June 29, 2011

Can a Vegan Woman Love a Meat-Eating Man?

First published in EcoSalon [which elephant loves]. Reprinted here with permission of publisher.

He’s smart and strong, beautiful and brave, kind-hearted and…carnivorous.

At the dawn of a relationship, any faux pas is sufficient grounds for termination – far better to wield a blunt axe than be blinded by short-lived charms. Certain obvious criteria warrant immediate demotion from maybe-boyfriend to totally-not-lustable such as: ignorant homophobic, racist, or sexist slip-ups; failure to exhibit kindness and humanity to baristas, waiters, and people otherwise employed in the service industry; too-liberal use of ‘emoticons’ in emails, gratuitous text messages, or other similar demands on your time and patience all come to mind. Not to be too specific.

But what if the fellow is smart and strong, beautiful and brave, and an all-around incredible, kind-hearted individual? It’s this juncture of clear, mutual attraction where questions of ethics and their long-term implications make dating a stickier, less cut-and-dried issue altogether. Namely, can a principled vegan woman find it within herself to fall for a meat-eating man? Marinate on that a minute.

Let’s say you unequivocally believe that meat is murder. Now, imagine somehow reconciling that firm, clear conviction with a well-mannered, scintillating conversationalist with whom you’re on a date with at a new French restaurant who, along with a tastefully-selected bottle of Bordeaux, just ordered the foie gras starter and veal main.

As a no-turning-back vegetarian since my teenage years, I’ve never taken a long-term lover whose moral and philosophical compass regarding animal rights and welfare didn’t approximate my own. Were any of these shy and smiling boys so inclined from the outset of our relationship? No, absolutely not. But they were uniformly intelligent, curious creatures with the good sense to reexamine their ethical presuppositions and accordingly recalibrate their practical, day-to-day affairs to reflect an evolving value system.

My mission to change the hearts and minds of carnivores one-guy-at-a-time? Accomplished. Well, perhaps not quite. After breaking up, all but one, lone ex-boyfriend shortly, summarily abandoned his conscientious ways in favor of fried chicken. Gross. Hey, what better way to work out some breakup angst than to stick a fork in it? Revenge, for some, may be a dish best served medium-rare.

Older-and-wiser is perhaps the surest and truest of clichés. Age endows us (or should endow us) with the willingness to hold a magnifying glass to our  own shortcomings, frankly examining how we all can be selfish and small, prideful and petty.

This is easier said than done. In the lofty words of essayist Brillat Savarin: “There can be no warm, rich home-life anywhere else if it does not exist at the table; and in the same way there can be no enduring family happiness, no real marriage, if  a man and woman cannot open themselves generously and without suspicion one to the other over a shared bowl of soup as well as a shared caress.”

Food, from an arugula plant photosynthesizing the sun’s energy, to the farm worker who harvests the leaves, to the intimacy of a couple collaborating in the kitchen to prepare a lavish green salad, is greater than a preference for taste. Its preparation and consumption is a radical, sensual act encompassing everything from environmental sustainability to immigrant labor rights. This is to say nothing of animal welfare.

As much as a man’s virtues and joie de vivre might make my heart sing, I simply cannot conceive of spending my life – much less creating a family – with someone who chooses to overlook the implications of his morning bacon and eggs.

Love isn’t the exclusive domain of romantic partnership. Love is a choice about how you will show up in the world. Love drives my opposition to the death-penalty in America; it governs my decision to ride a bicycle rather than drive a car; and it motivates me to extend equal consideration of interest to animals. I am an animal. I am also an animal who doesn’t eat other animals.

Female animal seeks male animal who doesn’t eat animals. (Must also possess athletic build, international sensibility, and fulfilling career that makes him happy.)

Worst personal ad of all time? Maybe. Or it’s honest and realistic: the foundation of a sustainable relationship based on a commitment to common values.

A man and woman who can companionably, conscientiously dine together – not to mention cook, host festive dinner parties for friends, and indulge in regular postprandial love-making – stay together. As Brillat Savarin said, “Happiness at the table leads to happiness in bed.” And, with that, Guten appetit.

Abigail Wick is the creator of Eating with Abs. Image by Bolshakov.

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