This is a recurring debate in the vegan world: Can a vegan and an omnivore have a healthy relationship?
I don't think that there is one answer to this question. Everybody has their own personal approach and their own rules, but I think that all vegans (and even vegetarians) have considered this question. Personally, I've thought about it quite a bit. So, I will share my thoughts on this with you, even though I'm sure my ideas will definitely continue to evolve in the coming months and years.
Just to be clear, you're about to get my own personal take on the issue. I decided to publish my ideas because I want to share my perspectives and start a conversation about the issue, even with people who don't share the same views.
I was not born vegan. Like almost everyone, I started my life as an omnivore: I ate meat, cheese, eggs. I wore leather shoes and wool sweaters. And for 28 years, that was my life.
Since I have lived longer as an omnivore than as a vegan, and I know many more omnivores than vegans, would it be possible for me to spend my life with an omnivore?
I can answer that without any hesitation: no. However, it's not a definitive no, because every situation is different. I know that things are not just black or white. But I'm still going with a clear and strong no. I'll try to explain why.
If you follow me here or on social media, I hope you will understand that being vegan isn't limited to your diet. A vegan approach is an all-encompassing one, and it impacts nearly every aspect of your life: the food you eat, the clothing and makeup you wear, the medication you take, how you spend your leisure time, the car you drive, the household products and furniture you choose, etc.
Accepting a stockpile of dead animals in my fridge, watching them being cooked in my frying pans and smelling the odor of roasted flesh in my house would make me sick.
These may sound like practical aspects, but they inform the daily life of a vegan. When you're with someone, you have to share all these little details. If you live your lives in completely different ways, the relationship may quickly turn into a nightmare.
I'm a very committed person, and this quality can be seen in all aspects of my daily life. I'm not forcing my partner to be as committed as I am to veganism, but he has to respect my convictions. Would it irritate a guy if I asked the manager at a home improvement store if the bristles of a paint brush are synthetic or from an animal? Would he roll his eyes whenever I ask a waiter about how the salad dressing was prepared? That relationship would definitely not last.
Practically speaking, being a vegan and living with an omnivore could quickly turn into a big problem.
Being a couple means cooking for two. Some people might decide to cook two meals, with the meat cooking on one side and a vegetarian dish simmering on the other. But this solution would not work for me. Accepting a stockpile of dead animals in my fridge, watching them being cooked in my frying pans and smelling the odor of roasted flesh in my house would make me sick.
Being a couple means shopping together and splitting the cost. As far as I'm concerned, there is no way that I will financially support industries and sectors that exploit animals. I read all the labels and check the ingredients of food products, but I also look to see what clothes, furniture and toiletries are made of. Since I don't support vivisection, I always check to make sure that the products I buy have not been tested on animals. For example, it would be quite impossible for me to place a package of meat or animal milk in my cart, and I wouldn't want my partner to pick them out either, because that would mean that I'd hand over some of my money to animal farms, butchers, slaughter houses, etc.
Being vegan certainly doesn't make my life simple. Every day, I have to do research and make choices, but a lifestyle based on compassion for animals is clearly the right one for me.
If I do all the shopping for food, cleaning products and cosmetics, any decision to allow a particular product into my home is, therefore, mine and mine alone. Everything I buy is organic, natural and vegan. I realize that my partner would find this hard to accept if he didn't share my opinions.
I consciously prepare for and plan out every single purchase and while I know this attention to detail might not be everyone's cup of tea, being on the same wavelength with my partner helps to avoid conflict.
Being vegan certainly doesn't make my life simple. Every day, I have to do research and make choices, but a lifestyle based on compassion for animals is clearly the right one for me. I have chosen a complicated path, but my conscience is clear.
Let's refer to Mrs. Wikipedia's definition, which tells us that compassion is a virtue through which a person is led to perceive or feel the suffering of others, and is compelled to remedy their situation. That's exactly what happened to me; one day, I saw that animals were suffering, and I have refused to support this ever since.
As human beings, we are born with compassion, but society tries to convince us to push it aside, or to be selective with the subjects of our compassion. If we have been conditioned to withhold compassion for the animals we exploit, then surely the virtue could make a comeback if given a chance (recent campaigns initiated by the French animal rights organization L214 are proof of this). This is the path that I've followed, from omnivore to vegetarian, to semi-vegan and, finally, vegan. I reawakened my compassion by educating myself. The refusal to allow another living being to suffer was something I felt passionately about.
It would be impossible for me to love someone who turns a blind eye to the suffering of others or to the repercussions of their actions and life choices.
I say it neither with pride nor pretension: compassion is one my values, on the same level as respect, justice, loyalty, courage and honesty. These values are fundamental to my life, and I would expect to find them in the person with whom I share my life. I need my partner to be concerned about the world that surrounds him, both in his everyday life and on a global scale. It would be impossible for me to love someone who turns a blind eye to the suffering of others or to the repercussions of their actions and life choices. These are essential character traits because they shape our reasoning and actions.
Obviously, partners in a relationship can't be mirror images of one another, but they have to have shared values so that they may keep moving forward in the same direction. For me, if values are completely opposite, it's a deal-breaker.
From the moment I refused to support the suffering inflicted on non-human animals, it became clear to me that these animals have wishes and desires, and that they have lives to live that are as valuable as mine. This ideology is called anti-speciesism. This movement believes that the species to which a person belongs is not sufficient reason to determine the way they should be treated nor the rights they should be granted. Anti-speciesism is the opposition to speciesism, which places the human species above all others. I believe that I approach the concept of anti-speciesism with humility, which is an important quality in my eyes. I know from experience that I am not attracted to self-centered people. In fact, it's difficult for me to imagine loving someone who considers himself superior to other animals.
I couldn't share my daily life with someone who is racist, sexist or homophobic. I'm incapable of accepting remarks and ways of thinking that stem from discrimination and hostility. Yes, I put speciesism and racism or sexism together, since, to me, it's the same thought pattern. It's an attitude that contradicts the equality that I feel so strongly about.
Sure, we could avoid the subject, at least at the beginning of the relationship, but what would the point be? The issue is too significant for me to keep my mouth shut. I know from experience that I would need to provoke discussions and debates. Because this subject is so highly emotional for me, confrontation is inevitable, which is why it's better to be on the same wavelength from the onset. Otherwise, there's a risk of continuous clashes.
I don't have any children, but it's a subject that clearly deserves recognition in this reflection. If two people do not share the same moral values, how would they raise their kids? This issue isn't confined to veganism; I imagine that a lot of parents don't always agree about how to raise their kids.
I made him read articles and showed him videos, which pushed him to become a flexitarian: a vegetarian at home and an omnivore elsewhere, to make his social life easier. It was a start.
The world is not black or white. To meet another vegan whom I like and who likes me back is utopian, I'm well aware of that. But this is true of different personality traits. At the beginning of a relationship, you don't know each other that well. As you discover the other person, you may change and develop.
When I decided to become a vegetarian, my partner wanted to keep living the way he had been living, and he didn't want to be affected by my decision. I would be vegetarian, and he'd be an omnivore; to each their own. I admit that his reaction upset me. I accepted it, but because I knew him so well after so many years together, I thought that if I cared about animals, the same had to be true for him. I made him read articles and showed him videos, which pushed him to become a flexitarian: a vegetarian at home and an omnivore elsewhere, to make his social life easier. It was a start.
He gradually started to feel uneasy; eating meat at restaurants made him feel uncomfortable, so he became a strict vegetarian. Meanwhile, I had already adopted veganism, and since I was doing the grocery shopping and cooking, I imposed my vegan meals at home, which he loved, but not enough to make him become a vegan. A state of consciousness cannot be forced upon someone, they have to come to that of their own volition; it needs to come from the soul. For a long-time, he continued to eat meals made with eggs and milk outside the house. "Being vegan is complicated," he said, "especially with this job that forces you to continuously eat at restaurants." I couldn't disagree with him on this point.
What matters is that he has proved to me that he has an open mind in transforming his habits and accepting change.
At present, he is not vegan. He is practically vegan (he eats vegetarian when there are really no other options). On the other hand, he still buys leather shoes and silk scarves (which makes me cringe, but we keep our finances separate for these things). However, this isn't the most important thing and I can let it go. What matters is that he has proved to me that he has an open mind in transforming his habits and accepting change. I know that he hasn't done it entirely for me but out of compassion for animals, for the environment, as well as for his own health. What matters is that he is progressing one step at a time, at his own pace, towards a way of living based on respect. In the end, it was clear: being passionate about the same things most of the time is the reason you get along so well with someone.
And what if he had never wanted to turn vegetarian or vegan? That would've really upset me. It would have suggested that I didn't know him that well after all, and that I had made a mistake. I would have insisted, at the very least, that we follow a vegan lifestyle at home.
An omnivore can easily eat a vegan diet by eating grains, fruit and vegetables, and eat whatever they want when they go out. Of course, I say this assuming that an omnivore doesn't need to impose meat or their attitude towards meat on vegans or vegetarians.
Having my partner accept my lifestyle is a sine qua non condition that allows our relationship to last. But his openness and receptiveness was key.
I think that adapting to a lifestyle different from ours is very plausible.
With love and compassion, I believe that each person can develop an understanding of a fair, tolerant and respectful way of life. With a minimum of openness, goodwill and common values, I think that adapting to a lifestyle different from ours is very plausible. But there's no point in forcing the other person, because if there is no conviction, it won't result in action. What good is it to have a husband or wife who claims to be vegan but who would dig into the first Big Mac they see once their partner's back is turned?
I've laid out my honest opinion of what it means to be in a relationship with a vegan (or a vegetarian). Now it's your turn to tell me what you think!
This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.