Are you living with others who don’t share your dietary or lifestyle choices? While it would be awesome to live in an all-vegan household, it’s just not the reality for a lot of us. I can tell you from personal experience, that sometimes it’s just hard. So, we set out to find other families in this situation and get their advice.
What is an inter-dietary household? Simply put, it’s when people who eat differently live together. This may be a vegetarian teenager living with their omnivorous family, a vegan husband living with an omnivorous wife, or a newly vegan mom attempting to get her non-vegan family to eat plant-based meals. From begrudgingly cooking separate meals for their partners to arguments over how to raise the children—inter-dietary households present a unique set of challenges. With the help of authors JL Fields and Zoe Eisenberg and respondents to our Inter-dietary Household Survey, we’ve assembled this list of common challenges and solutions.
Challenge #1: Feeding the Family
Dondi shared that her biggest challenge is, “being able to accommodate everyone’s preferences.” There are a variety of ways to tackle this issue.
● JL: The way we managed it was that I made my food, and he made his. The good news is that I’m far more of a planner than he is, so he ended up eating a lot of vegan food due to poor planning.
● Zoe: I don’t think it’s logical to expect someone else to cater to your needs all the time (i.e., an omnivore always having to cook vegan, or a vegan being asked to cook meat). Talk it out and find something that works for everyone. In my house, I’m the primary cook, and I won’t cook meat, so we all mainly eat vegan. If my partner wants to cook some meat on the side, or add some cheese, then that’s his game, and I’m cool with it.
● Renae: Try to recreate favorite dishes in a vegan way that satisfies all parties.
● Terrie: No need for multiple dishes! Vegan meals are often one-dish sensations.
● Alyson: When making risotto, I make the basic recipe. Then they add their meat, and I add my mushrooms. Uses more pans this way though.
Challenge #2: Sharing Food Storage
Does this scene sound familiar? You open the fridge and are greeted with a shrink wrapped package of pig. Your family calls it “deli ham,” but being faced with dead animals in your fridge doesn’t just make you sad, it also grosses you out. What can you do?
● JL: He had one section in the refrigerator, with a drawer, for all animal products.
● Zoe: I’m big into creating safe spaces to reduce contamination risks. Sure, I would love to live in a meat-free house, but I love an omnivore and want him to feel like this is his home, too. So, we have a shelf in the fridge where all of the non-vegan items are kept, as well as separate cutting boards, pans, and cooking utensils. I think each couple will have their own system that works for them—it all comes down to proper communication
● Anonymous: Communicate and find out what you both are willing to compromise on.
● Sarah: Find ways to separate where you keep things. In my house, my husband has his own freezer and his own drawer in the fridge for the things that bother me to see.
Challenge #3: Raising Children
The question that often causes arguments in inter-dietary households is, “How are we going to raise our children?” Jen says, “Our biggest challenge is our disagreement on the food our child eats.” It seems that many times one party believes that a vegetarian or vegan diet is simply not healthy for children. However, the American Dietetic Association states that, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” Check out Generation Veggie’s Nutrition section for more information.
● Zoe: Ideally this [conversation] goes down before the kids are born, but sometimes it has to happen on the fly. In terms of raising them, when they’re small enough to still be under your complete jurisdiction, if the parents have split opinions, they should try and have that conversation without the kids around, so no one feels caught in the middle. Eventually, the kids are going to choose how they want to eat, so all you can really do in the long run is educate them.
● Jen: Communication is key. You really need to be in agreement on how to raise the children, and that is the same with any other child-rearing issue.
● Sara: Talk, talk, and talk some more. This needs to be something you both agree on, even if you decide to compromise your position.
Challenge #4: Dining Out
Robyn let us know, “Our challenge is mostly finding eating out options to accommodate both tastes.” You want to try the new vegan place in town, but your family wants to go to a steakhouse that seems to have no options!
● JL: He is always great about this. As he would say, “I can eat anywhere, so let’s go somewhere where you can eat more than salad.” I think it might be helpful for omnis to remember that. An omni can eat anywhere. How about compromising with your partner or loved one so that you both have a great dining experience?
● Zoe: Ethnic is typically your best bet. Traditional American cuisine, like steak houses, usually have the worst pickin’s for vegans.
● Anonymous: Call ahead! You may be surprised how many restaurants actually have vegan friendly options, or can make something just for you, if you just call ahead.
● Sara: If you have a vegan restaurant in town, go at least once with others in your household. You may find that they actually enjoy the food!
Challenge #5: Lack of Compassion
It can be hard for ethical vegans to share a home with those who aren’t; you may find yourself questioning whether your partner or children simply lack compassion. It can also be difficult to see someone you love supporting the very industries that you hate.
● JL: I didn’t really struggle with this. I always said that if he ever had some huge ethical shift in his life and demanded I share his new set of values, I would scream, “Hello! You married a feminist, do NOT tell me how to…” So I never badgered, and I never felt frustrated. He was always very willing to go to PETA and other events, like seeing the films Vegucated and Cowspiracy. He eventually came to living a mostly vegan (and the rest vegetarian) lifestyle.
● Zoe: This is hard, because when it comes to this particular challenge, compassion and judgment often come head to head. I try and remind myself that we all had our own journeys to get to where we are, so it’s best not to judge someone else as to where they are now. Also, for my romantic relationship, while it does frustrate me that my partner can’t see what I see, I remind myself I got into this relationship knowing that. I chose them anyway. So this was really my doing. You shouldn’t be with someone with the hope of changing them. That’s illogical and will likely make you look like a jerk.
● Valerie: Be gracious and forgiving. No one will come to your beliefs if it’s a battle of wills, and you are judgmental of their food choices.
● Anonymous: You can’t be at war with someone you live with. Show compassion for the human animals as well as the non-human. Still make your choices known and share some vegan food with them. In time, they just might join you.
Bonus Challenge: Food Sabotage
We were shocked and saddened by how many people told us about loved ones sabotaging their food. One person had their husband put honey in their smoothie; another had a parent who made a soup with chicken stock, and then rubbed it in his face after he ate it. We’ve also heard from many parents who are worried about grandparents or other family members feeding their kids non-vegan foods. The reason this isn’t with the other five challenges is because this is not an inter-dietary household issue. This is a respect issue, and it’s also a trust issue.
● JL: Definitely not an issue for us. As a vegan lifestyle coach and educator, sadly, I do hear about this. Usually I try to get away from the vegan part and explore with my client how that behavior manifests in other parts of the relationship. It reminds her/him that the sabotage is less about veganism and more about another dynamic, and that addressing that dynamic is a good first step. I also tell clients who say, “I can’t go vegan because my family isn’t,” to remember that veganism is a personal choice. One for him/her to make. And to try to find boundaries in the relationship that allows respect for everyone.
● Zoe: If your partner is not supportive of your lifestyle, that’s a huge warning sign. They don’t need to agree with it, but if they can’t support you in your decision, then there’s a much bigger issue at hand than your veganism. The table can turn the other way as well. For vegans upset with their omnivore partners, it’s important to remember you chose to be in this relationship, meat-eating and all.
● Ali: If your partner gives you a hard time and isn’t accepting of your choice, that person doesn’t respect you. To be blunt, find someone who respects all of you.
Are you living in an inter-dietary household? How do you deal with these or other challenges? You can continue the conversation by sharing your thoughts below or joining the Generation Veggie Forums.
Posted in Family Life