Forget meeting the parents, or cohabitation, or getting a pet together. Want to see if the man you’re seeing is in it for the long haul? Go vegan on him.
I speak from experience. After learning the heinous environmental damage caused by livestock farming, I’ve tried to give up animal products for the sake of the planet. But giving up dairy and eggs has remained a challenge.
The Just Egg sandwich, which comes with vegan cheddar, tomato chutney, guacamole and alfalfa sprouts, served between dairy-free brioche buns.
The turning point came when I tried a tasty Just Egg sandwich, made with a bottle of mysterious yellow liquid that scrambles exactly like a real egg would but constitutes of mung bean protein, available exclusively at the Grand Hyatt Singapore. If vegan eggs, cheddar and brioche exist, maybe veganism was viable after all. There was only one problem: I was dating someone who loves meat, and I mean, really loves meat.
In our earliest conversations, Patrick* discussed the Southern fried chicken of New Orleans (a rapturous experience), admitted to his forbidden love for steak (religion frowned upon it) and named salted egg yolk fish skin as one of his greatest obsessions “actually, anything with salted egg yolk”. My forgoing not only meat but also dairy and eggs forever could be the one thing that got in the way of our eternal happiness. But I decided to try anyway, and this is what I learned.
You’re really putting your relationship to the test
A friend once told me, “Food is the bedrock of all relationships.” Mealtime is the basis of human connection. It’s when we learn to communicate, from the very first cry of an infant letting its mother know that it’s hungry. It’s also when we learn to share, to serve and to sacrifice.
And boy, do people who date vegans have to sacrifice. “No cheese?!” Patrick asked, trying to mask his panic. He was used to my vegetarian dietary restrictions by now, but this was a whole new world of horror for him. No more stringy mozzarella on pizza, or New York cheesecake, or even that suspiciously orange stuff on nachos.
“No cheese, or butter,” I added, unhelpfully. No doubt these four words have destroyed countless relationships. Was I jeopardising the good thing I had going with him, on top of already having to give up the most delicious of all curdled foods? There was an uncomfortable pause. Then P said, “Wait, does this mean I have to be vegan?”
“No, no! I’m going to try to be vegan. You just have to accommodate me,” I reassured him, and his face washed over with relief. It seemed like a small concession. Every eatery we visited from then on would have to have vegan options for me. And we couldn’t share non-vegan food. How hard could that be? Answer: very.
Your man will always be hungry
The first hurdle that you’ll meet in your vegan dating journey is his perpetual hunger. Is veganism by proxy supposed to compel you to reach for every candy bar, curry puff or bread roll in sight like a zombie after brains? Probably not, but it has that unintended effect.
If I wanted to give Patrick a good taste of that plant-based life, I would also have to find a way to curtail the impending feeding frenzy. So I took him to HRVST, one of my favourite vegan haunts, for a hearty weekday lunch. “We must feed my carnivore something with substance!” I declared to Ashidah, the restaurant manager. She smiled knowingly and returned with plates of king oyster scallops, tom yum pumpkin fettuccine, seaweed tofu croquettes and orange-glazed grill tofu on sourdough.
Our narrow table barely had room left for our elbows but we scarfed down our meal, complete with a vegan ice cream dessert. As we headed our separate ways after lunch, I congratulated myself on a sufficiently well-fed boyfriend, or so I thought. Two hours later, he texted me to say that he was taking a break from work to find food. The problem is meals consisting of lots of veggies are digested more quickly than meat-heavy ones. “Fruits and vegetables contain lots of fibre, so they move through the body more quickly than animal protein,” explains Tisha Jaswantlal, health coach and founder of Wellness with Tish.
As a result, you won’t be bloated and sluggish after lunch. But if you’re not used to feeling just right and not stuffed, you might think you’re still hungry. “To feel full for longer, he can eat more complex carbs like brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, and lentils,” Tisha suggested. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be too excited about that.
He’ll be thinking about fried chicken when he’s with you
Far from healthy complex sugars, Patrick’s mind was generally on fast food. Fast food is rarely vegan-friendly. Your man can kiss KFC and Burger King goodbye, unless he’s okay with you nibbling on fries while he gobbles down all that other artery-clogging goodness you can’t have. The greatest tragedy is that you can no longer share those ice cream calories.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop thinking about these decadent foods he can’t have while he’s with you. “I can’t wait to have fried chicken later,” Patrick let slip one day. He stole sideways glances at Korean fried chicken joints when he thought I wasn’t looking, and loaded up on greasy foods in my absence, perhaps overcompensating for the austerity of our shared meals.
I was determined to show him that vegans could indulge in gloriously unwholesome grub too. To suggest a plant-based substitute for fried chicken would have been sacrilegious, but a meaty vegan burger is within the realm of possibility. Hello Baby, HRVST’s sister fast food kiosk which sits on a street corner in Chinatown, is just the place for it.
Hello Baby on Trengganu Street
The evening Patrick and I went, co-founder Karen explained their plant-based patty is from Beyond Meat, which imitates the texture of a juicy beef patty to a fault. “Vegans and vegetarians who haven’t had meat in years usually hate it because it’s so much like meat,” she warned. I recoiled from the thought, but Patrick was sold. He picked the Hello Local option, slathered in satay sauce and topped with achar. You can also get a classic American burger with vegan cheese and basil ketchup. Chef Addis threw a panini stuffed with young jackfruit and a homemade hoisin sauce on to the grill for me while the pseudo-meat patty for Patrick sizzled in the background. Presented in little paper trays in true food truck fashion, our sandwiches were a vision of sinful umami goodness. Nothing like what you might expect from a plant-based menu.
Patrick took his first bite and paused. Then he said, “I actually would eat this if I had a burger craving.” He was equally satisfied with the less meaty jackfruit cubano, still sinful and spilling with umami goodness. This felt like a big win even though I’d essentially got his validation for the unholiest part of the plant-based diet. Isn’t it weird how desperately vegans want meat-eaters to give our food their stamp of approval that we don’t mind if the food might be almost as bad for them as the animal-based alternatives?
He has to find new ways to spoil you
Some people express their love through gifts in the form of sugary sweets. P loves to buy cheese tarts and cream puffs for me. One day I was having a cold, so he very thoughtfully brought me a care package of panadol, Vapodrops, and a red velvet cupcake. This ungrateful woman promptly informed him that the cupcake was non-vegan. “So I can’t buy you sweets anymore?” There was disappointment in his voice. “You can, but… only vegan ones.” Now I was just being difficult. If I were him, I’d have dumped me there and then. But instead of getting mad, Patrick cocked his head to one side in contemplation and then replied chirpily, “Okay, I’ll think of something.”
A few days later, I called him late on a work night having just finished an event to complain that I was famished but that nothing in the area was open. Patrick, being the nice boy that he is, exclaimed, “I gonna get you food!” And within 15 minutes, he appeared with a McDonald’s apple pie in tow. His rationale was it was probably his best bet since it didn’t contain cheese, or milk, or meat. Wild with hunger, I wolfed the pie down in seconds, wondering out loud between huge mouthfuls, “Is this actually vegan?” Not that I cared at that point in time, this man was clearly a keeper. (Just for the record: Google says McDonald’s apple pies are vegan-friendly but this hasn’t been officially verified, so don’t take my word for it.)
But you can still spoil him
Dating a vegan isn’t devoid of fun - but you have to prove it to your partner. If he is usually the one calling the shots when it comes to date night, it’s time to step up to the (vegan) plate and be the one to impress him. Patrick and I had a special occasion coming up when I made the decision to go vegan. We had initially planned to go some place fancy, but now we had to find one that catered to my restrictive new diet. Patrick may have been stumped, but I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve. I told him with a sly grin, “Don’t worry, I got this.”
Here’s my most useful vegan-dating life hack: you can get a fully customised, and fully vegan, casual fine dining experience at Plentyfull. The non-vegan restaurant and grocer at Millenia Walk is known for its wholesome dishes that are centred around fresh, seasonal ingredients - including animal products, and there aren’t many items on the menu that are fully plant-based.
But write in with a request for a special menu that suits your dietary restrictions - be it vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free or any other allergies and intolerances - and Chef Victor will do his best to craft a beautiful multi-course meal just for you.
Plentyfull’s owner Claudia Sondakh decided to offer this level of customisation because she knows that having strict dietary requirements can take the joy out of meals with loved ones. “I went through a healing crisis many years ago where I had to cut out many types of food during my detox, so I appreciate restaurants that take the time to understand my needs whenever possible,” she explains. “I want to do the same for our customers, whereby those with dietary restrictions don't feel excluded from the rest of their friends and families.”
I dropped the team an email a few days in advance telling them about my vegan date and they responded with the blueprints of an indulgent six-course dinner ($98++ per pax). What surprised me was how excited P was when he learned what was in store. That’s right, my boyfriend was excited about vegan food.
We don’t regularly splurge on expensive meals so this was a real treat, complete with impeccable service and gorgeous plating. Chef Victor guided us through each course, from intriguing smoked carrot “salmon” appetizers to the moreish salt-baked celeriac main dish, carefully describing each one with love and an eagerness to please. Halfway through dinner, P professed, “This meal is hitting all the right notes for me.” I’d never seen him this ecstatic drinking soup.
It was probably the special attention that did it for him. The important takeaway is that a vegan date can work for both of you as long as you demonstrate that you’re going above and beyond to satisfy their tummy instead of forcing them to settle for food they might not have chosen for themselves. Ultimately, even the most understanding meat-eater will feel inconvenienced by your dietary restrictions every now and then, so it’s your job to show him how much you appreciate his efforts to accommodate you.