You just moved into your apartment, and everything’s pretty swell. You and your roommate are getting along great and making plans left and right. You’ll watch Netflix together, go to the gym together, and cook together!
Then you remember: Your roommate is a vegan.
Before you freak out about giving up your meat and leather goods, take a step back. These days it’s not uncommon to co-live with someone whose lifestyle is drastically different lifestyle to yours. Veganism has gained immense popularity over the last few years, with 16 million Americans living a vegan lifestyle in 2014. But that still leaves 95 percent who love their meat (like you). So if you find yourself trying to balance a delicate carnivore/herbivore roommate relationship, don’t worry — you’re not alone. We talked to the experts for some tips on living with a vegan roommate.
Get the Facts
A vegan is someone who avoids consuming or buying animal products, including animal flesh (red meat, chicken, fish), dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, butter), eggs and other animal-derived products (fur, wool, leather, fish oil, honey, etc.). Some vegans more strict than others, but you should find out what your vegan roommate personally avoids eating or drinking, and ask how they feel about cross-contamination.
“While it’s pretty clear that animals are non-vegan, there can be things hiding in foods, such as broth, milk, cream, cheese and butter,” says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and plant-based nutrition expert and author.
“Choosing a margarine brand that is dairy-free, using egg-free mayo and salad dressings, and breads that are vegan— even soy or almond milk instead of dairy milk are good alternatives if you are worried about sharing food.”
Many vegans also have strong beliefs about harming animals in any way, so pest control can become a conflict in a co-living situation. New York City tenant Lauren Paulauskas experienced this first-hand with her vegan roommate, and suggests addressing pest control and lifestyle beliefs during initial roommate discussions.
“You should be on the same page when it comes to how you will get rid of mice, cockroaches, etc.,” she says. “We had a period when we had mice, and she had to be okay with us choosing to protect the food we purchased over the mice’s lives,” she says.
When you’re living with someone with different beliefs, it’s important both parties are willing to be flexible to each other’s lifestyle choices, even if they change.
“I had already begun living with my future wife before I made the decision to turn vegan,” says Paul Tower, a triathlete and tech entrepreneur. “So it came as quite a shock to my friends and family.”
As as result of his own experience, he stresses the importance of allowing time for someone to adjust, no matter what side of the issue you’re on.
“Don’t jump in and start making tofu burgers for your roommate on day one,” he says. “While you may be extremely interested to try out the new tofu and mayonnaise recipe you discovered, they probably won’t be.
“Over time, however, you’ll find that they’ll start sharing meals or asking to try things. If you want to find food that is easy to bond over, try some great vegan cookies or chocolate. Hardly anyone can turn down a chocolate cookie, whether it’s vegan or not.”
Have a System
Before you begin living together, be sure to define expectations for the relationship. Will you be cooking together? What things will you share? What will you keep separate? One easy fix many cohabiters suggest is having two sets of all kitchen utensils.
“There was an unfortunate evening when my roommate got sick because a pan hadn’t been cleaned very well after cooking meat,” Ysmay Walsh, founder of 42 Yogis, recalls. “To ensure it didn’t happen again, we went out and bought another set of cookware and another set of dishes.”
Though she’s vegan now, having been the meat-eating roommate previously gives Ysmay particular insight into vegan/non-vegan living, and she promises that it can be done with some planning.
“We would each have a shelf of the kitchen, with meat on the very bottom. That meant the vegetable crisper was used for beverages and products in sealed containers instead of vegetables so they would not be contaminated should the meat package leak,” she says.
“We also each had a separate time to cook — first him, then me, so that nothing became contaminated while we were moving around.”
Many roommates will find that, in time, finding vegan meal bases that can be cooked together to make life easier. Tower suggests stir-frying vegetables in one wok, for example, with a separate pan for the meat to be added later.
“Plenty of things you eat on a day-to-day basis are vegan, and numerous dinners can easily become vegan without too much effort. My wife comes from an Italian background and many of their soups, pastas and bean dishes are vegan to begin with.”
Whether you’re cooking meals together or not, the most important thing is to be considerate of the other person’s choices. Everyone wants to feel supported and comfortable in their own home, so simply listening and respecting someone’s decisions — even if they’re different to yours — can go a long way.
“One of the most important things in a vegan lifestyle is to feel that there is a sense of community — that people are being understood and that people ‘get’ you,” Palmer advises.
“So, being understanding and supportive of your roommate is a wonderful thing you can do.”