A carnivore and a vegan walk into a Whataburger. No, this is not a setup. And yes, the vegan can, in fact, find something to eat (in a DIY, everything-but-the-meat “sandwich”).
I’m the vegan, and the carnivore is my girlfriend, Barbara. I never made it a stipulation that the person I dated had to not eat meat. Unless you’re trying to kiss me with remnants of tri-tip in your teeth, I’m probably not going to up and leave you to pay for dinner. Vegans often get a bad rap for being preachy, critical, and unaware of their privilege (many people do not have access to fresh, healthy vegan food, or the time or energy to ensure everything they consume or use is vegan). I don’t believe in destroying animals, the environment, and ourselves in the name of savoring a burger and milkshake, but I don’t judge others for their dietary choices. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony, though, when I found myself falling for a milk-drinking meat-eater from cattle country. Navigating our starkly different diets has forced us to confront ourselves in unexpected ways and has imparted lessons that extend well beyond the dinner table.
1. Be willing to compromise.
My girlfriend has learned to accept that I will never share her Texas-borne veneration for Whataburger Honey Butter Chicken Biscuits. At the same time, I’ve settled into knowing she won’t feel the same elation as me when I finally track down the perfect plate of vegan biscuits and gravy (the unicorn forever eluding me in a search I am probably too invested in). I never dreamed I’d date someone who used to go to rodeos, just as she never imagined herself with a partner who assesses ingredient labels in two seconds flat.
2. Resist codependency and guilt.
When we first started dating, we felt bad that we didn’t eat alike. I thought Barbara would be disappointed if I picked a vegetarian restaurant for dinner; she was worried I’d find nothing anywhere she chose. Though well-intentioned, codependency can make decision-making frustrating and lead to even bigger arguments. Half the time, it would’ve been easier if someone had just said, “Burritos!” It took a few months to learn that, rather than worry so much about the other person’s satisfaction or satiation, we should just take turns. It relieves the pressure, because the choices even out and everyone wins. Now, I’m much less inclined to feel sorry for picking a place that doesn’t have myriad meat options, and she’s figured out that I can get just about any menu to work for me.
3. Embrace adventurousness.
I’ve made meals of side salads, sweet potato wedges, and burger buns with all the fixings, hold the patty (that Whataburger scene actually happened). Sides-as-meals is not entirely new or inconvenient to me, because sometimes French fries and beer at a bowling alley make an ideal dinner. But not being perfectly matched has encouraged both of us to step even further outside the bounds of our routines. She’s down to try faux meat dishes and orders vegan sandwiches for lunch to test them out for me. She even brought me to a vegetarian food festival and actually enjoyed it.
Meanwhile, I get to accompany her on foodventures I wouldn’t otherwise take. For Barbara’s birthday this summer, we headed off on a mini road trip to Raising Cane’s in the county over. Make no mistake — she invited me, but she was driving that hour and a half whether I tagged along or not. We stopped at a funky vegetarian cafe a few miles before we got there so I could pick up something to eat. When we finally arrived and she got to revel in the sweet satisfaction of Cane’s sauce and Texas toast, she thanked me for being game. There was never a doubt I’d go to a chicken chain with her to get some extra hang time. I love her, of course, but also, they have crinkle fries.