I live with someone who is extremely different than myself. Some of our differences are obvious, common, and easy. Our genders, for instance. I’m a morning person, and my partner is a night owl. I like to keep my living space sparse, and he’s a collector. We’re both work-from-home creatives, yet I can only concentrate in silence, while he is motivated by music. We navigate these small differences every day.
But some of our differences are larger. Take, for instance, our food politics. I’m vegan. He’s not. This disparity is not always easy. From the places we eat to what we keep and cook in the home, we’re often staring at each other from opposite ends of the table, literally and figuratively. This contrast feels so large at times that back in 2014, I co-authored a book about it.
Because of that book, I’m often asked for tips on navigating food politics with the people you love and respect. The latter is key here, and the suggestion I always return to is this: don’t judge.
This phrase is easy to write. Putting it into practice? Not so much. When something makes so much sense to me — like, not contributing to the cruelty and abuse of animals — it can be really frustrating when that smart, sensible person in my life isn’t on the same page. Anyone who voted differently than a loved one in the last presidential election knows this particular grievance. Thanksgiving 2016 was a tough time for all.
But to truly have a meaningful discussion with someone whose views oppose your own, you need to set aside judgment, listen, and respond with calm strength. Working logic and reasoning into your conversation skills can get you far; Blind judgement will get you nowhere. Veganism, in particular, is all about compassion for animals, including our fellow people, so I’ve never quite got the rage directed at meat eaters. I was a meat eater once. We’re all on different paths, and it’s all too easy to forget who we were yesterday, last year, last decade.
The biggest flop I see in mixed diet relationships is assuming your Other will one day “come around” to your line of thinking. And in full truth, it’s often a perspective owned by the plant-eater. They think one day, after watching their umpteenth animal cruelty documentary, their meat-eating partner will see the light and switch sides. Sometimes this does happen naturally–our lovers are often our greatest teachers. However, it’s important not to enter a relationship banking on change. While you can’t choose your parents, siblings or that one backwards uncle, you DID choose your partner, and you choose them again every single day – differences and all. I try and keep that in mind when my guy and I go head-to-head. I’m with him because I want to be. Even if he does eat bacon. I chose that.
After reserving judgement, I turn to compromise, the holy grail of navigating unignorable differences. Now, compromise does not mean compromising your beliefs, but finding a way to meet in the middle. With food politics, peace can often be found at mealtime.
Here, luck landed lightly on me because although my partner and I share different philosophies around what we eat, he isn’t a picky eater. If it tastes good, he’ll eat it with enthusiasm, and this certainly works to my advantage. He has no qualms hunting down vegan restaurants with me, but since compromise swings both ways, this means we’re often on the lookout for a spot thats serves both meat and interesting plant-based options; Dry salads need not apply.
Living a mile from Kalani Honua is a dream for us, because they cater specifically to our dilemma: everyday there is both a vegan and a non-vegan option. Their labeling system is very clear, with little plastic tags on each dish and dressing that outlines major dietary and allergy offenders including meat, dairy, nuts, shellfish, gluten, soy, even garlic. Winning!
Here’s a shot of our recent meal together – pad thai with coconut soup, grilled tofu, and all of the salad. The non-veg option of the day was chicken pad thai, and you can bet I was stoked when my guy ordered the vegan version because, “it looked better.” I’ll take it.
Other options we’ve dug into on the Kalani dining lanai? Cheesy or vegan grilled cheese with tomato soup, burger day featuring a beef or taro option, ahi poke and beet poke, teriyaki pork for him and teriyaki ulu for me. There’s always something great for both of us, so neither one of us feels jipped.
My main takeaway: Love and respect your partner, love and respect their choices even if they don’t align with yours (you chose them, after all) and love and respect their plate. Besides, you can’t argue with your mouth full. Think about it.
Zoe Eisenberg is a Hawaii-based writer, filmmaker, and the Author of The Lusty Vegan, A Cookbook and Relationship Manifesto for Vegans and the People Who Love Them. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ZoEisenberg