July 6, 2012 at 9:54 AM ET
Is it a dealbreaker if your partner skips the bacon in favor of tofu? For some meat eaters, that’s exactly the case. The recent Love Bites survey of 4,000 singles conducted by TODAY.com and Match.com found that nearly 30 percent of meat eaters say they would not date a vegetarian or vegan.
Writer and omnivore J. Federer told TODAY.com that while he agrees couples should have interests outside the relationship, food is one thing that should be shared. “Food is social, and the dinner table is where a couple gets back together after a day of work or play,” he wrote in an email. “This is where the relationship happens. The ability to provide and share food is part of romance, and I just can't date a person who does not share those moments of life with me.”
Blame it on biology, says Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and Match.com’s chief scientific adviser. She explains that sharing food is integral to courtship throughout the animal kingdom.
“It’s so common in the animal world to give food for sex that it’s called the nuptial gift,” Fisher explained. “Mankind’s first luxury was meat, and when carnivores share food – what they are sharing is this luxury. It’s more than just cultural, it’s instinctual.”
Federer tried but couldn’t get past the distaste for dating a vegetarian. He had a two-year relationship with a vegetarian and another with a vegan, but said he always felt judged when they would sit down to eat.
“She kept talking about the carbon footprint of a pound of meat and the impact of fishing on the oceans,” he said. “I do respect these topics and I’m an aware meat eater; I eat local, I don't eat meat daily and I also prefer an organic-farmed chicken over a hormone-raised steak. But I don't need to hear these topics while I'm enjoying my halibut.”
While judgment is its own red flag, another trait that meat-eaters may take issue with is that vegetarians come off as being picky, and according to our survey, 66 percent of respondents find picky eaters to be a turn-off.
“[Vegetarians] are advertising a particular lifestyle, that they are high-maintenance,” said Fisher. “Their needs require others to bend – even if their philosophy may be a healthy philosophy.”
In addition, Fisher said, men who are vegetarian may be perceived as being less “manly” – and that may go back to our caveman days.
“I think in a lot of cultures it would be considered less manly – men used to bring home the meat, they were the hunters,” said Fisher. “If you came in carrying a potato versus a hunk of gazelle, it made a difference. All gifts are not alike.”
While vegetarians get a bad rap, according to our survey, they are much less picky about who they date. Only 4 percent said that they wouldn’t date meat eaters – after all, only 2 percent of Americans say they are vegetarian and 3 percent say they are vegan, which makes for a pretty small dating pool.
“As much as I am passionate about my diet and the reasons I chose to become a vegetarian, I would never let that get in the way of me dating someone,” said Erin O’Connell, who has been a vegetarian for 10 years. But, she acknowledges, “In some ways it would be more fun to date a vegetarian so I could always try things off of his plate and whatnot.”
O’Connell has been with her meat-eating boyfriend for about six years, enough time, she said, to help them work out ways of eating together.
In other cases, omnivores have pulled their meat-free partners over to the other side – the dark meat side, that is. Tara Ryaz’s husband Max was a strict vegetarian before they started dating, but now they both eat meat. “His mother actually took me aside and thanked me,” said Ryaz.
Rose Nester grew up vegetarian and remained so for 28 years until she started dating her current boyfriend. She said her acceptance of meat started for two reasons: her body started craving more protein, and her partner started cooking her organic meat, and he did it well.
Changing your partner shouldn’t be the goal, and their choices should be respected, said Fisher. Flexibility is the key to making a relationship work when there are dietary restrictions, and 70 percent of our meat-lovin’ respondents are willing to put in the effort.
“The ability to accommodate to needs of a new partner is really important – both people have to work at it,” she said. “The vegetarian has to send the message that they can work around it, they can find or bring alternatives to barbecues or family gatherings, and the meat eater has to be willing to bend once in a while as well.”
Meat eater Joshua Bernstein has never been shy about his love for beef and pork, and used to wax poetically about it when he wrote a column for the New York Press. Even when he started dating Jenene Chesbrough, a vegetarian who now is his wife, he still let his love for meat shine through in his writing, often noting his partner’s distaste for his barbecue fetish.
“Dating a vegetarian is not that much of a crimp on my carnivorous lifestyle and Jenene never judges my dietary choices,” he told TODAY.com. “Not eating meat just forces me to find more creative ways to cook flavorful and often healthier meals at home. In fact, about the only difference is that I don't really cook flesh-based foods in the house.”