Being vegan in a non-vegan household: 17 vegans share inspirations, frustrations, and perspectives
In this epic post, 17 awesome vegans (plus me!) share our insights into what it's like living in a non-vegan household, how we make it work, and some challenges we face.
First, let’s get personal. I’ve been vegan since 2003. In 2006, at the age of 19, I met a super-kind, super-intelligent, super-cute gent named Murray who managed the coffee house I frequented on my lunch breaks at work. He wasn’t vegan – but nobody’s perfect, right?
I asked him to dinner, and he was happy to have our first date at one of the only vegan-friendly restaurants in Vancouver back then: The Naam. Two years later we moved in together, and 3 years after that I asked him to marry me. We got hitched in September, 2011.
In our time together so far, Murray’s learned to cook amazing vegan food (he was the main test chef / taste tester for my cookbook), cheered me on in building my coaching and writing business that revolves entirely around veganism, and – surprise! – is now almost vegan himself.
Only in the last year has Murray (a.k.a. Mur) decided – on his own – to completely stop eating meat. At this point he’s 95% vegan! I never would have guessed when we first started dating. I’ve just focused on approaching veganism in a positive way, cooking ridiculously tasty vegan food, and being open to discussion when ethics, health, or the environment came up in the context of diet. Nagging and preaching don’t work. Leading by positive example (and some tactfully-brought-up education) does – even if it takes a decade!
Before Mur decided to go almost-vegan, we had some animal products like yogurt, cheese, and eggs in the house – but never meat. Now the contents of our fridge are 100% vegan, and our many pantry shelves are 99% vegan. He’ll buy a very occasional non-vegan treat food item like mac ‘n’ cheese or spicy ramen. This is happening less and less frequently, however. Who knows, one day he may commit fully.
In our household, we share cooking duties 50/50. Mur enjoys the wide range of new vegan faux meats and cheeses that have recently become available. These foods aren’t a very big part of our diet, but they’re a nice treat once in a while. They were also a huge influence when it came to Mur’s decision to stop eating meat and dairy. We don’t cook with them a lot, but he likes knowing he has the option.
A gratuitous wedding photo for ya (Sept. 2011).
I’m fascinated by all the different living situations I hear about in my work with clients. New vegans often ask me how it’ll work going vegan in a non-vegan household, and long-term vegans are often curious how others are making their lifestyles work in environments that aren’t fully plant-based.
In the interest of getting a wide range of perspectives, I interviewed 17 vegans from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, all living in non-vegan households. They shared their tips, victories, frustrations, and more.
Living, cooking, and storing food in a non-vegan household
Vegans living with roommates
Amy Shaw, a seriously badass vegan endurance athlete, rents her second bedroom to a gal who’s an omnivore. They cook their own food and eat separately. Amy says, “When I cook for others I don’t include any animal products. I love to go out to eat in restaurants where both vegan and non-vegan items are available so that everyone can enjoy their choices. I find sushi is an easy meal to do that with, and more and more restaurants are offering good vegan choices. I have had a few vegan meals cooked for me by others and really appreciated the effort they took.” Amy and her renter each have their own cupboard space for dry goods, as well as designated shelves/drawers in the fridge. They don’t separate food in the freezer.
9-year vegan Kathryn Schmidt also lives with a non-vegan roommate. “I do the cooking for myself and for my boyfriend when he visits. My roommate and I will often make large batches of things such as stir fried vegetables, rice, curry, or soup that we will share with the whole house. My roommate’s boyfriend is Jamaican and loves to bake lots of different types of well-seasoned veggies when he visits. I pair these with green lentils.”
University student Ella lives with 3 omnivores. Everyone in the household cooks for themselves. Ella has her own cupboards for food, as well as her own pans and dishes to prevent cross-contamination with meat.
Kirsten Thomson has been vegan for a year, studies global resource systems and plant and soil sciences at UBC, and lives with 4 non-vegan roommates. While she’s making the best of the situation by cooking for herself and having designated food storage areas, she says, “It is very difficult sometimes to live with non-vegans when you look in the fridge and see a dead animal right in your face. I will be searching for vegan roommates in the future.”
The situation in her family home is much more supportive – and veg-friendly! “When I go home to my parents it is very easy, my mother followed my lead and went vegan, then my sister and father went vegetarian, so there is no meat at home, and plenty of recipes! In other situations, I often help them in the kitchen to decide on a recipe and prep ingredients to ensure they don't accidentally put other stuff in.”
Jessica Hummel is also a UBC student, and also has 4 non-vegan roommates. She says, “Occasionally if a roommate makes something like French fries I'll eat some but I'm a good cook, so they usually just want my food. I'm happy to share and I'm glad they like my vegan cooking, but it is challenging never trying anyone else's food. I just enjoy the fact that they enjoy my vegan cooking and I can prove to them that vegan food can be healthy and delicious. People always want to try a bite!
My boyfriend cooks for me occasionally and I've had my roommate’s mother bring me vegan cookies. I try to remain as respectful as possible and thank them so much for going out of their way to make me vegan food. I ask them a series of questions such as what ingredients they used and if they cooked anything with butter. I also try to ask about specific products which contain animal products that many people may not be aware of (e.g. vitamin D3 in orange juice).
We all have separate cabinets where we keep our food so all of the things in my cabinet are vegan. There is a shared spice cabinet which is 99% supplied by me, and they also use those things. We have two fridges and luckily I just ended up sharing a fridge with a girl who doesn't eat/cook meat very often. I have my own shelf which is fully vegan and my own veggie drawers. The shelves on the door are a free-for-all and there is a mix of vegan and non-vegan items; don't really find it a big deal as everything is in plastic bottles."
Jessica’s living situation will soon change, however. Starting this summer, Jessica is excited she’ll have a fully vegan kitchen for the first time!
12-year vegan Genny Bourdages lives with her common-law partner and two roommates – all not-quite-vegan. Everyone in the household cooks for themselves, due to differing schedules and dietary needs. Each member of the household has his/her own area in the fridge, freezer, and pantry shelves.
Vegans living with family members
Many vegans live with family members who don’t share their dietary choices. When family dynamics and expectations about food preparation duties enter the picture, this type of living situation can sometimes be more challenging than living with roommates! However, as we saw with my vegan interviewees who live with roommates, experiences and situations differ greatly.
18-year-old Madison lives with her omnivore parents and brother. She either makes dinner herself when her busy schedule allows, or her mom accommodates her diet by setting aside a vegan portion for her.
Musician and radio technical producer Amir Ali shares a household with his (very non-vegan) parents. “My dad basically subsists on meat”, he says. Amir cooks for himself, and occasionally will bake delicious vegan treats to share. He stores his food in separate and designated areas in the fridge and pantry.
Dee Sicklesteel (follow on Instagram) lives with her omnivore husband. She’s serious about keeping vegan and non-vegan foods separate in her household. She even bought her husband his own fridge, and he has his own cupboard! “He’s happy”, she says.
Brigitte Gemme, Chief Meal Planner at the Smart Vegan Kitchen, lives with her husband, 6-year-old daughter, and 2-year-old son. “At home, everyone eats almost only home-cooked food, which is always vegan. When eating out or visiting family, my husband often picks the vegan option, but not always. My daughter, who started eating when I still cooked a lot of meat, tends to go for that, sadly. Thankfully, she's not very interested in dairy. My son has been raised pretty much vegan and prefers plants, although he also picks at his sister's food.”
The vast majority of food in her household is vegan (“with the rare exception of some candy, and sometimes dairy ice cream that my husband buys”), so separating non-vegan items for storage is not an issue.
Sandra (vegan for 6 years; works full time in writing and communication for the BC Government) lives with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. “My husband is an omnivore. Before my daughter was born, he agreed to raise our daughter vegan and said he’d try to go vegan or at least vegetarian. He went back and forth several times between vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and back to omnivore several times. Now he mostly eats dairy and eggs and the occasional meal with meat at a restaurant (usually kebab at a Persian restaurant) or a Costco roast chicken. We both cook vegan meals. My husband makes vegan versions of Persian food and sometimes adds some canned tuna or Costco chicken."
Janine Decker, founder & director of the Aide For Paws & Rescue Society (and former pastry chef and veterinary technician), lives with her boyfriend and 2 teenage children – all omnivores. Due to some chronic health problems, Janine’s boyfriend does most of the cooking in her household, and her daughter also cooks the occasional meal.
Luckily, her family is extremely supportive. “My family always caters to my dietary restrictions. Not only am I vegan but I also have a lot of food allergies. They have now adapted to making meals for myself and the family. Usually they will make something vegan that we all share (e.g. my daughter made pancakes & French toast for me that everyone enjoyed). Sometimes they do prepare my meal first and then add non-vegan items to it afterwards for the 3 of them. Sometimes they cook 2 totally separate meals. They always prepare my food first and theirs after to avoid cross contamination.”
Paola Zuccaro has been vegan for 8 months. She lives with her boyfriend and beagle companion. Paola does most of the shopping and cooking in her household, and cooks only 100% vegan food – a theme I noticed among all the vegans I interviewed. The only non-vegan items in Paola’s home are brought in by her boyfriend, and are kept separate from the vegan items. Since he rarely shops, however, that doesn’t happen very often! “I think the most important take-away is that the non-vegan person needs to understand and take the vegan seriously. For that to happen, boundaries need to be set”, she says.
Kayla Panchmatia, owner of Silhouette Spa and Laser, lives with her omnivore husband, mostly-vegan dog, and baby son. She says she’d like to raise her son vegan, but “vegetarian more realistically, because of my inability to be present in his life at all times if he is at school or with friends and eats food made with milk or eggs.”
Kayla and her husband split the cooking 50/50. “When I cook, it is of course 100% vegan. He definitely has warmed up to the idea of vegan food over the years as I become a better cook and he sees that food with no meat is still very delicious and filling. When my partner cooks for me, he will make it vegan. His vegan meals are far simpler and more straightforward since he is still getting used to navigating the more "obscure" vegan substitutes such as nutritional yeast. That being said, he is Latin and often Latin cooking is largely vegan (guacamole, beans, tortillas, etc.) so he is very comfortable with that type of cooking.”
“We mostly just have eggs and cheese in the house as the non-vegan items. There has been huge change about his openness to vegan items over the years due to the amazing leaps and bounds that non-vegan items have made in terms of quality and options. So I am hoping that we can keep moving him even more away from meat/eggs/dairy in future.” (Sound familiar? The availability of these products spurred my own husband to commit to change!)
Alicia lives with her husband and son, who are both vegetarian. She hasn’t eaten meat for 26 years, and has been vegan for the past year (she was previously vegan for 4 years, a decade ago). She does the vast majority of the cooking in their household. “I cook dishes that can be made vegan or vegetarian. We as a family prominently eat vegan, however I add a bit of dairy for the vegetarians at times. I cook all of the meals as well as pack a lunch 5 days a week for my son. My husband will occasionally make vegan waffles for me, but I take care of mostly every meal.”
Yoga and Pilates teacher Nicole Roy (follow on Instagram) has been vegan for 4 years. She lives with her common-law partner and two university student sons. Her partner is an omnivore, and her sons (aged 21 and 19) are both vegan.
Nicole does 95% of the cooking in her household. “On the rare occasion that my partner cooks for me, he is conscious of making the food vegan. The only non-vegan food items that we have in the house are eggs and honey.”
Bicycle shop manager and new vegan Kelsey Bursey loves experimenting in the kitchen. “The kitchen is where I find my calm, happy, and excited self.” She lives with her omnivore boyfriend and her dog. “My dog has food allergies and therefore I am nervous about a vegan diet for her. However, that is on my list to research further to seek options.”
Kelsey and her boyfriend generally cook for themselves, other than dinner. “Dinner we usually cook together or one of us will cook a meal. When we are eating a meal together it is made vegan and sometimes my boyfriend will just eat it how I do and other times he will add things like chicken, tuna or cheese.”
Vegans influencing the dietary choices of others in their households - and beyond
Almost all the vegans I interviewed mentioned “walking the talk”, cooking delicious foods, and being open to discussion as ways of persuading others to give veganism a try. So many of my amazing interviewees have inspired change in their family members, roommates, and beyond. Here are some of their victories (and frustrations).
Amir: "I haven't influenced dietary decisions in my immediate household outside of there being more organic ingredients purchased, however my extended family have for the most part dropped dairy, and I believe I was the main influence behind that. My brother stopped eating red meat as well."
Amy: "My roommate tried going vegan-ish but it didn’t last. My sister has been eating only plant-based foods for a few months now, in large part from seeing how beneficial this choice has been for me."
Kathryn: “I love cooking for people as I think feeding people delicious vegan foods is the best way to convert them! If I know what their favourite dish is, I will make it veganized. Otherwise I will just cook something I already like eating and share it. Recently, I’ve been offering my boyfriend a variety of different non-dairy milks when he visits such as rice, almond, cashew, and hemp (rice is his favourite). When he was over and got sick, he asked for chicken noodle soup - instead I made him veggie soup and he didn’t even notice any difference. When I’m at restaurants with others they will often check in and ask if it’s okay if they eat meat around me. I say yes, then order something awesomely vegan and feed it to them. (I’ve introduced my boyfriend to edamame and agadashi tofu so far). My dad has become more flexitarian over the years and will always order a vegan dish when we go to restaurants together.
By keeping lots of leafy greens and smoothies constantly abundant in the fridge, I’d like to think I’ve guided my roommate into making similar choices. She now takes some of my bananas and uses my blender each morning to make a smoothie. By making lots of delicious vegan meals and sharing them, I’d like to think I’m helping my household make more compassionate, plant-based choices more often.”
Dee: “I spread the vegan gospel by spreading the good vegan food. I figure the more I open someone’s mind to making a plant-based decision, the less demand there will be on the industries to produce. That's how I'm an activist. With food. And passive aggressive T-shirts.”
Madison: “My family has switched to almond milk but still uses cream in coffee when they occasionally have a cup. I know there are some excellent alternatives but as of right now - baby steps! My mom enjoys making vegan meals for everyone. Although she does sometimes add meat, seafood and cheese to her other meals, she has significantly cut down her intake of animal ingredients.
It’s been nice to see my very traditional dad try vegan mayonnaise, almond milk, and pulled jack fruit sandwiches without complaining! He actually didn't think it was that bad. He is very much a steak and potatoes kinda man.”
Brigitte: “Between my husband and I, there have been more than a few arguments on this topic. After the first few months I made a conscious effort to not bring it up anymore - even though sometimes I couldn't help myself! In conflicts about food, I find that people get defensive and just seem to dig their heels deeper. My husband is definitely coming around now, especially since he finds the food appealing. He is intrigued about the athletic performance benefits, but is also starting to open up to the moral aspects as well. He still wouldn't want to inconvenience or offend anyone by declining meat or cheese, and has a soft spot for dairy ice cream.
For the most part, my kids eat a vegan diet. Plain tofu and beans are their idea of comfort food. Sometimes, my daughter says, "Don't worry, when I'm a teenager, I'll be vegan," but I am not sure what that's supposed to mean. Although I expect them to stray a bit, I think their early experience of vegan food as normal food will carry on throughout their lives. Compassion for the animals will help the habit stick. We read "Why We Don't Eat Animals" once in a while, and I sometimes talk about why I don't consume dairy or eggs. But because of their father's reluctance to embrace veganism I have not actively educated them about animal rights. We'll get there in the next few years. Meanwhile, we visited an animal sanctuary but it kind of backfired when the chickens pecked at my daughter's feet.
We visit my in-laws a few times per month. At first, my mother-in-law wished I was vegetarian (as opposed to vegan). But she's a great cook and has now embraced the opportunity to discover different foods. She makes a great chickpea curry! She always makes a vegan dish for me, and makes sure the veggies and sides are vegan. I have noticed that the meat dishes are a little smaller now, and the rest of the crowd is encouraged to eat some of the vegan dish as a side. Small wins are great in my book!"
Sandra: “My husband eats far less meat than he used to. He attempted to go vegan a few times but was doing it for me, not because he believed harming animals is wrong. Shopping has been contentious as he wants me to buy him things like cheese sometimes. I’m uncomfortable with buying cheese as it feels like I’m directly supporting animal cruelty. I refuse to buy it when he asks, and it has led to a few arguments. It is not easy to live with someone with different dietary views, but it is doable. What is harder is accepting the difference in values and capacity for compassion. For now, it seems to be better to compromise/accept the difference when there is a kid in the picture as I can oversee her diet and talk to her about why mommy and daddy have different views.”
Janine: "My family stopped drinking and purchasing milk (other than plant-based) earlier this year, and they are also eating a lot more vegan options. My whole family is in tune with what I can and can't eat and my 13-year-old daughter is very diligent about checking ingredient labels in the store to make sure she is purchasing sometime I am able to eat (my family primarily does the grocery shopping). In general, there are fewer meat and dairy products being consumed.
At first it was a pretty big struggle to have my family on board with my veganism – especially with my boyfriend being a meat specialist at work (he was a chef, charcuterie specialist, and butcher who worked in the industry for 20 years). He actually left the restaurant industry recently and does not do any butchery from home. He has been extremely supportive of my veganism and we have been working on plant-based meat and dairy alternatives at home together."
Genny: “My partner has been eating healthier since he met me. He drinks a vegan smoothie made with our Vitamix every morning. He even has started to add greens and zucchini to it! My one veg-friendly roommate has started cooking more and getting ideas from me from my weekly Sunday batch food prep.”
Kayla: “Although not in my household, I have helped to educate and encourage my sister in her food choices (she now does not purchase any cow/pig/other large animal products or milk.) Still working on chicken, cheese and eggs for her. I have also had an influence on a few friends who saw my veganism and then did research in their own to move towards vegan diets.”
Alicia: “I believe that I have influenced my family to eat less dairy. I am straight-up honest about the dairy industry and why I don't want to support an industry of pain. My son was vegetarian for his whole life and was curious to try meat and did eat it for a year. I don't ever want to shame anyone for their choice to eat meat/dairy. In time, he came back around and saw that the suffering of animals was not worth the taste. Many of his meals are vegan as well, but he enjoys his cheese. Perhaps when he is older he will make the decision to eat vegan. One can only hope!”
Nicole: “I became vegetarian when I was a teenager so my partner and sons have never known me as a meat eater. I became vegan just over 4 years ago when I realized how cruel the egg and dairy industry were. My sons, at the time, consumed meat like their father, but I never prepared it for them. I never preached to my partner or sons about veganism, but my decision to go vegan definitely sparked inquiry and very meaningful conversations with my sons. Within two years of me going vegan, they both went from omnivore to vegan as well. My partner still consumes meat, but not at home anymore. He has switched to vegan cheese and non-dairy creamers at home too. He has also reduced his meat consumption outside of the house. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I sincerely believe that my conscious choices and my willingness to openly discuss a more compassionate way to live (without judgement or preaching) has inspired my family.”
Kelsey: “My boyfriend is eating way less meat and continues to dine with me more often without adding animal products to my final meal.”
Ella has been able to influence a few of her roommates’ eating habits. One in particular: “She is pretty conscious about the environment and since learning of the effects that the meat and dairy industry has she has definitely made an effort to cut back on her unnecessary meat and dairy usage, which is a big woohoo for me because we can make yummy vegan food together.”
Need help going vegan? Enroll in my free 10-day email course, How To Go Vegan.
Wanna get serious about your plant-based nutrition? Wanna get strong as f*ck and show the world what vegan athleticism is all about? A badass coaching program can help.
Calories and macros on a vegan diet: A free e-book for you!
Download Karina’s free 32-page ebook that shows you how to track your food, calculate calories, and set macro goals on a vegan diet. You’ll even get step-by-step instructions – complete with a printable grocery list – for how to prep a week’s worth of delicious Buddha bowls in 60 minutes or less.