Why does my boyfriend seem threatened by my steps toward veganism?

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We are so excited about this new series called Dear Toube! Modeled after the popular advice column Dear Abby, this provides an opportunity for our readers to ask questions and receive advice to help navigate difficult situations with tact, confidence, and ease.

Dear Toube,

I have a wonderful friend that is vegan and I have recently become educated on many aspects of animal cruelty that I was unaware of in the past. As I have learned more, I have become more sensitive to what I buy and eat and I am making an effort to be more compassionate about the choices that I make. Already an animal lover, I want to be kinder to the animals—in all aspects of life.

The problem is: my boyfriend. He is not supportive at all. It seems as though he is threatened by it, which I don’t understand! I have made numerous really great vegan dishes and he won’t even try them! When we go out to a restaurant he tries to get me to order steak; which was my old favorite, and doesn’t get the fact that I would rather order something that doesn’t harm animals. The other night he asked in frustration “So, what…you’re vegan now?!” Why is this such a bad thing? It makes it very difficult to make more of a conversion. Can you help me, please?


Unsupported In Utah

Dear Unsupported,

I think most of us can relate to this story in one way or another. I, for one, face this kind of teasing daily in my office of 200 where I am the only vegan (although I heard a rumor once that we had an intern who was vegan, but I never saw him so I think it might have been a cruel prank). While it can be frustrating and feel disrespectful, I kind of embrace the hostility because it gives me hope and I’ll tell you why.

There aren’t many things we do each day that are as important as what we eat. Every dollar spent, every meal, is a vote. A vote for animal cruelty or animal welfare, for disease or health, for big corporations or local farmers, for GMOs or organic . . . the list of issues is long and complex. Yet, we don’t always give much thought to this until we come face to face with someone or something that makes us pause and examine our choices.

The vast majority of people say they love animals and would never hurt one, and I’m sure your boyfriend feels that way or an animal lover like you wouldn’t be dating him. It’s pretty easy to maintain that disconnect between loving animals and eating them when we don’t have to kill them ourselves. With terminology like “steak,” “bacon,” “veal” or “burgers,” we often don’t even associate what we eat with who is on our plate. But then enter a vegan or vegetarian—or anyone who starts shifting their actions to be in alignment with their values—i.e. YOU! Now there is a living, breathing reminder in front of your boyfriend that animals are needlessly suffering and dying. What does this mean? He has two choices . . . he can start examining his own moral compass and making changes to something so ingrained in his life or try to make it really hard on you so you’ll give up and go back to what’s familiar. I’m willing to bet the frustration you witnessed when he asked if you are “vegan now” isn’t about you; it’s about how he’s feeling inside. It’s this inner conflict that I was talking about in the beginning of my reply—why I have hope. The conflict means we have a chance!

You asked, “Why is this such a bad thing,” and it’s not, at all! Two people are becoming aware of cruelty in the world, and so far one of you is working to change that. We just need to help your boyfriend see that this is yet another reason to adore you and it’s nothing to feel threatened or overwhelmed by. You mentioned that you are becoming educated on many aspects of animal cruelty; I know it’s hard when you learn those things to not want to tell everyone about it, especially the ones you are closest to. Most of us go through that hopeful, “If people only knew, they would immediately take a stand against it” phase. In reality, people are instead super-quick to put their hands over their ears and loudly “LALALALALA” us to make it go away. Try to only share those details if he asks. Focus on the good things . . . being kind. Being healthier. If either of you have children or plan on them, you’re saving the planet for future generations. If you are both on Facebook and/or Instagram, share sweet images of happy rescued animals from places like Farm Sanctuary, Esther the Wonder Pig or Edgar’s Mission so he starts seeing animals as individuals and making the connection in an indirect way. If you live by an animal sanctuary, ask to make a romantic trip there for your birthday or anniversary. These are all baby steps that you can take at your discretion while letting him know that this should be a fun, enlightening, non-judgmental journey you would love to share with him.

And then there’s the food. The way to a man’s heart, yes? And mine! You mentioned making lots of great vegan dishes. I’m sure they are fantastic, but are they familiar? Sometimes when we start to open our eyes in the grocery stores to new ingredients (one of the huge perks of going vegan!) we jump all in. We’re grabbing tempeh and seitan, whipping up aquafaba, straining our own almond milk through cheesecloth . . . which is all fabulous, but for someone on the outside looking in, it’s really overwhelming and just plain weird. Invest in a couple of cookbooks that are full of familiar, comforting dishes that have been veganized. A few of my favorites are The Joy of Vegan Baking (if you guys have a sweet tooth like I do), The Taco Cleanse, Chloe’s Italian Kitchen, or But I Could Never Go Vegan!: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It’s Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over for Dinner (that name alone solves so much!). As excited as you may be that your chocolate chip cookies are vegan, you don’t necessarily have to point it out! It’s still just a chocolate chip cookie. Or if he asks what you’re making for dinner, instead of telling him “vegan tacos,” you can say, “Beer-battered portobello tacos.” (That recipe is here, if you just started to drool!)

If the pushback continues, there is one sort of “bottom line argument” that I resort to and it pretty much always ends the drama. “I just want to cause the least harm.” I have yet to have someone argue back that they indeed DO want to cause harm . . . and to be honest I am not sure exactly what I will do if that day ever happens! But that might come in handy in a situation such as when he tries to pressure you to order steak in a restaurant.

Thank you for being open to learning so much about what’s happening to animals and striving to live more compassionately. I hope some of my suggestions were helpful. With any luck, some patience and the lovely example you are setting, hopefully your boyfriend will become interested in (and maybe even excited about) making compassionate changes with you! Please follow up and let me know how you two progress.

♥ Toube

Do you have vegan-related questions for Toube? Submit your “Dear Toube” questions here or below. Please note in your message whether you would like us to use your name or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous. 

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