5.7 Editor's Pick

The Vegan & the Chef—an Impossible Love Story?

“We’re doomed, aren’t we?” I ask over a 20-peso glass of red wine.

“We are doomed,” he agrees and orders another. Each drink comes with a complimentary tapas plate and, although the restaurant is happy to prepare these tiny snacks without animal products, my partner is struggling to accommodate my lifestyle.

He’s a chef.

To me, this means that we have a lot in common. We both spend a large portion of our day preoccupied with thinking about, preparing, and eating food—and talking about fragrances, textures, flavors, and balance.

Unfortunately, to him, my aversion to foods that I don’t eat is a near-deal-breaker quality. He says that he can’t share his biggest passion with me, at least in the way that he wants to. We’ll never be able to share sushi rolls, eggs benedict, or a piece of cheesecake; we’ll never be able to motorbike around Asia together, exploring the street food. He won’t be able to come home from his (hypothetical) job inspired to create new specials and bounce his menu ideas off of me, since I’m disgusted by a lot of what he loves.

At the beginning, things were easy—for me, that is. He majorly adjusted his diet so as to not offend me. When he ate meat, I stayed away. He would brush his teeth before we’d kiss. Things were fine. But I wasn’t the one who changed.

Then one day in Guatemala, my boyfriend killed a bunny.

Feel free to read the gruesome details if you’d like. If not, I’ll summarize. He came home from his farm-to-table restaurant job after something like a 14-hour-long day, with metaphorical (and maybe some actual) blood on his hands, in a moral quandary over what he had done.

And here I was, his loving best friend, unable to empathize. I couldn’t say, “It’s okay dear that you smashed the life out an animal, tore it apart, and cooked it for these privileged tourists to eat.” I couldn’t say, “I know this must be hard on you. I understand.” And I couldn’t just leave it alone, either. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything besides the fact that I was dating a murderer.

I wondered if this made me hypocritical.

We somehow managed to get through this. And then through some time in Mexico when he went out every day by himself to eat el pastor tacos, cow tongues, and other processed animal parts that I’d rather not think about. We managed throughout the next six months in the United States, when I’d leave his butter and cheese dishes dirty on the side of the sink for him to wash on his own with a separate “not vegan” sponge; when we ate out of separate ice cream pints because coconut-based dessert will never be as creamy as real dairy; when he would wander off at the farmer’s market to order grass-fed beef, conceal it in a paper bag in the “not vegan” refrigerator drawer, and cook dinner outside of our house on a camping stove because we agreed no meat in the kitchen. He really did try.

There were several times when I questioned if perhaps I was being ridiculous. How had a small decision about something so insignificant to others as my diet come to affect my entire lifestyle and most of my relationships?

I considered trying to change. Throughout the course of a year, I went from being nauseous from the smell of eggs to learning how to poach one. There were two points last year when I actually ate a (nearly microscopic) bite of egg in hopes that I could change my eating habits to be more adaptable to life’s circumstances. After nearly a decade of actively keeping a diet free of animals and their byproducts, this was a big deal for me.

To me, we were both compromising. To him, the compromise was too much.

I remember being curled up in a fetal position and sobbing my face off after I was dealt the dreaded I don’t think I can do this anymore.

Between hyperventilations, I asked, “Are you breaking up with me because I’m vegan?”

He answered something like, “I know it’s sh*tty, but I think so.”

~

Five months down the road from the end of our time together, I sit alone in Southeast Asia, experiencing these incredible new foods and flavor combinations—Khmer curries, sticky rices, and an assortment of colors of peppercorns straight from the plant—none of which I can share with my best friend, the chef, because he’s not here. And I begin to wonder:

Shouldn’t it be easier to have a healthy mixed-dietary-philosophy relationship? Is something wrong with me that I can’t passively sit back and watch a loved one act against my values? Am I alone in that I’m so particular about lifestyle preferences that they take over my life, or do others suffer from scenarios so seemingly silly?

A wise man (my vegan sister’s meat-eating-husband’s father) once pointed out to me that, so long as there are lifestyles that we are close-minded to, we’re not as open-minded as we think we are. I shrugged it off at the time, but there really is something to this idea of acceptance.

With the goal of acceptance in mind, the issue then becomes how to find balance living with not-so-typical ethics in the existing world. And it’s here that I’m confounded.

If you can at all relate to this dilemma and have insight to share, I urge you to do so.

~

Author: Rachel Markowitz
Image: Easters Collective/Unsplash  & Gianna Ciaramello/Unsplash 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Colourful Rachel Apr 22, 2018 3:35am

Hi Daniel. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my article. However, I'd like to clarify that I no point did I advocate or preach what I perceive to be the benefits of veganism to readers...or say that it's the only ethical choice. Everyone is free to make their own decision and our bodies are different from one another. It's good that you know what makes your body feel good. The person I wrote about and and I are both mindful about where our food comes from in general. When we ate kale together (or any other vegetable, it usually came from our garden, or the garden of a neighbor. Same with avocados, actually...and with most of his meat. This shared value was an important part of our relationship. I don't think we're all murderers, but hey—all of us are entitled to our opinions. All the best to ya.

Daniel Rosenberg Apr 17, 2018 10:30pm

Janet Koester Reilly Thank you for your kind words. :)

Daniel Rosenberg Apr 17, 2018 10:30pm

On another note, I just discovered from a blood test that I'm only one point above severe Vitamin D deficiency. Upon further research this is really common for vegans. I believe my years of veganism are largely responsible in my case particularly as I spend much time in the sun.

Janet Koester Reilly Apr 10, 2018 1:48pm

I found your response to Rachel’s article to be enlightening ~ I’m now a Pescatarian after being a Vegetarian for decades (health issues). Thanks for your perspective. ~ a female Senior Citizen

Daniel Rosenberg Apr 9, 2018 8:34pm

My perspective on veganism has changed much over the years. After turning vegetarian, then vegan, then raw vegan over the course of three years; I began to struggle. My body was not happy with the change and unlike others who find animal products disgusting after a long time without them, I always craved it. After months of struggling with my moral dilemma, I decided that it was cruel to deny my body what it was asking for and chose to eat some chicken. This was the first step to transforming my rigid beliefs. And there were more to come. Since then, I've deeply explored the idea of veganism from many angles: it's impact on health, on morality, on ecology most notably. What I've found is this: There are certain nutrient deficiencies that are very common in vegan communities: notably vitamin B, multiple minerals such as iron, but most importantly long chain omega 3 fatty acids. The short chain ALA's found in chia and flax seeds are insufficient because they must be transformed into long chain DHA- which is a very ineffecient process. This isn't a nutrient you necessarily need daily, but as it's among the primary constituent of the human brain it is important. In terms of ecology and morality, my views have softened as well. There's no doubt that industrialized farming is one of the most environmentally destructive practices humans engage in. Factory farming is cruelty to an unimaginable degree. This is often the reason for people turning vegan- it certainly was mine. It may indeed be a more ethical choice, but the issue is certainly not so black and white as many people would paint it. That is, even if a person adopts a full-vegan lifestyle, there is blood on everyone's hands. If you eat kale, it likely comes from a farm. Probably a large, industrial scale farm (even if it's organic). To establish such a farm, there was likely an entire ecosystem destroyed in order to clear the space for it. Countless plants, animals, and fungi communities were annhilated so that that person could eat that kale. Likewise for just about any vegetable. Of course there's the matter of mathematics. Each pound of beef requires a lot more pounds of plant matter. This is certainly noteworthy. Though my perspective now is that the idea that veganism is the only ethical choice is a gross oversimplification. Whether vegan or omnivore, we ALL participate in the ecocide of the planet in order to get our food. In this sense, we're all murderers, not just your boyfriend. In my mind, it is only by reestablishing personal relationships with the land that this ecocide will stop. This means not relying on avocados, almonds, or soy products shipped thousands of miles from foreign places for fat and protein but finding ways to get it from one's own landscape. I see no way to reestablish this relationship without acknowledging one of the harsh facts of life on Earth: to live is to take life. That is the law of nature and there's no escaping it. I'm only speaking for myself here, but I spent a long time as a vegan rigidly unwilling to acknowledge other viewpoints and it was precisely because I wanted to deny this fact. I wanted to deny the fact that life depends upon killing. I wanted to deny the fact that I was implicated. I wanted to purify myself and separate myself from that. Nowadays I eat meat, but I spend the extra money on only the most ethically raised animal products- and I do my research. At the same time, I'm learning to grow my own food and aspire to gather my food from the landscape. I even wish to learn to hunt, as I'd rather get my protein from land I know from an animal I have a personal relationship. I'd rather experience the full weight of that sacrifice when that animal's life passes from his/her lips. I wish to engage with the full spectrum of life. And I'm confident that in doing so I will decrease my ecological footprint immensely and will begin to benefit my ecosystem rather than only take from it. Thank you for your patience if you've read this far. I don't know how much (if any) of this is relevant to you. I doubt your ex thought of it all in this way, but I would urge you to consider if you believe that veganism is the only ethical choice. I urge you to consider if you believe veganism is the only healthy choice. And I urge you to question whether or not such beliefs are actually true. My conclusion is that life is gray, we all cause suffering, and no matter what we do- we must cause death in order to maintain our life. And, strangely enough, I've felt much more at peace with myself and with the world ever since coming to that conclusion.

Chuck Fetter Apr 9, 2018 5:53pm

It'd be different if it was a "diet" - but it's a deeply ethical and moral decision for you. Ideally, you need to find somebody who has the same basic morals and ethics. Unfortunately, that severly impacts the pool of potential partners, but also cuts out all the chaff. I can't describe how incredibly lucky I am to have gone vegan with my wife 9 years ago.

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Rachel Markowitz

Rachel Markowitz lives a somewhat-nomadic lifestyle, likely due to an attempt to compensate for her suburban upbringing in Toledo, Ohio. She aspires to live in an ecologically-minded community in a coffee-producing country (which she is currently doing) and create everything that she uses (which she is not). In the meantime, she’s likely writing, singing, guiding yoga classes, and/or searching for sunshine somewhere in Southeast Asia. An online collection of her writing has yet to exist, but if you’d like to connect (or offer her work!), she warmly welcomes your ideas at: [email protected].