Confessing pescetarianism to a vegan?
July 20, 2010 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Should my partner tell her vegan friend that she's started eating fish? If so, how should she break the news?

For a long time, my partner was vegetarian for ethical reasons. Recently she's developed some health-related dietary restrictions that have placed extreme limits on what kinds of food she can eat. As a result, she's taken up eating fish. She was reluctant, but fish doesn't upset her system and it keeps her full. I'm vegetarian and I don't eat fish myself, but I encouraged her to do this. She's healthier and happier as a result. All the friends who know (vegetarian and carnivore alike) are supportive too.

But she hasn't said anything to our friend, who I'll call Jane, who's a staunch vegan. Jane is not exactly an in-your-face proselytizer, but nor is she the type to say it's just her personal choice and avoid talking about it to the unconverted. One of the things that initially attracted Jane to my partner was finding out that my partner was, at that time, a fellow veg, in an environment where that was uncommon.

Jane has other friends who are big-time carnivores. And she has never said anything about us eating, for example, nachos in front of her when we go out. She is also really caring about my partner's dietary restrictions (making her gluten-free vegan cakes, etc.). But we still think she will take it badly if she finds out, mostly because we're some of Jane's only vegetarian friends in the city. Yesterday she offhandedly told my partner that her (formidable) cooking skills will always be there for her during these tough dietary times, "as long as you don't start eating meat." Now, we both took this to mean "obviously I wouldn't cook meat for you," and that's only reasonable. Still, it made my partner uncomfortable.

My first inclination was that this might be a "what she doesn't know can't hurt her" situation, but my partner thinks Jane is bound to find out sooner or later, whether it's a matter of getting caught with a tuna salad on a table at a restaurant, or (more likely) another friend obliviously saying "You eat fish now, try the salmon!" while Jane's within earshot.

So, because of this and because she feels guilty about lying to Jane by omission, she wants to tell her. Should she? If so (which I suspect is the right answer), is there any way she could break the news that cushions the blow for Jane, without apologizing for making the right choice for herself?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would tell Jane. I'd explain why and how it makes me feel better. Then, if Jane can't deal with it, she's the one with the moral failing.
posted by smorange at 9:48 AM on July 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

I don't see there being one right or wrong way to handle this one, and I think a lot of it will fall to your partner to make a decision that works with her value system. I've seen friends move along the vegan/carnivore spectrum and understand they have their reasons to do so. If your partner feels uncomfortable or if she's hiding something she should probably let on.
posted by Dmenet at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2010

She should say it exactly as you put it: "In light of my recent health problems I've decided to start eating some fish. I'm reluctant but fish doesn't upset my system and it keeps me full."

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do and no sane person is going to have a problem with that. If someone isn't sane then there really isn't anything you can do to reason with them.

I am vegan for ethical reasons.
posted by ChrisHartley at 9:51 AM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I see this less as becoming a pescetarian than needing to do something for health reasons, like taking a prescription medication or having to alter your daily physical behavior in some way. There's absolutely no reason for your friend to tell Jane unless she wants to.

It's not lying by omission. Would you feel like you were lying if you started taking an anti-depressant and didn't feel like telling anyone? It's different if Jane asks about it (in which case, it's still none of her business what your friend eats), but Jane's a friend.

I think "I've started to eat fish because I can no longer get the nutrition I need from X foods" would be perfectly sufficient. The idea of "cushioning the blow" sounds completely insane to me. Jane is an adult and should be able to cope with a change in her friend's eating habits for health reasons like an adult. If (and I really doubt this) Jane reacts like a petulant child when she finds out, then she's really not much of a friend. It would be like saying "noooo! don't put a cast on your broken leg! I hate plaster!"

I don't think there is any reason for your friend to be concerned about Jane knowing.
posted by phunniemee at 9:56 AM on July 20, 2010

Oops, replace all instances of "your friend" with "your partner". My bad.
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 AM on July 20, 2010

So, because of this and because she feels guilty about lying to Jane by omission, she wants to tell her. Should she?


If so (which I suspect is the right answer), is there any way she could break the news that cushions the blow for Jane

This implies that your partner's eating fish is an attack on Jane. It's not. There's no "blow" to "cushion."

I'm an ethical vegetarian, and I wouldn't say it's "just my personal choice" (otherwise the "ethical" part would be meaningless). But does this mean my friendships with people are affected by whether they're vegetarian/vegan? No. It means I want the whole world to switch to eating much less meat. Whether a particular friend does so is a negligible part of this.

Trying to hide it from her would just be setting things up for your life to turn into a sitcom episode.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2010 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I think your partner should emphasize that if there had been vegetarian alternatives, she would have gone for them, but since it is a medical issue, she has to (temporarily?) compromise her principles in order to be able to keep having any principles whatsoever.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:01 AM on July 20, 2010

I've fluctuated in where I'm at with meat eating over time, as have several friends. Meanwhile, other people in our social circle have remained strict vegetarians/vegans.

The way I've always handled it is this.

1. The information is to be handled on a need-to-know basis. I've never gone around announcing to people, "I'm going to start eating chicken sometimes!" Let alone explaining my reasoning for it. I just do what I want and don't talk much about it unless it is a specific issue.

2. When eating out with vegetarian or vegan friends, at the table, as we peruse the menu,

Sara C. [casually]: You know, I've started eating meat again, sometimes. Mostly just fish. Weird, huh?

Vegan Friend: Oh, OK.


3. Half the time when I say something like the above to a friend I'd assume was (still) vegetarian, the friend will actually reply "Oh? Me too. I eat bacon now."

This has always worked just fine for me, and nobody has even asked for a reason or tried to debate with me about my choice to eat whatever. Unless you guys are all 19 years old, live int he same dorm, and are the founding members of the Meat Is Murder Club, nobody's going to care. Honestly.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your partner could use the comment about how Jane would always be there for her "unless she started eating meat" as her jumping off point. She can tell Jane that she felt funny about it because she has started eating some fish (for exactly the reasons you mention).

I think you're right that Jane might feel a little put out, because the choice is such a huge part of her identity and their relationship. The "unless you start eating meat" was a reiteration of that bond. So if your partner can emphasize to Jane how much she appreciates Jane's help through this, and that making the change has been a little hard, but helpful, Jane should be ok.
posted by ldthomps at 10:15 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how Jane can be allowed to offer opinions on your dietary choices, yet not know the serious dietary constraints your partner is under. That's sort of a true barometer of friendship.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's important to remember, too, that just because your partner has started eating fish doesn't mean she doesn't otherwise eat (or maybe try to eat) vegan, as health matters allow.

Jane makes your partner vegan food, which your partner enjoys, no? There's still much to share food-wise. Your partner eating fish with regularity for health reasons does not preclude her and Jane from swapping recipes, making things together, or going out to eat, etc.
posted by zizzle at 10:22 AM on July 20, 2010

since it is a medical issue, she has to (temporarily?) compromise her principles

Agree pretty much with what everyone said but I wanted to caution a little against the "appeal to authority" angle here. Different people approach vegetarianism and veganism differently, of course, but I think the important thing here is that your partner got advice from a doctor and is deciding to follow it for the stated reasons. I think people can break "bad news" [especially in this sort of loaded situation] by saying "oh it was out of my hands for whatever reason" and I think that's the least effective way to approach it.

I'm all in favor of your partner eating whatever she wants, for whatever reason she wants. However her ownership of those reasons will be more effective in managing expectations with Jane who may or may not be a pill about this. The last thing I think your partner wants is Jane being huffy about your partner kowtowing to her doctor [which sounds like it is NOT what's happening] but it may be an easier path than saying "I made this choice" So, for whatever it's worth, I suggest the "I made this choice" approach even if it includes the "on the advice of my doctor" aspect.
posted by jessamyn at 10:23 AM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

we're some of Jane's only vegetarian friends in the city
Is your profile up to date? If so, how is it possible that Jane has so few veggie friends in Toronto? (Or is the Toronto veg community a lot smaller than I think?)

Anyway, I'm vegetarian (living in T.O.), and if I was your partner, I would not feel guilty about having to eat fish. Your partner has good reasons for eating fish - i.e. it doesn't upset her system and keeps her full. She doesn't have to "answer" to Jane about what she eats, so don't put Jane in that position. This is not a betrayal to Jane, nor is your partner eating fish about Jane at all, so don't make it like that. We should all be able to expect support, and not judgement, from our friends. For the record, veg*ns who are judgemental about what other people eat really annoy me - I hope Jane isn't like that.
posted by foxjacket at 10:38 AM on July 20, 2010

how is it possible that Jane has so few veggie friends in Toronto?

How in the world are we supposed to even guess about how many friends Jane has and how many of them are vegetarian?
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:42 AM on July 20, 2010

Ultimately, the way Jane reacts is going to be something she, and she alone owns. Your partner, while not exactly enjoying the choice she's made, has made it in consideration of all options. This is also something she owns, and doesn't need to be ashamed of.

One thing that I would be concerned with, is how you said Jane initially became your friend because of shared vegan/veg interests. Has your relationship grown past that? Or is Jane the kind of person to go collecting friends for what they do, or what "scene" they're in? If the latter is the case, yeah Jane may not feel like staying in contact with you. If Jane is friends with you guys because of who you are, and she sees you as real people not accessories, she'll come to terms with it.
posted by fontophilic at 10:49 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is crazy. Why should she not tell her? Are these people not adults? Even if Jane didn't have good reasons, in my eyes she gets to decide what she wants to eat and assume that her friends aren't going to be pissed off at her for it.

I'm an ethical vegetarian.
posted by something something at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it turns out that your partners decision to eat animals is morally abhorrent to 'Jane' it's unreasonable to expect 'Jane' to accept it, for any reason. Just as it would be unreasonable for 'Jane' to expect that your partner should do what 'Jane' wants, for any reason. I'd step out of the mindset that you need to control 'Jane's' reaction to the truth, or protect her from the truth and just tell her.

As an ethical veg, I consider eating animals to be willing participation in murder. But I have dear friends who eat animals. I also have dear friends who fought in Iraq and shot people. I can't tell either of them what to do and neither can 'Jane' - but as I said, by the same reasoning, if 'Jane' doesn't want to have people in her life who eat animals, that's a choice she has the right to make.
posted by jardinier at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2010

Sorry, I mean your partner gets to decide what to eat for herself. And Jane, if she is anything like a real friend, won't say a word about it.
posted by something something at 10:54 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

You shouldn't have to lie about it - I would just tell her.

"Due to various health reasons, I can no longer be vegan. I know it sucks, but my health comes first and foremost"

"I still believe in all the reasons to be vegan, and we can definitely still have vegan meals together. I enjoy all the food we make for each other, it's just that I have to start listening to my body"

if she doesn't understand, she's honestly not worth keeping as a friend.
posted by unexpected at 11:07 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Diet (like religion) is a personal choice. If your partner chooses to eat fish, for whatever reason, it is her choice.

If Jane has anything to say about it, tell her to mind her own business. This is not about what a "true friend" would do. It is just basic courtesy.
posted by purephase at 11:29 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would let Jane know that she has started eating fish for the above dietary concerns. Then explain how she is planning to take the time and research to ensure that she is eating fish responsibly and is working to ensure that her choices are both healthy and sustainable.
posted by occidental at 11:30 AM on July 20, 2010

Sure, if it comes up, tell her. But really, you don't have to inform everybody about your dietary changes. It's about as much their business as your bowel movements are.
posted by HFSH at 11:35 AM on July 20, 2010

But really, you don't have to inform everybody about your dietary changes.

You're not strictly obligated to, but if you're thinking about it this much, you should just go ahead and mention it when it comes up in conversation (and food is so ubiquitous that it's sure to come up in conversation).
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:39 AM on July 20, 2010

As a meat eater I initially found this question and most of the subsequent discussion laughable. To be paranoid about telling someone you've started eating fish? It seems ridiculous. But then I imagined what it would be like if I told my family I was suddenly becoming vegan. It would definitely be worth mentally preparing for the ridicule and teasing I would receive from them.
posted by thorny at 11:43 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

But really, you don't have to inform everybody about your dietary changes.

This. I have pescetarian, vegetarian, and vegan friends, but have never met any of the above type people who are at all judgmental towards any other group. I thought that was just a Fox News forum-type construct.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be a bit leary of making a big, drama filled thing out of it, like "Jane, we need to talk about something", because I'd be afraid that would make Jane feel even more bereft and outcast and whatnot by what is essentially a dietary decision.

I think I'd try to keep her on my side in this decision and say something like, "I'm a bit bummed because I have to supplement my vegs with fish now. It's ok, I guess, but I'd rather have stayed a vegetarian like you." And depending on her reaction I might ask her for her support and ask her to promise that she'll still share recipes with me / eat veggie things with me / whatever they used to do.

I used to have a friend who imbued random things we shared with great Meaning and Significance and who'd take it as a rejection if I changed or didn't pay attention to these things. The above approach made it possible for her to feel like we were still a team.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:33 PM on July 20, 2010

but have never met any of the above type people who are at all judgmental towards any other group

Eh, as a former vegan, then vegetarian, and now pescetarian --- they do exist. When I was in college I was involved to some extent in activism, and there were definitely some very judgemental vegans in that group [thought even other vegetarians were really bad people, would not associate with non-vegans, etc]. Of course, "vegan activists" is by definition the extreme edge of vegetarianism, so I'm not saying it's common, but they definitely exist.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2010

Your body isn't a democracy. By this, I mean your friend does not get a vote on what you eat. If for medical or any other reason, you decide to start or stop eating any kind of food, it's your own personal decision. If you decide to share this with Jane, that's also your own decision. You don't owe her an explanation.

Tell her if it comes up, but keep in mind the bigger a deal you make of it, the more she'll think that it is a big deal. If you feel like mentioning it, make it casual, and make it clear that you're not asking for her opinion on it, this is just the way things are. If she chooses to make a fuss of it, laugh it off, like she couldn't POSSIBLY be trying to make you feel bad about or dictate what you eat, because that would be CRAZY, right?
posted by Jubey at 6:06 PM on July 20, 2010

Your partner should avoid being too apologetic or acting too bummed out when she tells Jane (and she should tell Jane) because Jane might see that as an invitation to offer advice as to how your partner could prepare meals/choose meals that don't require her to eat fish. It has already been established that your partner is eating fish to broaden her dietary choices now that her diet is so limited.

Like Jubey says, Jane isn't owed an explanation (but since she is a friend, it would be nice to provide her with an explanation while making it clear that her opinion on the matter should be kept to herself). If Jane insists on weighing in on this one, your partner can smile brightly, remind Jane that she feels much healthier now that she has altered her diet, and that surely at the end of the day, Jane values her friend's health and well-being more than she does her friend's dietary choices and necessities.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:47 PM on July 20, 2010

If so, how should she break the news?

"Hey, I'm eating fish now."

I think you both might be turning this in to a much bigger deal than it is.
posted by chunking express at 7:34 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Hey, I'm eating fish now."

Seconding this. Anything that begins with the phrase "In light of..." is taking yourself too seriously.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:58 AM on July 21, 2010

I was an ethical vegetarian for 10 years -- lacto-ovo for the first half, then vegan for the second half -- and then started eating animal products again for health reasons. It was deeply traumatic for me both to do it in the first place and then to "come out of the pantry" about it to my vegetarian friends. I *agonized* about whether and how to tell them, and even after I told them, I had major anxiety about buying/eating animal products in public for fear of getting "caught" and it being awkward. And yes, some of them reacted unfavorably and we are no longer friends. So I do understand the fears your partner has.

That said...

At this point, nearly 5 years after I started eating animals again, my perspective on the friendship aspect of the situation has changed. The people who reacted unfavorably, made me feel weird about the "choice" to prioritize my health, and/or dropped me as a friend were never really my friends in the first place. As others have said, true friendship transcends dietary choices, even when the dietary choices are based in shared values -- and even when the dietary choices are wrapped up with someone's identity. So, those friendships were likely going to end sooner or later.

Your partner isn't doing anything wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of. She has to do what she has to do, and I think honesty is the best policy with Jane. If Jane is only friends with you/your partner because of your vegetarianism, that's her problem. Shared diet isn't a strong enough foundation for real friendship. And if she's only friends with you because of veg*ism, and you do not tell her you're no longer veg, then your friendship is based on a lie. Not good!

Hopefully she will turn out to be cool with it. If not, you're better off without her, even though it will hurt in the short term.
posted by hansbrough at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2010

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