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“What Kind of Guy’s Going to Date a Vegan?” The Follow Up

Posted Feb 23 2011 3:07pm

Wow! Huge discussion on yesterday’s post! I certainly didn’t expect to strike so many nerves, or spark so much debate, but I’m glad as always to have prompted a discussion. For those of you who didn’t read the post yet, I encourage you to check it out —along with the comments. I went back this morning and responded to a lot of individual commenters, but I did want to take a moment today to clarify a couple of point and to respond to a few commenters—generally and specifically.

OK, first up:

It didn’t occur to me to mention in my post that Appleby may never have uttered the words that Shook claims she did (“On our first date, I was like, ‘Hey, why’d you stop being a vegan?’ And she was like, ‘What kind of guy’s going to date a vegan?’ And I was like, ‘You’re awesome.’”) I think I took it for granted that the comment is obviously hearsay, and of course it may be embellished or misconstrued (especially since Shook doesn’t seem like the worthiest source, and clearly has an agenda of his own). For that reason, I should apologize to all of you, and I suppose to Appleby herself, for implying in my response that I automatically believe Shook’s account. I don’t, and I hope that, if Appleby didn’t say the words he says she did, she’ll come forward and correct the record with some thoughts of her own. I’d love to hear them!

But the fact that the exchange may or may not be accurately recollected doesn’t mean that the sentiment enclosed—that is, the comment “What kind of guy’s going to date a vegan?”—isn’t worthy of discussion. So I’d like you all to read my last post as if I was addressing the sentiment itself, not the speaker. I’m not making any sort of judgment about Appleby personally: in fact, if you like, strike her name from the post and pretend I’m speaking about an abstract, theoretical woman who’s on a date with a new guy. (I’ll even make a note in the post accordingly later today, because I think it’s important for us to talk about these issues and tensions freely, and without feeling as if we’re doing Appleby a disservice.)

OK, next point. A bunch of you pointed out that it’s very hard to become vegan or even to stay vegan, especially in the early years. One reader left a comment saying:

Veganism is not an easy road for most people. They fall off the wagon multiple times before they can retrain their eating habits and get over the associated social pressures. I know you must know this because of your own experience helping others. But these judgments are exactly the type of thing that discourage people from trying again.

I agree wholeheartedly that the transition isn’t easy. I flirted with veganism for over two years before I embraced it, so I know very well how bumpy (albeit rewarding) the road can be. In fact, I often find myself advising clients either to slow down their transition, or temporarily retain some animal foods, simply because I’ve seen time and time again that the process is hard. As a counselor, I weigh my clients’ happiness along with my desire to help them go vegan. I’m not unaware of the fact that sometimes, it’s alright to work toward veganism slowly, or even to postpone one’s journey if other personal priorities intervene.

It’s important to note, though, that Appleby’s alleged sentiment wasn’t that veganism had presented her with health challenges, or emotional challenges, or even widespread social challenges. The sentiment was very specific: it was that she didn’t think anyone would date her if she stayed a vegan.

Now, this is a challenge like any other that might present itself to a new vegan, and, as my friend Kathleen pointed out, any challenge to the vegan transition deserves to be addressed. But the whole point of my post was, in fact, to address it—albeit with a touch of exasperation. Worrying about one’s dating life is a perfectly legitimate reason to feel anxious about going (or staying) vegan. But my intention was to say that it is possible to find men (or women) who are open to different lifestyles—veganism included. And if you feel you don’t have a right to expect that much from a potential mate, it’s worth raising your expectations. I’m not making a broad claim that anyone who strays from the vegan path—regardless of the reason—is undeserving of sympathy and encouragement. I’m responding to a very specific reason for giving veganism up, and I’m responding with a message that I hope is empowering, which is that, in a truly loving and respectful relationship, there is room for independent thinking.

I think it’s also important to point out that, while we all sympathize and support those who encounter challenges as vegans, and while we all want to be respectful of those with views different from our own, there is nothing wrong with being steadfast and firm in one’s beliefs, either. Part of being vegan means courageously accepting the challenges it presents. To the reader who asked me, “Where’s all the love for sentiments like “do what’s best for you” and “don’t be a preachy vegan/vegetarian/human being?” I would say, all of those sentiments are really important. But so, too, are sentiments such as “don’t be afraid to stand by your convictions, even when they don’t make you popular.”

Moving on. A lot of readers pointed out that it seems acceptable for women to brag about how they got their boyfriends to stop eating meat, but that we all jump to our defenses if a woman says she started eating meat for a man. For the record, I don’t think it’s any more fair for a woman to try to force her partner to change his habits than it is for a man to force his habits on a woman. In ten years of adult life, I’ve never once gone on a mission to change the way a man eats, nor would I. That behavior would be no different from a man telling me that he refuses to respect my veganism. I think it’s absolutely fair to seek out prospective mates with likeminded views on food—that is, for vegans and omnis who feel strongly about dating other vegans and omnis to look for partners accordingly–but I don’t think it’s fair to meet a person who has views of his or her own, and then go on a campaign to discourage them.

A few of you noted that it’s natural for couples to shift their eating habits to accommodate each other: for instance, for a husband to clear his pantry of glutenous foods for a wife with Celiac. This is true, and I think that these sorts of accommodations are important: I certainly alter my eating habits in various ways when I’m around M! But I think that there’s a massive difference between avoiding gluten and abandoning veganism—at least if the veganism was for ethical reasons. One is a lifestyle change, and the other is a compromise or shift in beliefs. Extending this, one reader wrote:

Would anyone have cared as much if he said that she moved to a new state for him? Maybe picked up one of his hobbies so they could spend more time together?

I have to respectfully disagree that moving states or taking on a new hobby is the same as letting go of veganism—once again, assuming that the veganism had something to do with ethics. If it did, it reflected core values and beliefs: letting go of these values is quite different from learning how to ski, or taking guitar lessons. In my mind, it isn’t unlike shifting religious views or political views in order to accommodate a partner. If a person chooses to do just that, it’s his or her choice, but the point of my post was to say that it is possible for differing views and beliefs to exist harmoniously within a relationship: there’s no need to assume you have to drop or modify yours in order to find love.

Related to this—the topic of accommodation and adaption in relationships—a few readers noted that what was particularly perplexing about the sentiment was that it didn’t address a particular relationship, but rather a set of broad anxieties. One reader noted:

The part of this that really gets me is (it sounds like) she didn’t even change *for him*. It seems like she decided to stop being vegan because some guy some where wouldn’t like it, and that was the guy she wanted to be with. That part doesn’t make any sense at all!

I agree. Relationships are complicated and nuanced, and it’s hard for any of us to predict how we’ll adapt when we’re truly building a life with someone we love. But there’s a difference between modifying core beliefs (or even lifestyle habits) over the course of time with a life partner, and preemptively modifying them in the hopes that one will be more attractive and desirable.

One comment that I found particularly impressive amidst the many thoughtful remarks was this one:

There ARE men, and women, who do not see veganism as socially compatible or appropriate, and I think increased awareness and insight allow these people to become an increasingly reduced part of our population. To let them get us ANGRY though, and dwell on being irritated with the existance of such people or relationships seems to be a rather wasted use of our emotional resources. People are like that. They are changing because people are becoming more aware and veganism is becoming more mainstream etc. etc. Should we become irate at each encounter with such people, or just acknowledge their existence, remember that times are changing and we are a part of that change, and maybe allow a fleeting thought of whether such compromises are really conducive to a lasting, quality, relationship, then offer them a delicious vegan goody or something…..I guess I’m just saying that getting irritated and surprised by a varietal of human opinion is surprising.

I loved this, especially that last line, which is truly wise. And I couldn’t agree more that the offering of gooey vegan cookie will be far more effective and worthwhile than vitriol. The only counterargument I’d offer is that, while it’s fruitless to fret about the variety of human opinion and behavior, discussing human opinion and behavior makes life a lot more interesting—as these comments make abundantly clear! As long as we do it with respect, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using specific scenarios to broach larger topics and debates.

And for the record, while I like my comments section always to be respectful, intelligent, and calm, I do want to say that I don’t think it’s fair to jump down a commenter’s throat simply because he or she was being sanguine. Compassion, empathy, and reasonableness are important. But so are strong opinions, and passionate views.

Finally, I think my favorite comment of the morning was from Katie , who said:

I love the Choosing Raw debates. And I think this one is especially interesting, as it’s obviously touching quite a few buttons. While I don’t think us vegans should be judgmental, particularly when someone gives up veganism for unknown reasons, it’s a shame when we back down from our views out of this fear that the stereotype (judgmental vegan) will be true. Plus, one the most important pieces of Shook’s quote and possibly Appleby’s actions (though clearly we can’t be sure), is the idea that veganism is inherently feminine, just a frivolous thing that girls do to lose weight. Health and weight loss may be benefits of veganism, along with the eventual PETA ad if you’re a celeb, but veganism is about the ethical choices we make when we eat. I’d say that’s more about being a conscious human that it is about being a man or a woman. And that’s something worth getting fired up over.

Thanks for bringing us this great debate, Gena!

Quite right, Katie. Honestly, guys, I can’t thank you all enough for being so smart, so full of opinions, so quick to challenge me, so quick to make me reconsider and widen my own perspectives. Blogging is a joy for me in every way, but these kinds of conversations are—at least for me—the absolute highlight. I am so, so lucky to engage in conversations with all of you. Thanks.

I was going to share an awesome new raw and vegan entrée today, but I think we’ve had quite enough talk for one day. So instead, I’ll just give you a quick snapshot of a quick and easy raw lunch. Who here is a fan of my cheesy parsnip spread ? It’s one of my favorites—especially great for those who can’t tolerate tree nuts or beans—and I polished off a batch today stuffed into some boston lettuce leaves and topped with a sprinkling of shredded apple and sliced avocado:

IMG_5059 (575x383)

IMG_5069 (575x383)

Semi raw, all vegan, and absolutely simple and divine.

See you guys tomorrow!


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