Opposites often attract, and in a mostly omnivorous world, it’s not surprising that vegetarians aren’t exclusively dating one another. But things can get dicey when it comes to the emotional topics of food and ethics.
First off, don’t count on converting each other. People do change their eating habits—most of us weren’t born vegan or vegetarian—but it’s best not to base your relationship on that hope. You can share your love of tofu and nachos loaded with cashew cheese, but resist passing judgment on what your other half orders for dinner. After all, nothing is more romantic than respect. “Sometimes I enjoy our different viewpoints,” says Eisenberg of her current partner. “They certainly help stoke some fiery conversation. Ultimately, I look at a person as a complete package. Lifestyle choices are only a small portion of that package.” Focus on what drew you together in the first place, and enjoy growing as a couple.
Make a (meal) Plan
Eating out? Take turns choosing the restaurant, and make sure both of you will have something to eat. Not every meal needs to knock everyone’s socks off, but try to make it rare that the vegetarian is stuck with a lame salad or the omnivore is totally intimidated by an all-vegan mock-meat menu. “Just research the menu of a restaurant before suggesting it,” says Howell. Calling ahead to fancier restaurants is a smart move—you’ll learn if they have any flexibility and may discover a chef who’s willing to whip up a fantastic veg dish for you. Dining in? Prepare meatless meals that you both love and that can be easily modified at the table: each of you can add beans, tofu, seitan, or another mix-in of your choice to your own plate.
Set Boundaries (and Stick to Them)
Planning to move in together? It’s a good idea to lay down ground rules for the kitchen. You may decide that it will be entirely vegetarian, or that you won’t cook meat but your partner can prepare it. Figure out what you’re both comfortable with, and leave the guilt trips out of it. If you’re willing to compromise, Howell suggests choosing a color for veg-only knives and cutting boards, while Eisenberg has had success with creating “safe spaces” where each person has a shelf or area for the foods they’d like to keep separate. You might also want to ask your sweetie to wash up any greasy tools or dishes soon after eating something non-veg.
Involve the Folks
Consider each other’s preferences at holiday meals, and team up to make sure the occasion is satisfying for everyone. If the vegetarian’s family is hosting, check to see if all the guests are cool with mock meats or if they have a particular dish they’d love to see at the table. Getting together with the omnivore’s folks? Always offer to bring something veg-friendly and help out in the kitchen.
Howell and Eisenberg both advise smiling, being polite, and stressing how much you appreciate the effort—even (and perhaps especially!) if a well-meaning host accidentally makes your “vegan” dish with dairy. It can’t hurt to pack some emergency snacks for later, just in case.
If you’re daunted by cooking with your omni date, don’t overthink it. Many basic (and delicious) dishes are customizable for anyone’s preferences: just add your own protein at the end.