So, you’ve found the perfect roommate, and you’re super excited. You’ve got the same taste in music, you’re both neat-freaks, and you’ve already made plans for a weekly girl’s night out. Except, when you were talking last night, she mentioned that, oh, by the way, she’s a vegetarian.
Suddenly, you’re freaking out, because for some reason, that tends to be a very common reaction when people hear about vegetarianism. Maybe it’s something that you’ve never experienced before. You might be worried your roommate will try to guilt-trip you every time you fry up some bacon. Or maybe you’re worried that you’ll ruin your new friendship the first time you order a cheeseburger. As a long-time vegetarian myself, I’ve put together some tips about what you can both do (and not do) to make your relationship go smoothly.
Be upfront about your concerns!
If you’re worried about what it will be like sharing a kitchen with someone with a different diet from yours, address your concerns before you even move in (and this goes for any dietary differences: vegetarianism, allergies, gluten-free, etc.). Here is a list of some of the things that you might want to ask about (and please, keep in mind that none of these questions have right or wrong answers. No one is judging anyone here. They’re just things that change between people and might influence how you live together):
Are they the kind of vegetarian who will eat a pizza as long as the pepperonis have been picked off? Or will they not eat anything that has even touched meat?
How will they react if you want to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving?
Are you going to need different cookware, or will a good scrub between vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals be enough?
How strict is their diet? Do they still eat fish, or are they edging toward veganism? How do they feel about gelatin? Red food dye? Honey?
A couple pet-peeves from a long-term vegetarian…
One reaction to vegetarianism that I really don’t like is the phrase “I could never do that, it’s too hard,” (Or, “I would be a vegetarian, but bacon tastes too good.” Or really, any variation of the “I would if I could,” phrase). My problem with this phrase is that it takes away agency from the speaker. If you feel the need to justify your dietary choices (and honestly, you really don’t need to, it’s okay! Seriously, you don’t need to defend your diet to me, I promise!), tell the truth. I will 100% respect whatever honest explanation you give. Some that I’ve gotten include:
“Meat is something I really enjoy, and I don’t want to give up that pleasure.”
“I would limit my diet too much if I didn’t eat meat.”
“I have other things I care about more than changing my diet.”
“I’m not motivated to do it.”
“I don’t want to.”
Just don’t say “I could never do that.” Because you could. You’re awesome. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t want to do something. But don’t sell yourself short. You can do anything you want.
There is a strange phenomenon that almost always comes from men between like 25 and 50 years old (and it’s universal! It happens anywhere I go in the country, and even happened while I was studying abroad in Italy!). Any time they’re cooking/ ordering/ consuming food that involves meat, they think it’s really funny to offer me the food. Don’t get this wrong, there’s nothing wrong with trying to be polite and offering to share your food. But this isn’t what’s happening here. Often, it’ll happen immediately after mentioning my diet. “Oh, you’re a vegetarian, huh? So, you’ll like a great big steak, right? Hahaha.” Like, I know they think it’s funny and they don’t mean anything by it, but wow does it get annoying. And of course, once we actually begin eating, if I choose not to take a serving of something, they always follow it up with, “Are you sure? There’s no meat in it! Hahaha!” Yes, thank you, I know there’s no meat in the brussel-sprouts, I just don’t want any right now.
And again, there’s a big difference between this and someone telling me, “Hey, this dish is vegetarian if you want some.” I really appreciate when people let me know what dishes I can and can’t eat. What I don’t particularly enjoy is when people pretend the only reason I might reject something is a fear of meat.
Also, please don’t pick something I’m eating and say, “Oh no, hahaha, I put meat in your strawberries!” It’s really not particularly funny. At this point, I’ve heard all the “jokes,” and they’ve gotten old.
What if they try to make me be a vegetarian, too?
First of all, a good vegetarian won’t do this. Anyone with some basic social skills knows better than to try to force their views on someone else. That being said, however, it is possible you might get some comments about your diet that you don’t appreciate, whether it’s a direct statement about what you should or shouldn’t eat, or a more passive-aggressive approach. If this happens, address it in a straightforward manner. Tell your roommate that you’re doing your best to respect their dietary choices (by following the tips above), and you would really appreciate if they would show you the same courtesy. If you need to, specifically state what it is they’re doing that you don’t like: “Hey, I’d really appreciate if you wouldn’t say, ‘I don’t know how you can eat that!’ whenever I make a burger.” If they still can’t curb their comments, let them know that if they can’t respect you and your choices, then this will be a serious problem in your life together.
All of this being said, do make sure that when you say you’re respecting their diet, it’s true. Don’t try to talk them out of their vegetarianism (please, none of that whole “you’re still killing things when you eat plants!” argument, because it’s really annoying), and, hey, vegetarians? Don’t shame your roommate for eating meat. Just don’t. No, not even if they make a comment about your diet that upsets you.
Honestly, the whole thing comes down to respecting each other. It’s the whole “golden rule” thing. If you both lead by example, showing each other the respect you want to be shown, everything will be just fine.
I guess my plans for sharing dinners are out the window :(
Whoa, not so fast! You can still cook meals for each other, it just might take a tad more forethought than you planned. If you were super excited to whip up your mom’s beef stroganoff for your new roommate, don’t go tossing those ingredients just yet. Sure, you might not be able to share the beef stroganoff, but there’s a good chance you can alter the meal to be vegetarian without straying too far from the recipe, and if anyone will know how best to vegetarianize something, it’ll be a vegetarian. So, if you have an idea for a meal, just ask your roommate if she thinks there’s a way to make it work. Because, chances are, you guys can come up with something.
On a related note, one of the things that I most wish people understood about cooking for a vegetarian is that it’s nothing to stress over. Inevitably, my friends’ parents always used to freak out any time I was staying over for dinner–“What do we feed her? Will she have enough food? Why would you do this to us?” I just wanted to tell them, “Calm down folks! It’s really okay! You were already planning to serve peas and mashed potatoes with your roast, so I’ll eat peas and mashed potatoes. If I’m still hungry after dinner, I’ll make a pb&j. No worries!”
As for eating whatever your roommate decides to serve, just try to be open to new things. I know that for many people, vegetarianism is synonymous with tofu, and for some reason, they find tofu oddly terrifying. First, tofu is quite yummy if it’s cooked right, and second, there are so many meat substitute options besides tofu: black beans, mushrooms, eggplant, seitan, tempeh, quorn, and plenty of others. I’ve shared vegetarian (an even vegan) meals with plenty of meat-eaters, and nine out of ten times, they’ve been satisfied with the result. My mom (who is not a vegetarian), has actually started buying some Morningstar Farms brand meat substitutes for herself even though I haven’t lived with her for a few years. So, whatever your roommate makes for you guys, promise me you’ll give it a try!