I’d like to introduce you to my best friend, who just so happens to be my sister, Hannah. I asked her to share her vegan story and how that plays into her marriage with Eric, who is not vegan. I love both Hannah and Eric dearly and they have a beautiful relationship. So take it away Hannah:
Being vegan is a big part of my life. And if you’re vegan, too, I’m sure you’d say the same thing. So how can I be married with someone who doesn’t share my beliefs? How did this relationship even come about? Let me tell you, I reflect on this all the time, but in the end I am never surprised Eric and I make it work. We believe different things about the world, but I didn’t marry him for his beliefs. I married him for the kind of person he is, for his character.
MY VEGAN JOURNEY
I became a vegan in 2006 when I was 18, but I was a terrible one for many years. My sister was the one who told me about the lifestyle and I jumped on board because I wanted to be thinner and it just made sense that not eating processed or animal foods would make me healthier. Because I didn’t have any ethical attachment to my food and was only on the vegan path for personal reasons, it didn’t stick very well. I would constantly fall off the wagon by way of maple twist donuts, feel awful, complain to my sister, who would encourage me (with a stern look), and then get back on. I also still ate sea animals occasionally, for some reason. I realize now that I had such a hard time staying totally vegan because I had no ethical attachment to my food. So it was really easy to convince myself it was okay to eat certain things.
I met Eric, who is now my husband, after I had been on this vegan journey for about four years. We met during a time when the whole vegan thing wasn’t too important to me, except that I just tried to eat pretty healthy and not eat animal foods, but still fish, sometimes, “like just sometimes,” which is how I would justify it. All that to say, Eric did not expect to be married to a vegan who actually cared about the animals or anything. Especially one that cried after finding out she just ate an artichoke that had been cooked in chicken broth. (True story.) In fact, when we were dating, I would even say things like, “I don’t care about the animals. I’m only doing it for my health.” I did not want to associate myself with animal rights activists.
About four months before our wedding, my sister and I started getting into specifically the high carb raw vegan movement. I began surrounding myself with information about veganism, which I had never really done before. When I first started on the vegan path in 2006 I just did it overnight. No online research. No documentaries. No books. No vegan community. But this time, in the summer of 2012, I was learning about high carb raw veganism, and inevitably came across information about the ethics of the whole movement. After several months of consuming this information and mulling it over, I had to admit to myself that I had been wrong about what I used to say about animals. After admitting it to myself, I knew I had to talk to Eric. We had been married for about eight months when I spoke openly about my change of heart. We were at a friend’s house for the Fourth of July when someone asked me, in front of Eric, why I was vegan. Instead of responding with the usual remark about it only being for my health, I said that I did in fact care about the animals and I was also doing it for my health. It felt really good to get it out in the open. After that, I slowly shared with Eric the reasons for my change of heart.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
I tell you this history just to give you a picture of where we came from. I believe that if I never had a change of heart and was never an ethical vegan, then the whole vegan thing would never be an issue in our marriage. Because to be honest, the everyday food thing is the easy part. What we eat for dinner, that’s a cinch. It’s kind of like living with a roommate and you just both make separate meals. The hard part is that we fundamentally disagree on something that is such a big part of our lives.
I believe the biggest difficulty stems from the same reason most people get uncomfortable when a vegan walks in the room. When you are vegan and your partner is not, they likely will feel like you are judging everything they do. Hopefully this is not the case! I know that I can catch myself judging others for what they are eating, if I’m to be completely honest, but I always try to put it into perspective. I used to eat that way. I used to make fun of vegans and laugh at people who would refuse to go to fast food restaurants. How can I possibly make a judgment on someone else for things I used to do myself not that long ago? What I do is tell all this to Eric; that way he is assured I am not sitting there every time he is eating a pizza silently crying over the animals that had to suffer for it and thinking he is an immoral person because of what he eats.
Something that has been hard for Eric to grasp is that I no longer want to buy things that have caused harm to animals, be it leather in my soccer cleats, down feathers in my comforter, or household products that have been tested on animals. This is where communication is so important. Instead of throwing a fit about it, I simply explain to Eric why I want to buy one product over another and show him how good it makes me feel to make a simple decision like that. I think that because he can see it makes me happy, he is glad to go along with it.
Now the inevitable question, the one that people ask Eric all the flipping time: so, when is he going to go vegan? I hate when people ask him this because it pressures him to change into something he doesn’t want to be. In the beginning of our marriage I would pressure him to eat healthier but he got so fed up with it. (In the very beginning when we were just dating, he would eat salads and green juices all the time. But later, I found out he was just trying to impress me. I guess it worked!) So now, I never press him on it, unless we are already in a discussion on the topic. Some advice to vegans who are in love with non-vegans is to just let your partner be. Seriously. Can you imagine if your partner was really into the Paleo diet (yuck!) and they kept harassing you to stop eating fruit because it has too much sugar and to eat more bacon because fat is good for you? So annoying, because you love your fruit, right? Or, even more frustrating, what if your partner was following a different religion, and he or she kept leaving religious books around the house for you to read and sending you video clips of holy people saying things that didn’t make sense to you. And then your partner turns around and says, “I don’t judge you for not believing what I believe!” Bullocks!
What it comes down to is that Eric knows very well that I want him to be vegan. I want him to change his lifestyle and take care of himself so that he will be healthy and vibrant and feel as good as I feel. He knows all that. He doesn’t need reminding. If I’m just sitting there watching him make a decision about what to eat for dinner and he feels my eyes boring into him, all he will feel is pressure, which he is likely to turn away from. But if I give him space and let him make his own decision, he often makes really good ones. And that’s when he likes me to notice. He’ll say, “Look, Hannah. I’m eating oranges. Did you notice?” And I say, “Of course, I noticed! It makes me so happy when you eat fruit.” It’s amazing what letting go does. I’m learning every day to let go more and more and just let him be.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan author and podcaster I look up to a great deal, explained it perfectly. What are the characteristics of an ethical vegan? They are compassionate, kind, caring, loving, integrous, and so many other things. I married my husband because of his character, not his behavior. (Check out Colleen’s podcast episode called “Vegan Dating” on her show “Food for Thought.”) Eric is all of those things and I am constantly learning from him, especially from his kindness and integrity. I have to recognize that it took me a long time to understand what compassion meant to me. I was even eating a relatively vegan diet for almost six years before I awoke to the reality of it all and before I began living a life of true kindness.
My year and a half being married to Eric has been the best time of my life. It’s amazing how much we have grown, as individuals and as a couple. And he is so incredible in how he supports me 100% in a lifestyle he doesn’t follow himself. Now, even though I have just told you not to push your diet and beliefs on your partner, at the same time, I don’t shy away from talking about it when there is something I genuinely want to mention. Maybe I just learned something interesting I want to share or I just watched a compelling video. It’s still part of who I am, and Eric wants to know who I am, just like I want to know who he is. The key is when I talk about vegan stuff, it’s always as it relates to me, not to him.
Remember to be patient with your partner if they are not on the same path as you. If you pressure them, they won’t change. They just won’t. That’s how humans are. It has to be their own choice. Stay positive and try to be the best example you can: if you feel and look your best, they will notice. Offer to make him or her meals in a perfectly sweet and non-judgmental way. My favorite line is, “Want a smoothie?” Or, “I have some super ripe avocados. Want a salad?” That way you’re really just offering to make them food, which is so nice of you! It just happens to be cruelty-free and full of nutrients.
Here are some FAQs I get, if you’re interested.
Do you make him non-vegan food?
No. I don’t want to, and frankly he probably doesn’t want me to because I don’t know how. I haven’t made non-vegan food since I was in high school! I’d probably kill him with food poisoning!
What about going out to eat?
Honestly, being vegan in Southern California is so easy! There is always a little leaf or V indicating vegan friendly options on the menu. Very occasionally we’ll go to an all-vegan restaurant. But not often. The best place to go for vegans and non-vegans is sushi! Just order veggie rolls and cucumber-avocado rolls and your partner can get anything he or she wants!
What did you do for your wedding?
We had a local Lebanese restaurant cater. Everything was vegan except there was meat served separately. So we had rice, roasted veggies, hummus, pita, falafal, fried cauliflower, etc. We didn’t have a wedding cake because neither of us really like cake. But we did serve baklava, which was vegan except for honey, I believe.
What about drinking? You gave up alcohol, but your husband still drinks, right?
Ah, yes, good question. Maybe Ellen will let me do another blog post about that. There’s so much to say!
Do you ever make him food?
Yes. I make him smoothies and salads once or twice a week. And sometimes I’ll get inspired by a cooked vegan recipe and ask if I can make it for him. I like finding things that he enjoys and that we can eat together.
Does he ever make you food?
Yes. If I ask nicely.
Pictured is Hannah’s husband, Eric, with my son, Elvis. They LOVE each other so much.
Ellen here. Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your journey with us! I wanted to chime in with my two cents on how my husband, Andrew, became vegan and what kind of role I played in his transition.
Andrew and I started dating when we were 15 and 16 years old, before either of us were vegan. The summer after freshman year in college, in 2006, I learned of the raw vegan diet and jumped right in. With an overwhelming excitement, I immediately went to tell Andrew about my new enlightenment. Not surprisingly, he shut down the idea rather quickly and did not jump on board with me. He actually laughed at me and told me I would never last as a vegan, and that we needed milk for calcium. He inevitably said the same things he now gets tired of hearing. Ha! Things like, “but you need meat for protein” and “I could never be vegan. I love burgers too much.” At the time, I didn’t care that he wasn’t going to join me, but I wanted his support. I didn’t want to be dating someone who was going to put me down on my path towards better health. It didn’t take much time for him to understand where I was coming from and choose to accept my new lifestyle.
Pictured LEFT: Andrew and I when we were in college, before he was vegan. (And don’t ask me what he is doing with my dress, because I have no idea!) Pictured RIGHT: one and a half years after Andrew became vegan, when we were 7 months pregnant with Elvis.