They say you don't win friends with salad - but can a veggie and an omnivore fall in love?
What’s a deal-breaker for you in a potential relationship? Their insistence on wearing a pin-stripe trilby? An inability to detect sarcasm? The fact that they salivate over a juicy steak?
This was a decision that Ben Cijffers, who wrongly thought vegetarians are just sandal-wearing hippies, was faced with when he first met his soon-to-be-wife Deirdre through mutual friends in Romania. They hit it off immediately and endured six-hour journeys across Romania to see each other.
“I can't say I was thrilled about it," admits Cijffers, who recently recently wrote A Lion in the Allotment: A Carnivores' Guide to Living with a Vegetarian. "I was suitably smitten and her being vegetarian wasn't going to be a stumbling block, but more of a pragmatic question for me of ‘wow she's veggie I’m going have to deal with this because I’m not letting this one slip through my fingers."
And as the numbers of people adopting meat-free and plant-based lifestyles has skyrocketed in the past decade and when our chances for news dates are almost endless thanks to apps like Tinder, having "veggie" as a deal breaker could become a growing problem.
A recent YouGov study found that 62 per cent of people would be unwilling to go vegetarian for a partner, rising to 76 per cent for veganism. While a 2014 survey of 500 singles on dating website Plenty of Fish in North American’s most health conscious cities showed that 50 per cent of vegans want to date another vegan, the same number of those on the paleo diet would refuse to date a vegetarian.
Cijjfers recalls the first time that he realised he'd need to change his omnivorous behaviour to keep his then-girlfriend happy. "I was at her house, and she came home from work and there was a dead animal lying in her fridge. I think that was a reality check for her as well."
The couple have been together for 12 years, and he now finds himself cringing with Deidre when she has to cope with the sorry excuses for vegetarian food she is presented with in restaurants.
The Cijffers have lived in Romania, Australia, Malaysia and France. But Romania - where Deidre is from - has been the least accommodating, although the south of France isn't much better.
“One of my favourite instances in Romania was when she asked for a tomato salad and they brought a tomato uncut on a plate. Another time she asked for side salad and they brought a plate with pickled onion, gherkin and pickled watermelon."
“It’s understandable because until recently, when the economy collapsed post-communism, a lot of people were too poor to eat meat, and the culture of eating vegetables was for peasants. If you were wealthy you’d eat meat.
“But she discovered in the Romanian orthodox church people don’t eat meat or dish on certain fasting days. So if you ask for the fasting menu, or de post, they whip up something. If you put it in terms people can relate it clicks instantly.”
"In France she was presented with pasta and pizza which had no meat on the menu but was garnished with bacon, and she’d send it away would come back one and a half minutes later with no bacon on it. We were thinking 'we know you didn't recook that.”.
Of course none of us can control the reaction of a chef, but we can make steps to avoid conflict in our homes. Cijffers’ advice in that regard fits into two categories: practical and considerate.
“For instance, not using the same spoons to stir one thing as another in practical. But it’s easy to cook on your own and when they're not there and say they won't notice. That’s when it reaches that nexus between practical and considering. They would never know but if you respect and love them you're not gonna do that. It’s like slipping pork in a Muslim’s meal - it’s just not on!
"You have to think about what is touching meat. Is what I'm cooking going to sputter into the other pan? Or you have to put the meat dish below the veg dish in the oven so nothing gets mixed. Another thing I learned is that you need to pick a few vegetables and make a dish around them. Meat eaters don't know how to do that."
So, what does his wife think about him writing a book based on their relationship? "My wife is delighted with it and amused by the fact that I was so anti-veggie and now I've written a book about trying to bridge the gap. So my personal transition is gratifying for her. She also said 'I find it amusing my husband needs to write a book on how to live with me'."