Would You Go Vegan For Love?

what would you give up for love?
Contributor
Self

Candlelight, red wine, freshly made pasta. Flirting at a small table in a corner infrequently visited by the waiter. Such are the makings of a great date

But not if you can't eat what they're serving. What if you must start with a 10-minute interrogation: Can the scaloppini be prepared without a dusting of flour? Can I forgo the bed of pasta and just have the red pepper salmon? Does the chef use anything to thicken the risotto? Embarrassing. Your waiter takes a few trips to the kitchen to speak with the chef, and your date progresses in fits in starts. And—let's be honest—you might seem a little high-maintenance (think Sally Albright, the picky heroine who ordered everything on the side in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally).

However, if you have Celiac Disease–a condition where the immune system reacts negatively to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye–your questions aren't a matter of preference. You must avoid the flour and pasta! Even if you aren't a vegetarian or vegan or suffer from an intolerance or allergy, chances are at some point you'll dine out with someone who is. In these situations, how do relationships fare?

Animal House
When 28-year-old New Yorker Erin clicked on 30-year-old David's online dating profile, what she found was intriguing: he was a vegan. "I love food. I found it admirable that someone could choose to live such a restrictive lifestyle for the benefit of the planet," she explains. Love blossomed as the two began to date, as did Erin's initial interest in "converting." "David introduced me to all kinds of food I've never tried," she says. "Initially, it seemed like there were limitless possibilities." Until, of course, they had hit all of the eight vegan restaurants in the city—twice. Then things felt a little limiting. "Eating out became kind of a pain, and eating in required quite a bit a prep work in the kitchen—unless we wanted to eat rice pasta every night," she adds.

Eventually, Erin began craving her old diet, and the love began to wane, as well. Turns out, Erin wasn't cut out to live a vegan lifestyle—or date someone who did. "We weren't a perfect match on a larger scale, but it did become a point of contention—that we were bound by this diet," she says. Eventually Erin and David parted ways, and Erin found herself a traditional meat-and-potatoes man

So does that mean we can only date within our own food circles? While Erin and her ex didn't make it, plenty of couples do.

The Gluten-Free Dater
Kirsten, a 35-year-old Bostonian, is sensitive to gluten, so among other restrictions, she can't drink beer (though wine and most liquor is safe). But it doesn't keep her out of brew pubs, a common stop on the dating scene. Her trick? She orders the darkest hard cider so it looks like she's drinking beer with the rest of the crowd. "If I'm holding a wine or martini glass in a place like that, people will think I'm a girlie-girl," and ostensibly she wouldn't get the attention from her preferred flavor of brew-swigging boys. 

"I hate not fully participating in that subculture," she admits. But her new boyfriend has recently moved in, so clearly her dietary quirks have not hindered romantic progress.

Jessie, a 22-year-old Coloradan with Celiac Disease who for years avoided dining out, says: "Many men have been accommodating, offering to cook for me. If you don't want to discuss it right away… you stick with Mexican restaurants or a place with good salads." 

Special Treatment
Malin, a 34-year-old Mainer, points out that higher end restaurants are better bets. "The measure of a good restaurant is they know every ingredient going into their dishes…and take pride in pleasing the customer." They make food from scratch, to order, and therefore can make adjustments to recipes to accommodate the gluten-free diet. This was far from an embarrassment. "It makes me feel special," Malin says.

Malin also had a long-term relationship with a sous chef who enthusiastically experimented with ways to make recipes gluten free at home. And when they dined out, he could advise her on typical ingredients in various dishes. Lucky gal, she had her own personal expert in tow. 

The Kiss of Death
The consequences of ingesting gluten? According to Jessie, they are explosive. As in "quick onset of explosive bowels." Surely anyone would prefer to come off as a picky eater than suffer that on a date. 

While contrary to original reports it was not the case that a Canadian teen died in 2005 from kissing her boyfriend hours after he ate a peanut butter sandwich, many couples must be careful about this possibility. Peanut allergies are not to be trifled with. 

Nor are shellfish allergies. According to a Mayo Clinic Report released after a 20-year-old woman needed emergency room treatment after kissing someone who had eaten shellfish, kissing and even touching are potential routes of contact with offending proteins. In other words, it's not only about what you ingest at mealtime. However, your mate can detoxify by brushing his or her teeth, drinking lots of liquids, and letting a bit of time pass.

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Those sensitive to gluten may take similar precautions. Molly, a 27-year-old Bostonian with a gluten sensitivity, makes her girlfriend Rebecca brush her teeth after eating pasta–to which Rebecca says: "Hey, it's not such a bad habit to brush your teeth after meals." 

In fact, Vanessa, a 31-year-old from San Diego, says brushing has kept the love alive between she and her boyfriend, Sam. Vanessa, a strict vegetarian, made a game of it with her carnivorous partner when they first began dating. "We brush up to get ready for a 'make-out session,'" she explains. "The habit stuck, and four years later, the romance is still going strong. I attribute it to all the kissing!"

Fare-Minded Love
When love strikes, considerations such as mindful dining and better hygiene are not true obstacles, much less deal breakers. No one worth the time would consider another's dietary restrictions an annoyance, much less grounds for putting the brakes on a budding romance. 

Besides, it's the one with the dietary restriction who is truly missing out, not the mate who must sometimes sit through the detailed analysis of a new restaurant's menu or make culinary sacrifices in the kitchen. If anything, the situation presents an opportunity for the omnivore in the relationship to show sympathy and make accommodations for the other's special needs…and score points doing so.

To return to our heroine, for years Sally's dietary preferences were fodder for Harry's incredulity. But in the final vignette, it is a converted Harry who lovingly explains how they made the caterers serve the chocolate sauce on the side of their magnificent wedding cake.