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Love lives hang in the balance: Can herbivores and omnivores really co-exist? Add to ...

On a bleak October afternoon in 1910, 82-year-old Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy packed some clothes, crept past his slumbering wife Sonia and bolted for the nearest train station. After 48 years of marriage, Russia's most famous novelist decided to start anew.

Tolstoy wasn't an easy housemate. After leading the life of a noble until midlife, he radically changed course, eschewing private property, smoking, sex and book royalties.

But most disruptive of all, say some biographers, was his devout vegetarianism.

The countess, a physician's daughter, thought the diet was tantamount to suicide. The two fought relentlessly over meals. Tolstoy accused his wife of spiking borscht with beef broth.

Weary of their intractable differences, the elderly writer stole into the Russian cold. He would catch a chill on his way to the train and die in a station master's house 10 days later.

"It's the classic example of a marriage breaking up over dietary differences," said Rynn Berry, author of several books on vegetarianism and historical adviser to the North American Vegetarian Society.

"Sadly enough, it's still happening. That's no surprise, really. Food is the most intimate thing a couple shares aside from sex."

Nearly 100 years after Tolstoy's death, herbivores and omnivores are slowly working out their differences. Vegetarians only make up between 2 and 4 per cent of Canadians, so many choose to date the bloodthirsty rather than narrow their dating range to fellow herbivores.

The relationships are built on compromise or conversion.

You might call it the Paul McCartney method. Earlier this month, the former Beatle and devout vegetarian was seen sharing an intimate fireside dinner with Renée Zellweger, a voracious meat-eater who famously employed the carcass-heavy Atkins diet after bulking up for roles in the two Bridget Jones films.

He took the same tack with his second wife, Heather Mills. A meat-eater when the couple met, Ms. Mills has remained a strong advocate of vegetarianism in divorce.

"I definitely prefer vegetarian women," said Nathaniel Brown of Vancouver. "But there are so few vegetarians out there that you'd be working with a really limited supply."

Mr. Brown, founder of Vanveg.com, has dated meat-loving ladies in the past, but always with an eye out for a possible convert. "I'll educate them about vegetarianism, but I won't force it down their throat," he said. "I'll be pretty passive about it."

Other vegetarians won't even start up a relationship with an omnivore unless they see a potential herbivore. "Otherwise, it's just hopeless," Mr. Berry said. "When you eat dead animals, you're entombing it in your own flesh. For someone who's viscerally opposed to eating meat, that's not exactly conducive to lovemaking."

Many couples make it work with a few minor adaptations.

Keitha Robert met her future husband, meat-loving Sean Monkman, the day she stopped eating animals. "Sean has this me-or-meat theory because of it," she said. "He's convinced that if I took up meat again I wouldn't need him."

The first time Mr. Monkman prepared a meal for Ms. Robert, he cooked salmon, figuring that most vegetarians ate fish. "I didn't," she said. "But I ate it anyway. I realized then if we continued this we would have to compromise."

A decade later, their Montreal kitchen is a model of dietary compromise. The vegetarian main course is prepared in one pot; the meat in another. When they sit down to eat, Mr. Monkman combines the two on his plate.

"We meet half way," he said. "I'm still not sure that a block of grilled tofu makes for a good meal."

"Your friends and families need to make adjustments," said Paul Amato, a Pennsylvania State University sociologist and co-author of The New Vegetarians: Promoting Health and Protecting Life, a study of American vegetarians.

Dr. Amato collected data from more than 300 vegetarians and found that marriages between meat-eaters and herbivores were typically more stressful. Couples cited difficulties with segregating their meals and banishing an underlying moral tension that can infuse the relationship.

"It's like an evangelical Christian dating an atheist," Dr. Amato said. "Maybe a fling is possible, but long term, someone will have to change."

Sometimes, even a fling is too much to ask. For vegetarians who've embraced their diets for moral reasons, day-to-day interaction with a carnivorous partner can be outright revolting.

Since becoming a vegan in 1983, Mr. Berry has found it increasingly difficult to date meat-eaters. "A carnivore's food preparation is a ghastly sight," he said. "With all the blood on the cutting board, it's a visually repugnant scene. And if you're kissing, you're exchanging remnants of their last meal. There's a repulsion there I have difficulty getting over."

But, Mr. Berry notes, his dating life is looking up. A number of recent studies have shown that livestock accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all greenhouse gases - a statistic that's attracting hordes of new vegetarian converts.

"And for some reason, the women coming into the movement far outnumber the men," he said. "These are good times for vegetarian men."

Eating happily ever after

Relationships between meat-eaters and vegetarians needn't be rife with culinary squabbles. This clash of gastronomic philosophies can work if meat-eaters follow a few cautionary tips:

Keep your meat discreet

Some vegetarians can find the sight of raw flesh "visually repugnant," author Rynn Berry says. Remember, where you see mouth-watering meatiness, a vegetarian may see senseless murder - hardly an aphrodisiacal notion.

Eat the tofu

It can have the consistency of a jellyfish and taste like cardboard, but many vegetarians rely on it for protein. By showing a willingness to try new things, you can kick the senseless-killer vibe.

Wash your mouth out

The scent of meat can linger for hours after a meal. If you kiss a particularly sensitive vegetarian, "it's repulsive," Mr. Berry says. "You're exchanging the remnants of your last meal."

Leave no meat behind

When you're sharing house with a vegetarian, it can also be tempting to share dishes. But leaving the golden traces of singed animal corpse on pots and pans can be a relationship killer.

Cook together

"It's helpful to explore recipes that are new to both of you," meat-eater Sean Monkman says. "That way one person isn't imposing a cuisine on the other."

Patrick White

 

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