Flic Everett explains how to go vegan when your man’s a meat-eater (without killing each other!)
Can a committed vegan share a kitchen with a carnivore?
Ihave been a vegetarian for 15 years (after seeing an unhappy lobster at a Cornish seafood restaurant) and turned vegan about two years ago, when I read more about the dairy industry.
The number of vegans in the UK has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years to 3.5 million. Marks & Spencer and Pret have vegan ranges; Pizza Express has a full vegan menu; and this summer, Waitrose & Partners became the first British supermarket to add a dedicated vegan section to its stores. Even The Great British Bake Off had a vegan week. Veganism, it seems, is on an unstoppable rise.
Admittedly, most vegans are twentysomethings, while I’m a 48-yearold mother of a grown-up son. I create new vegan recipes and cook from scratch every night. Which would all have been fine, had I stayed in my native Manchester and shacked up with a fellow eco-shopping, arty type. Instead, I fell in love with a carnivore who lives in the Highlands, home to 125,000 cattle, most of which seem to end up on his dinner plate.
The first time I met Andy, 47, a holidaylet landlord, I had come to stay at his rural cottage with a mutual friend. The second day of our stay, as we were driving past fields of shaggy Highland cattle, I
expressed sadness that anyone could eat such adorable animals. This led to a heated debate – well, heated on my part, calm and factual on Andy’s.
I explained why I could never do it. If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why would you eat a cow or a pig? I hoped he would absorb my passionate views and see the light. But he countered my every argument with economic statistics about farming, and concluded that he would never give up meat.
I’m used to being a vegan in a world of meat-eaters, which includes my son, my parents and many friends. I’m constantly aware that not everyone views animals and the ethics of eating them as I do.
The irony is that Andy used to be vegan in his youth, when he was living in South London and making huge lentil curries for his musician mates. Then he moved back to the West Highlands and discovered he had a chronic condition, ulcerative colitis, for which doctors actively advised him to eat meat.
Now, his dinners are a parade of farm animals, with a carbohydrate and a green vegetable thrown in for good measure. He eats like a 1950s patriarch, and seems to do very well on it.
For our first dates, we went to restaurants in Bath, where I was living at the time, or we would attempt to cook for each other – he makes an excellent tomato, olive and red pepper tagliatelle. At restaurants, I’d have the vegetarian or vegan choice and try not to look at his plate as he worked his way through a large steak.
‘he Eats like a 1950s Patriarch’
It was only when we moved in together in rural Scotland (local population, none, sheep and cows, many) that the chasm between our habits became a problem. It’s not only our opposing moral codes; it’s the practical reality of two keen cooks making two entirely separate dinners every night.
The day-to-day difficulties of being a vegan and a meat-lover in a kitchen not much bigger than a microwave are the most challenging aspects of our relationship.
We have a cupboard filled with what Andy calls ‘weird nonsense’, and I call ‘healthy essentials’, such as cacao nibs, tofu, chia seeds and liquid smoke seasoning. In the fridge, my section is a collection of odd-looking vegetable leftovers in Tupperware, homemade nut cheeses and beetroot juice. His bit of the fridge mostly contains cheese, duck legs or fish that smells like a Norwegian trawler. While I can weep tears of sorrow over a tin of John West salmon, Andy loves to catch his own fish.
On several occasions I’ve opened the fridge to be greeted by a whole trout, its yellow eye gazing mournfully at me as I shriek in horror.
But food prep and timing is when things really go awry. We have about 2ft of worktop, so I’ll be chopping onions shouting, ‘Don’t get your chicken fat on my veg!’ Or he’ll be tutting as I whizz beans in the food processor when he needs the space to fillet his hake.
I am revolted by the bloody meat trays he leaves lying around, while he complains about the tiny bits of dried-up chopped vegetables that find their way onto the floor.
Both of us intend to do something about it, but the Masterchef-like pressure of trying to make our dinners synchronise is too distracting. Most couples, I imagine, take turns cooking dinner, then enjoy it with a shared bottle of wine. Our aim is to cook two separate dinners with the same oven and threering hob (one is broken) and sit down to eat at the same time. We probably manage it about four times out of 10.
I truly love food and believe one of the best things about being in a relationship is sitting down to eat and chat together. It’s when we offload what’s on our minds, talk about life, politics and everything. Being unable to eat our dinners simultaneously means the evening drifts away… and suddenly we haven’t had a proper conversation for days. We could eat the same food apart from the protein and make it simpler, but we just don’t like the same things. I’m a fan of brown rice and wholegrain pasta, which Andy can’t eat. I could live without broccoli forever, and he thinks it’s the best vegetable ever invented. I also like to eat whatever I fancy at the end of a long day, so planning ahead is rare. But Andy prefers to plan his week’s food and cook an oxtail stew for 24 hours, while I make childish gagging noises every time I pass the pan.
Then there’s the extra cost of having separate meals. A few weeks ago, reeling at our latest food shopping bill of £150 for a week, I tried to work out who had spent more, certain it would be him once I’d factored in his posh cheese and the organic, free-range meat, compared with my church-mouse diet of vegetables and chickpeas. It was a horrible shock to discover I had forked out at least £35 more on smoked tofu, vegan chocolate and cashews, and pricey vegetables, such as oyster mushrooms and baby courgettes.
Though I’d love to wake up and discover Andy had become a vegan overnight, it isn’t going to happen. After almost three years, we have just about managed to make it work, thanks to the basis of all good relationships – respecting each other’s choices.
I love him the way he is, and what he chooses to eat is his responsibility – as long as I don’t have to cook it. Plus, he’s very patient about the bits of chopped vegetable all over the floor.
Flic and Andy have very different ideas about food but make it work