The path to love has long been littered with potential barriers, from her commitment issues to his nagging. Now, in an era of food choice passion, incompatible eating habits have become dating’s newest deal-breaker.
Today’s dating pool features more factions than a “Game of Thrones” episode. There are vegans and vegetarians, gluten-free-ers and Paleo-ites. Koshers, flexitarians, raw-food acolytes. And given the zeal with which people pursue their diet of choice, finding a partner who adheres to the same code has become an order of the highest importance.
A recent survey from the dating website Plenty of Fish indicates a stark link between dating and diet. Many of the more than 500 singles surveyed listed the eating habits of a potential mate as a hindrance to romance — while significant portions of vegans, gluten-free dieters, and Paleo enthusiasts admitted to challenging their significant others’ eating habits.
“And if you’re dating a vegan, hopefully you’re open to changing your diet,” the report said, “because almost 20 (percent) of vegans have broken up with a partner over their eating habits.”
It’s no joke. Food, thanks to social media and the rise of foodie culture, has permeated our lives like never before. And unlike religion or politics, which might come up only occasionally, food is a topic confronted at least three times a day, meaning that dietary differences — particularly philosophical ones — can be difficult to avoid.
“What’s your religion? What are your politics? What are your food politics?” said Zoe Eisenberg, co-author of “The Lusty Vegan: A Cookbook and Relationship Manifesto for Vegans and the People Who Love Them.” “It’s just one other thing that you have to check off your list of must-haves if you’re looking for your ideal partner.”
Shannon Gotto, 31, a special ed classroom assistant and graphic artist from Chelsea who went vegan years ago for ethical reasons, said casually dating someone who doesn’t share your food beliefs is one thing.
But committing long term?
“If you’re thinking about marriage and having kids and raising kids and figuring out if they’re going to be vegan, that’s a huge thing,” she said. “It’s almost like a religious belief.”
There are the basic logistical challenges that come with a mixed-diet relationship — some of which were outlined in a recent Reddit post that will surely resonate with carnivores forced to cater to the tastes of a meat-free partner.
“Whenever we go on a date to eat there are about 3 things (my vegan girlfriend) can eat unless we make a 2-hour trip out to Boston,” read the post. “(And) God forbid they accidentally put cheese on her veggie wrap.”
And then there are the larger issues.
Food can be an important source of bonding, said Cambridge-based dietitian Marci Anderson Evans, one that can be missing in couples unwilling or unable to share in it.
“I certainly see the consequences when couples are really, really not aligned — particularly when judgment comes in,” said Anderson Evans, whose clients include couples attempting to work through their food-related differences. “Someone says, ‘No, that’s not part of my diet,’ or ‘You shouldn’t be eating that,’ and that ... can be a real strain on a relationship.”
Is it any surprise, then, that many have simply chosen to stick to their own ilk?
Popular dating apps such as Tinder have yet to include diet as part of the default biographical information a potential mate sees, but that hasn’t kept many from using the brief personal bio space to draw a dietary line in the sand.
“You’ll see a lot of dating websites,” said Lisa Kelly, 30, a Waltham-based personal chef who runs The Vegan Pact blog, “where guys are like, ‘If you’re vegan, I don’t want anything to do with you.’”
On the flip side, sites such as VeggieDate.org allow Boston-area singles to meet and mingle with like-dieted individuals (Sample ad: “Looking for that special somebody who shares my vegan beliefs”). And while the Boston Vegetarian Society — a group that hosts monthly speaking events and an annual fall festival — doesn’t prohibit meat-eaters from attending its events, the group also doesn’t complain when its members date or marry within the tribe.
“We’ve seen many (supporters) meet and pair up and marry and have children,” said society president Evelyn Kimber. “So we’re always very happy when that happens.”
Which is not to say that, with a little effort and some finagling, a mixed-diet relationship can’t work.
Melissa Gannon of Norwell made the decision to go vegan around 2010, after she’d been married for close to a decade. Today, she won’t purchase or cook beef for her husband but will sometimes prepare chicken or fish for him. He, in turn, helps ensure that the restaurants they patronize always feature vegan options.
“He knows that I’ve always been an animal lover, so I think he knew it was going to happen at some point,” Gannon said of her shift to veganism. Now, she added, “he encourages us to go eat at vegan restaurants; he helps me find vegan options.”
When Barbara Darling of Weymouth began dating her now-husband a few years back, she revealed her vegan lifestyle early on. After explaining what, exactly, a vegan was — “I don’t think he had ever met a vegan before,” said Darling, who teaches religion at Wheaton College — her new beau offered an olive branch. In a sign of solidarity, he vowed, he’d refrain from eating meat when they were together.
In the years since, he has managed to (mostly) honor that promise, paving the way for a peaceful kitchen coexistence.
Asked recently whether the lack of such a commitment would have forced her to reconsider the relationship, Darling wasn’t prepared to go that far.
But, she added, “I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision.”