Male entitlement meets meat-eating pickiness; ugliness ensues
I found this piece at Good about a woman who converted to veganism but whose boyfriend didn't troubling. Now, to be clear, I don't eat meat, but I do eat dairy and eggs and very occasionally (as a treat) fish, and so my life is generally much easier than a vegan's. And that might be the reason why I've never really felt that the mixed-relationship thing is that hard. Most restaurants have vegetarian options, at least in your more cosmopolitan cities. And most importantly, I never have really dated guys who throw temper tantrums if there isn't meat on the plate. Just because someone will eat meat doesn't mean they have to eat meat at every meal. As long as your only measure for eating something is, "Does it taste good?", then drifting towards a more vegetarian diet because you're dating a vegetarian isn't really that hard. Of course, I offer the caveat that veganism is different, complete with reasonable concerns that vegan food often features a lot of crappy meat substitutes that vegetarian food often doesn't, for reasons that are a little too complex to get into here. Still, this passage here upset me:
But instead, he is totally thrown off by the whole vegan thing. The tension came to a head a few weeks ago when we were on vacation in Palm Springs. The lone vegan-friendly place in the greater Palm Springs area is a vegan-only place, and the menu was rife with fake cheese and fake meat. I get that my boyfriend is creeped out by fake animal products posing as the real thing. But sometimes I just want him to bite the proverbial bullet and at least pretend to enjoy a slab of barbeque seitan.
This is not an unreasonable desire. Since I can go pretty much anywhere to eat (except maybe some Texas barbeque places), I don't have to go to vegan or vegetarian restaurants, but I do it all the time with my boyfriend or friends. Why? Because a lot of the time, they're just good restaurants. There are a handful of places in Austin and in New York where non-veggie friends suggest going, not because they're pandering to me, but because they just like the place. The notion that it's some sort of hell to eat in a vegetarian or vegan restaurant is baffling. If you don't like fake cheese or fake meat, most of these places have plenty of dishes that don't feature either. There's bean-bashed dishes, mushroom-based dishes, pastas, stir fries, etc. I don't particularly like fake meat precisely because there's no need for it, since there's a variety of other things to eat. I don't find her boyfriend's reaction adorably quirky or even mildly irritating. I find it childish.
And I think this whole article points to an interesting aspect of the growing trend of meat reduction in diets, either through vegetarianism, veganism, or part-time versions of either (such as the Mark Bittman "vegan until 6" diet or the weekday vegetarian program): it's really gendered. I don't think this gets covered sufficiently, because so many prominent voices in the new green foodie culture are male, but women are far more likely than men to adopt these strategies to reduce their consumption of animal products. Which means there are probably a lot of "mixed marriages" out there amongst the straights, and this means that how dietary differences are dealt with gets all mixed up with gendered expectations, male privilege, and power dynamics that exist even amongst the most well-meaning and feminist straight couples.
My sense that gender plays into this comes also from the fact that while most people are very nice about my vegetarianism (it helps that I'm not pushy or hectoring about it), the only people who jump all over me, at least in person, have been male. Not eating meat is seen by some men as emasculating, and subsequently a woman who doesn't play along—even if she's not pushy at all—is seen as threatening. (These will often be the same guys who take it personally if you get a male pet neutered.) But beyond all that, there's just the fact that women are supposed to be the ones who are accommodating and self-sacrificing. Plus, women's choices are seen as irrational and emotional, and men's as rational, and so even though vegetarianism is often better for you in terms of cancer and heart disease prevention, there's potential for it to get characterized as stupid girl shit, ironically by men who are being completely irrational.
Which is the vibe I get off this story:
I’ve gotten used to it and found ways to be comfortable without being imposing, but I still feel awkward when my boyfriend and I go out to eat in a group with other people. He always seems slightly embarrassed and apologetic that his girlfriend is a vegan weirdo.
But for all his eye rolling and complaining, my boyfriend respects my choice and how I’ve stuck to it.
Look, there are few of us that are relationship saints. Everyone teases and eye rolls and acts embarrassed at times. But a constant fucking drumbeat of it aimed at someone's diet isn't respecting anything. It actually reads more like a man who finds veganism threatening and who feels entitled to treat his girlfriend poorly about her choices, because he sees those choices as stupid girl shit. I've been a vegetarian for more than half my adult life—going on 9 years now, I think—and have been around other vegetarians and vegans and so I know for a fact that you can handle the dietary restrictions without just constantly whining about it. In fact, many meat eaters find that they slip into not eating meat fairly easily once they have some practice being around a vegetarian, as long as they aren't just constantly pouting because they expect that others are there to do all the accommodating. If you're generous to a vegan or vegetarian, you often discover that they do a lot more emotional work making sure they're not a hassle than you initially thought, and that empathy can teach you to be less picky and close-minded about food.