There are certain qualities I’ve always found attractive in a member of the opposite sex: big, strong hands, brown, soulful eyes, a love of 1970’s rock music…. As I get a bit older though, I’ve come to realise that the manliest of hands or the deepest pools of liquid brown eyes are nothing without the other qualities I now look for: compassion and kindness. Luckily my wonderful vegan husband, Graeme, ticks all of these boxes.
‘You’re so lucky’ I hear some of you cry. I know many single vegans who have resigned themselves to a life of celibacy rather than get jiggy with someone who eats their animal friends. Equally I know many vegans who despair that their otherwise perfect partners don’t view animal cruelty the same way they do. They wonder how such kind and caring people can turn a blind eye to the suffering that we see all so clearly.
Well, my vegan friends, this story is for you. I want to show you that absolutely anyone can surprise you.
My husband and I met on a drunken night out at the student union when I was 22 and he was 20 (yup, got myself a toy boy!). It wasn’t exactly love at first sight but it didn’t take long either. We were so obviously smitten with each other that no one even batted an eyelid when we got engaged only 5 months after first meeting.
I was vegetarian at that time but alas, I was an apathetic veggie. I first stopped eating animals at age 11 but I was never really involved in animal rights and by the age of 22, my vegetarianism was more of a habit than any strong ethical stance. So the fact that my boyfriend was a meat eater wasn’t something I even thought about.
After my graduation I threw myself into planning our wedding, we moved in together and got married the following year. I’m ashamed to say that I had turned my back on vegetarianism by this point. Two years later we had our first baby, followed two and a half years later by baby no.2.
It was around this time, when the baby was only a few months old that I started to question my diet again. I guess the guilt was nagging at me and I just couldn’t justify eating meat any longer. I told my husband that I was going to be vegetarian again. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I truly cared about the animals I was no longer eating, I should really give this vegan thing a try. Now vegetarianism was one thing – my husband knew what to expect with that – but veganism? Surely that’s a bit extreme? I think he was worried on a few levels; how could I possibly be healthy on such a ‘restrictive’ diet, would we ever be able to eat out at a restaurant together again, would I force him to eat nothing but lentils? He was not impressed.
When it comes to food, Graeme and I have always had very conflicting tastes. I love beans, lentils, veggies of all varieties, whereas he’s more of a meat and potatoes kind of a guy. He could just about tolerate onions, peppers and sweetcorn or maybe a small spoonful of baked beans on the side of his meat pie.
I knew that figuring out how to cater for our very different food preferences would be tricky enough, I never for one minute thought that he’d end up becoming vegan himself!
We bumbled along like this for a while. I would buy some frozen chicken fillets and cow’s milk for him while I was doing the weekly shop and we often ate separate meals.
The more research I did into the animal product industries though, the more distressed I became at having to load my shopping trolley with animal carcasses. I just felt so…wrong.
Luckily, by this time, we had discovered that Graeme quite liked some of the meat substitutes I was buying. He was also impressed by the vegan ice cream I discovered in our local supermarket, not to mention the myriad of cakes and cookies I was baking on a weekly basis. He was still a long way off being open to the thought of veganism as a viable choice for himself, but he was at least beginning to realise that a vegan diet did not mean a life of salads, twigs, and restriction.
Then one night, we sat down and watched Earthlings. For him, this marked the start of his own vegan journey and for me it marked a period of real confusion.
I was still head over heels in love with this man. I knew that he was a kind, caring person who would never want to cause unnecessary suffering yet he had watched Earthlings and not immediately stood up and renounced all animal products. How could this be?
And how could I continue to share my life with someone who could see the suffering, admit that it was atrocious and yet continue to be a part of it?
Of course, I was feeling overly emotional after having watched the documentary and I suppose I underestimated (I still do) the power that social conditioning, the media, our own traditions and a host of other things have over us when it comes to giving up the food and the practices we have grown up with.
There was no way I was going to walk away from my marriage (aside from the fact that I still loved my husband, we had two very small children together – we were a family) but at the same time, I worried that we would face a lifetime of conflicts over our differing lifestyles. And of course, I was worried about his health too.
The thing about veganism though, is that we’re all different. Some people watch Earthlings, or see the Gary Yurofsky video, or read something about factory farming and it’s as if a switch has been flicked; they make the transition overnight. Some people take a little longer. They have the nagging suspicion that they should make the change but they underestimate themselves. They think they don’t have the willpower, they wonder what on earth they will be able to eat, they worry they will face ridicule from family and friends.
For my husband, the man who hates beans, lentils, pulses and most vegetables and loves milk chocolate, the overriding worry was how would he manage to be healthy on a vegan diet? And would he still be able to enjoy his food?
His compromise was to try vegetarianism. Despite the fact that he was mostly replacing meat with cheese and eggs (at lunchtimes anyway, at dinnertime he was strictly vegan since I am the only cook in the house!), I was over the moon. Some vegans might criticise me for that but I knew that for him, my big, strong, truck driving, Scottish man, vegetarianism was a HUGE step!
The nail in his meat eating coffin, was watching Forks over Knives (if you haven’t seen it, I thoroughly recommend watching it, it’s a fascinating documentary). For those who haven’t seen it, it focuses on the benefits of a plant based diet. I think everything fell into place for Graeme at this point. He realised that not only could he be healthy on a vegan diet, he was probably doing his health no favours by consuming animal products. This was more or less confirmed by the fact that once he stopped eating dairy products, the sporadic stomach pains he had been experiencing (his family has a history of gall bladder problems and we suspected it might be something along those lines), disappeared altogether. Of course, the diet was the hard part for him and once he had that sorted, he saw no point in not going fully vegan so together we tracked down some cruelty free hair gel and deodorant. The next time he buys shoes, I’m sure they will be of the non leather variety.
Well, if I thought I loved this man before, I am absolutely crazy about him now. The fact that he has faced potential ridicule from his friends and turned his entire lifestyle upside down – not for me, but because he is a compassionate person – is just amazing. I’m incredibly proud of him.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. I’m sure there are those who think that he’s under the thumb or that I’ve pushed him into it. I’ll admit that I’ve nudged him a bit, but I wish people would give him more credit. He’s a grown man with a mind of his own. At a party recently, he accidentally ate some dip that contained dairy. One of his friends asked him if he would tell me about it, as if he was a naughty schoolboy who had an indiscretion he knew his mummy wouldn’t be happy about. I’m sure this particular friend was joking as his friends have been absolutely fine about his new diet (at this same party, the host had made sure that there were plenty of vegan options for hubby to eat), but it does worry me that people assume that he’s living vegan under duress.
Well, anyone with any knowledge of an adult relationship knows that you cannot force your partner to be someone they are not. You can mutually educate each other on things, by all means, but of course they have to be able to make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions. After all, if they become vegan purely to please a vegan partner, they will never stick to it and will mostly end up resenting the person who forced them to change.
Still, I guess people can think what they like. All I know is that we have never been happier. Veganism is such a huge part of my life, to be able to share it with my husband is wonderful. From his point of view, he says he’s never felt healthier and he agrees that our shared ethics have brought us closer.
You’re right; I am a lucky girl.
Wow, for a vegan, this is one cheesy article!!