Imagine finally meeting your soul mate after months of horrible first dates, nights of lackluster conversation, and one too many good morning texts…
Only to find out there’s one fundamental difference between the two of you: You have different ideologies when it comes to food.
They’re a serial dieter.* You eat beef for pleasure.
They’re a vegan. You’re an egg-eater.
They mostly eat fast-food. You’re a pescatarian.
*For this article, ‘diet’ means a temporary change in eating habits with the intent of losing weight for vanity.
Five dates in and neither of you have noticed because you rarely eat together. What happens when this finally comes up in conversation?
Over the past three months, I’ve encountered men who didn’t want to date me because of what I eat.
One guy told me he liked me, but he couldn’t get past my love of pork. We were both unwilling to change. There was another who didn’t mind that I ate meat, so long as I “cleansed my mouth of the slaughtered animals,” before kissing.
The most specific of them all was the one who insisted I didn’t consume the offensive foods, such as pork, in their presence.
I find these requests interesting because they come before I go on dates with these people. The sense of entitlement to my eating habits is astonishing.
You meet me, we exchanged a few gifs, casual FaceTime calls, and now you assume ownership of my stomach, before any or minimal courtship? The gall.
Now I ask about people’s eating habits before scheduling any date.
I’m not giving up meat for you, but I’m willing to compromise. In return, I need to know that you’re willing to explore new foods with me.
Will you venture outside of your (food) comfort zone and try grasshoppers if I agree to eat my wagyu in private? You should, if you’re going to request that I change how I eat.
At the same time, I’d be lying if I said that these types of comments didn’t affect me. I fear I’ll be judged for eating meat. I know that I’ll be stereotyped as someone content with having poor eating habits for the pork on my fork.
My love of bread spurs questions about whether my metabolism is just “that high,” or if I’m gym-obsessed. (I have neither of those “redeeming” qualities.)
It’s no surprise that at some point, I too, began to subconsciously form my own opinions about plant-eaters and non-religious pork nay-sayers.
And through the dating process, I’ve learned that many men actively participate in fad dieting for vanity purposes.
I knew these men existed, but I was shocked by the sheer number of encounters I’ve had with men who practice yo-yo dieting.
All of these comments, and similar ones, have turned me off from pursuing a relationship:
“I’m going vegan for the month to lose a quick five.” – a teacher
“Sometimes I cut out carbs if I need to lose weight for an upcoming trip.” – an engineer
“I’m currently doing keto to drop this weight real quick. I just finished a juice cleanse last month. I lost about X pounds.” – a filmmaker
Although, to say I was unfamiliar with men who diet is a bit of a fallacy. I know bodybuilders often do this to meet weight goals, and other sports people to achieve certain muscle mass — but those were athletes.
I didn’t realize my local bus driver and accountant were also participating.
“I don’t recall this being that big of an issue ten years ago,” says Felicia, a 32-year-old chef, regarding men who diet.
But we also were much more youthful and sprier during that time, and dieting wasn’t a priority in our twenties.
Does that mean it’s natural in your youth to not be mindful of your potential partner’s eating habits? I don’t think so. I don’t believe we were unaware.
According to a report from the Plant Based Food Association and the Good Food Institute, plant-based sales are up 31.3 percent between April 2017 and April 2019.
This isn’t just because people truly love plant-based food. It’s more complicated than that because corporations, influencers, and ads have coded plant-based diets as “better.”
Better than meat. Better for the environment. Better for your health.
It also doesn’t help that messages of “thinness = beauty” is still shoved down our throats, despite all the traction the #bodyposi movement has made. So when better means thinner, plant-based also wins.
When I asked the 30+ crowd for their thoughts, many said dieting wasn’t a deal-breaker.
“As long as you’re good with me eating meat in front of you while you eat your veggies, I don’t care,” says Dennis, 35, program manager.
But they did believe that the social media and celebrities du jour were normalizing dieting to achieve certain body goals.
Others also expressed concern about the possibility of being judged by their eating habits. When there’s a chance for comparison, it’s not uncommon to hear someone start comparing their plate to another’s.
“It was his pretentiousness about [going vegan], always judging me for eating meat and drinking wine,” recalls Nicole, 37.
At times she felt ashamed and not good enough because of their different attitudes toward food.
While food ultimately wasn’t the reason they parted ways, she did say that she will be more aware of diet preferences going forward, when dating.
“If their diet is too divergent from mine, I don’t know if my ability to accommodate can be maintained,” says the social studies teacher.
The issue of always accommodating the other can be exhausting, especially if one’s a foodie.
As a person who doesn’t believe in dieting, learning that men do engage in fad dieting has definitely resulted in me missing out on some potentially great dates.
This was the case with a teacher going vegan for the month to lose those ‘quick few pounds.’ I decided to cancel the date because dieting isn’t a part of my ministry.
In theory, I want to be OK with a man who diets because I believe ‘your body, your choice.’
However, I’ve seen firsthand the emotional and physical effects dieting takes on a person, and I don’t have the bandwidth to witnessing someone I care about restrict themselves to conform to society’s beauty ideals.
It’s emotionally draining. I believe food is used to fuel the body and soul but also something to be enjoyed.
No, because food is my first love. Food doesn’t need to be my partner’s first love, but they need to understand my relationship to it. And I need them to have a healthy relationship with it too.
Thankfully, people are plastering their diet identity all over their online profiles.
I might have missed out on something special with a plant-eater because I judged them as being an aggressive PETA type while I licked my chicken stained fingers.
But the same could be said for all the pescatarians who scoffed at me because my breath had hints of pork belly.
Will you, too, choose food before love?
Nia-Raquelle is an academic researcher focusing on the intersectionality of food, culture, and history. You can see more of her work at eatwithnia.com or have a passionate food debate with her @eatwithnia across all platforms.