When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.
Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.
Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.
Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…
So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.
A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.
#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”
This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.
I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.
Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?
To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.
#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.
Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.
People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.
If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.
I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.
So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.
Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com
Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA