Mixed (Diet) Relationships: Can They Work?

Love has no rhyme or reason or even a calendar, but there's something magical about falling in love during spring. In his 1928 composition "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," Cole Porter argues that falling in love is all part of Mother Nature's plan.

When the little bluebird
Who has never said a word
Starts to sing Spring
When the little bluebell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little blue clerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love

But unlike the "Cold Cape Cod clams, 'gainst their wish" who do it, we human creatures have dating/mating checklists and criteria that go beyond the force of nature. For many, religion is the deal breaker; for others, it may be income, education, ethnicity or politics. But what about diet and eating habits? Can a vegetarian and a T-bone enthusiast live in harmony? Can a raw foodist and a drive-thru addict make it on love alone? Where do we draw the line between our love for another and what we choose to fuel our own bodies?

Over the years, I've heard an increasing number of What's Cooking readers in mixed-diet relationships who struggle with preparing meals that satisfy each person's dietary preferences. Statistics for vegetarians are hard to come by, but we do know that more people are either kicking meat or eating less of it. Flexitarian, a word to describe a person who eats meat less than 50 percent of the time, entered our vernacular only within the past five years.

But when it comes to dating, love and marriage, does the word "flexible" factor into our selection process? Can we, and should we, put up with differences in our beloved's diet? I got to thinking about all this when I recently discovered a handful of online dating sites for people who don't eat meat.

Looking for vegetarian, vegan or raw food love? Check out Veggie Love, Veggie Fishing, Vegetarian Passions and Veggie Date for potential meatless matches. The site Green Friends has invited eco-types to the vegetarian dating mash as well.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "some 11% of all internet users and 37% of those who are single and looking say they have gone to dating Web sites."

And some are narrowing their scope when shopping for love, too. As Jewish singles are doing it (jdate.com, jsingles.com), as are African-Americans (soulsingles.com, blacksingles.com), Latinos (latinmixers.com, latinamericancupid.com) and Christians (christianmingle.com), will the meatless community follow?

But is diet a deal breaker when it comes to love? We all know how love works in mysterious ways and can flip us upside our heads despite those internal checklists and criteria. Does love conquer all -- or does it get second shrift at the dinner table? Tell me how you've managed in a mixed diet relationship or if it makes no difference whatsoever.

While you ponder, listen to Ella belt out her version of "Let's Do It":

Today's Eco Bite: Curious about composting? Get the dirt here.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 29, 2008; 10:55 AM ET Relationships
Previous: Eating L.A. | Next: Kim's Six Go-To Kitchen Favorites


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I've refused to date vegetarians and vegans. I don't need any proselytizing or lectures when I'm enjoying some yummy animal flesh.

Gary Busey says never trust people who don't like BBQ or bacon. And, you don't want to make Gary angry....

Posted by: M Street | April 29, 2008 12:18 PM

It can work, I'm sure. But I don't want to try it. Dated a vegetarian once and won't do it again.

Posted by: RS | April 29, 2008 12:32 PM

For me, the most important factor is respect. I eat a vegan diet and my husband does not, but he is supportive of my choice. I have never "proselytized or lectured" him, because I respect his right to choose his own diet.

Posted by: Gretchen | April 29, 2008 12:39 PM

It can definitely work, but I think it depends on the people involved. My BF of 3+ years is veggie (although he recently decided to start eating fish) and I am passionate about bacon and hamburgers. We live together and I do most of the cooking. He is super easy-going about me eating meat, and I enjoy cooking and eating vegetarian at home. There are tons of fabulous vegetarian recipes out there, and a lot of the meat subs on the market now are good as well. I've been making a vegetarian-chicken pot pie lately that is a total showstopper :)

Posted by: Sara | April 29, 2008 12:50 PM

I think it can be done but both people would need to respect the other's choices and not try to convert the other.

Posted by: Little Red | April 29, 2008 12:55 PM

A different type of mixed-diet relationship: Soon after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my boyfriend voluntarily banned all gluten from his apartment (we don't live together). Even though I told him that he didn't have to, as long we were careful about crumbs, he didn't want any risk of cross-contamination. He'll still eat gluten at restaurants, but it never crosses either of our threshholds. In return, I try to make gluten-free bread as often as possible so he can have sandwiches. He sometimes makes it too.

Posted by: Rosslyn | April 29, 2008 1:15 PM

Of course mixed diet relationships can work. I really don't care what other people eat because I'm a vegetarian for health reasons, not philosophical ones. I was raised a vegetarian and have no desire to learn how to cook meat/fish. Because I do 99 percent of the cooking, we have a (nearly) vegetarian household. My husband is OK with that.

Posted by: Maryland | April 29, 2008 1:19 PM

I'd say it works -- and thanks to my vegetarian lifestyle, my boyfriend now actually LIKES vegetables because I can prepare them in a tasty way that doesn't involve boiling the color, flavor and life out of them (no offense to his mom). He keeps several packages of sausages in the freezer, for anytime he gets a hankering for meat, since they are fast and easy to prepare, and can go with most meals. He even eats (and ENJOYS) tofu. It's all about an open mind.

Posted by: Vegetarian living with a Flexitarian | April 29, 2008 1:22 PM

My husband and I both ate meat when we got married. Later I went vegetarian, then vegan. I never considered breaking up with him over it, although my vegan beliefs are very passionate (I'm not a proselytizer/converter). Later, he went vegan all at once, but for health reasons, not moral ones.

I love my husband and would continue to adore him even if he went back to eating meat. But if I were single, I probably wouldn't date meat-eaters. My beliefs are too important to me. It would be like a fundamentalist trying to date an atheist -- neither is right or wrong, but the different value systems are too extreme.

Posted by: Vegan Couple | April 29, 2008 1:29 PM

I'm vegetarian, I live with my boyfriend, who is not. It's a non-issue. I cook for us most of the time, and once in a blue moon (couple times a year, maybe) I'll cook some meat for him to go with what we're having. He has meat at lunch sometimes and sometimes when we go out. He's explored vegetarian options he wouldn't have tried before, but then, I've tried a lot of things he likes also, and I've become a lot less of a picky eater. The differences in our diets are just not that big a deal.

Posted by: thistle | April 29, 2008 1:30 PM

Honestly, if he did some of the cooking and cleaning up, I sure wouldn't care if our dietary preferences were different.

With me doing the cooking and the cleaning up, he eats what I make him, no complaining allowed.

Posted by: con-e | April 29, 2008 1:52 PM

Personally, I would never pursue a relationship with anyone who had a restrictive attitude towards food in any way. In my experience, unless it is for health or true ethical reasons, people who are very narrow-minded with food tend to be the same way in many other areas as well. Life is too short to spend it catering to someone who behaves like a picky child!

Posted by: Arlington | April 29, 2008 2:42 PM

I agree with Arlington. I'm more interested in a partner's openmindedness towards food than anything else. My BF and I really enjoy cooking and eating together. If he wasn't so open to trying new things, and being enthusiastic about eating, I'm not sure we would have made it together because food is so important to me.

Posted by: Julie | April 29, 2008 2:55 PM

Long time ago, I had an email exchange with someone from a dating website. I think I had pointed out that I kept kosher at home. He said he couldn't date someone who wouldn't be able to have ice cream for dessert after meat for dinner.

Pretty sure he's still single.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | April 29, 2008 3:23 PM

Having been married to someone whose dietary preferences didn't always coincide with mine, and who demanded that I always cater to his preference for meat-starch-vegetable meals, I'd have to go with those who would not date someone whose diet is very different from theirs. For instance, I love cheese, and like to do vegetarian for dinner every so often. He hated cheese, and would not eat a dinner lacking part of the meat-starch-veg triumvirate. Was that ever a pain in the neck! It didn't help that I went out of my way to learn to make dishes he enjoyed and I didn't, but he never did the same for me. It wasn't why we broke up, but it did rankle, and I suspect it ultimately added, in a small way, to our pile of unresolvable problems.
For the record, my husband now loves everything I cook -- and can't imagine living in a cheese-free world either. It is wonderful!

Posted by: Texas | April 29, 2008 5:37 PM

Well, my husband is a hard core meat eating carnivore, while I only eat fish and veggies. We are happily married and love life. He eats whatever he wants, I eat whatever I want, no judgement.

People that don't respect food preferences, probably have problems respecting other things...

Posted by: Hmmm... | April 29, 2008 6:38 PM

Reminds me of a fellow named Jack Sprat.

Posted by: Dave | April 29, 2008 8:13 PM

I'm a vegetarian (since childhood) and my husband (we've been together 10 years) is anything but. I do all of the cooking, meal planning, and shopping in our household and I know that cooking for me is intimidating for him (he doesn't cook very often and never has). We respect each other's differences and never give each other a hard time. It isn't a big deal in our household (although I do use separate pans for cooking meat).

Posted by: Betsy | April 30, 2008 8:48 AM

Interesting comments about not dating vegetarians because of the assumption that we're close minded. For me, it's quite the opposite. I discovered and read information on environmental and health and other reasons for being vegetarian (I'm being vague about my reasons to try to avoid a debate on these reasons as this is not the point of this blog) and decided that it was the way I wanted to live my life. Open to information, I changed myself. This generally applies to all facets of my life. With food, I scratch cook, will eat anything that is not an animal, and am always open to new things.

I've never suggested to a girlfriend to go vegetarian, though I will give them the details why I have chosen to do so. Some have felt... guilty (?) about eating meat in front of me, but not because I've laid out a guilt trip. I have had a few people refuse to date me because they believed that they couldn't throw dinner parties with me. Humorously, some of these people cooked at most once a month (the dinner party - roast/potatoes/veg/dessert) and considered themselves good cooks. Same thing every time following the recipe every time; a lack of adventurousness in cooking.

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | April 30, 2008 10:45 AM

Absolutely you can; you just both have to be pretty relaxed and respectful of each other. But that seems like also a base requirement for a happy relationship of any kind... The men I dated who chafed at my not eating meat also tended to be wrong for me in other ways.

Posted by: SP | April 30, 2008 2:09 PM

I'm now vegan (two months), was vegetarian for 36 years before that. My husband eats meat. We've been together over 26 years.

Lately, I cook what I'll eat, if he wants meat to accompany his part, it's on the grill. That's because the cleanup is easier. He also buys the meat because he doesn't like what I used to pick out. When he cooks, he makes lots of vegetarian things, but still prefers to grill the meat aside from the occasional experiment.

What we almost never have had is a casserole thing with meat in it. Or soup with meat in it. He kind of feels like if he's going to have meat, he wants the whole experience of it, so why chop it up and put it in things.

The reason I became a vegan was because he showed me a WSJ article about The China Study and professional athletes who are vegans. So, we're both open minded, etc. When we entertain, sometimes there is meat (if he is motivated to grill it) and sometimes there isn't. My sister is most upset because now I don't eat her desserts.

Posted by: Abq | May 9, 2008 4:31 PM

Some of these comments are absolutely ridiculous! Assuming that you're unadventurous with food just because you prefer not to eat meat? I'm sure there are plenty of meat-lovers on here who prefer not to eat olives or broccoli, etc. EVERYONE has certain preferences. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

I am vegetarian and my husband is not. How this could possibly be an issue is beyond me. We both come from vastly different food backgrounds and we have both grown together in our exploration of food. The only difference is that once the food is done cooking, he grills and cuts up a piece of chicken to put on top of his serving. Voila!

Posted by: From Michigan | May 9, 2008 4:41 PM

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