people that the divide between veganism and meat eating shouldn't be brushed under the rug.
"I would strongly recommend that that couple sit down early on and really understand each other's perspective," he said, adding that he was wrong when he told his girlfriend they could work it out.
"It would the equivalent of me to saying to a new girl, 'You don't want kids? Oh, we'll figure it out.' That was my ignorance."
Despite his heartbreak, Poon is philosophical about his experience.
"I'm so grateful for the relationship I've had over the past seven years," he said. "To both learn about the strengths of veganism, the reasons behind it and the life lessons of respecting other people's values … even if you might share them, but are unable to act on them."