Speed Dating for Veggie — and Animal — Lovers

by Sarah Henry on August 5, 2011 · 29 comments

in bay citizen,berkeley bites,food events,food flotsam & jetsam,vegetables

Vegan speed daters smile for the camera. Photo: Karine Brighten

What, pray tell, does one wear to a speed dating event for vegetarians, vegans, and the veg-curious (there’s a punch line waiting to happen) searching for their perfect match?

This reporter flirted with donning her son’s “Meat is Murder” T-shirt, which felt a tad obvious and then promptly opted for her typical uniform (jeans, shirt, boots, all sans slogans) and headed to the vegetarian Saturn Café, the site of the meatless speed dating meetup.

Since said reporter is both 1. single and 2. vegetarian (as long as you don’t count the occasional lapse in her mostly plant-based diet of some 30 years), it made sense to go undercover.

Can you imagine how awkward it would be for speed daters to have a reporter with notebook in tow chronicling, for public consumption, their attempts at meeting a soulmate over vegetable taquitos?

The Veg Speed Dating night was hosted by Berkeley-based Karine Brighten, 29, a vegan who met her husband (also vegan) online. Brighten believes that finding a partner who shares the same politics of the plate is one of the keys to a happy relationship.

“I don’t have meat in my home, go to zoos, wear clothing made from animals, or eat at restaurants that serve meat, so it’s important to me to have a partner who shares my lifestyle choices,” said Brighten, who specializes in vegan events. “Then there’s no explaining or defending to do, you’re both on the same page.”

The Saturn Cafe's Space Lounge awaits the arrival of speed daters. Photo: Karine Brighten

Wednesday night’s meetup was aimed at heterosexual adults 21 and over, though Brighten hopes to hold events for gay folks in the future. Early birds paid $25 to attend. For those who left “looking for luv” to the last minute, tickets at the door cost $35.

Brighten worked hard to keep the genders evenly balanced, capping female sign ups until more men bought tickets. In the end, there were a couple more guys than gals in a group of about 40. Two women dropped out because they’d found themselves in relationships since they purchased tickets. Lucky them.

The assembled crowd, mostly Caucasians in their early 20s through to early 60s from around the Bay Area, mingled over appetizers in the Space Lounge, an area separate from the restaurant.

(A word on the food: mostly fried and fatty, with salsa laden with raw onion. In short: Overwhelmingly unimpressive and not particularly dating-friendly. Raw onion? Some folks eyes lit up at the end of the evening when vegan cupcakes came out, others begged off saying they avoid sugar or that the treats were too sweet.)

But folks weren’t there for the food. If you’re unfamiliar with speed dating, here’s how last night’s worked: people wore name tags and were given a sign up sheet. After some preliminary schmoozing, the women were asked to sit on bench seats and men sat opposite. Each “pair” had a chance to chat for three minutes. A bell signaled when it was time to move on. After the allocated time, each male slid down a seat and a new conversation began. Every guy got to meet every girl. At the end, each guest could jot down the names of any person/s of interest, which were then passed on to Brighten.

In the event that two people each picked the other, contact details are passed along via email. What happens next is up to the two individuals.

As a neophyte to the speed dating scene, who knew what to expect?  It turned out that the men and women at the event were mostly kind, curious, and thoughtful during the brief interactions.

In the name of research both professional and personal, this writer did check out some speed dating tips in advance. Fresh breath and easy on the booze. (Really? Check.) Accentuate the positive and don’t interview or interrogate. (Professional hazard alert.) Off-limit subjects on one list (work, politics, religion) were given the green light on another. But, no worries, if these topics were even broached they were dispensed with quickly.

Dating expert Anna Hennings offered tips at the Veg Speed Dating event.

The event featured a self-described dating expert, Anna Hennings, 25, who has co-authored articles on the subject and counts among her credentials being raised by sex educators/therapists. (One of the younger speed daters asked me if Hennings was available. Unluckily for him, she recently found her own match.) Hennings speech was brief, upbeat and encouraged folks to keep things light.

This participant learned a few things. Talking to 20 men, three minutes apart in rapid succession can make your head spin, throat parched, and keep even a professional listener on her toes. When meeting a fella who announces he works for the Oakland As, it’s probably not a dating-savvy move to blurt out, “Seriously? My son would love that.” And telling a yoga instructor that you stopped practicing after herniating a disc in class can make a conversation falter. Also: keeping a mental tally of how many of the male participants are grad students and/or young enough to be your offspring is probably not what the organizers had in mind.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in my thinking. The gal sitting next to me agreed on the food, age range, and acoustics (really difficult to hear), while acknowledging the need for opportunities for like-minded singles to meet. The organizers plan to tweak the format for future events.

“From a romantic-partner perspective, it seems like a waste of time for a 63-year-old to be mingling with a 22-year-old,” concurred Henning. Brighten said she plans to offer events with narrower age ranges down the track. As for grumblings about too many dates to meet and not enough time to talk, the old adage comes to mind: you can’t please everyone. That said, Brighten claimed the night a success with 24 tabulated matches.

The event also made me ponder how much a prospective dating partner’s dietary preferences really matter in the realm of relationships. It was clear in a crowd that contained many vegans that finding a match who labelled themselves as such was a motivating factor for attending the event, as Brighten predicted. But non-vegans didn’t seem as concerned about finding a perfect match on the food front.

Vegan cupcakes: A sweet end note to the speed dating event. Photo: Karine Brighten

Speed dating is not confined to people who identify with a certain way of eating. The Jewish community has long offered such match-making mixers for singles and the San Francisco Public Library recently ran its first literary speed dating events for 20- and 30somethings, one for straights and one for gays, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Speed dating opportunities for people who are secular, slender, tall, 50+ and a variety of other niche groups are run by private companies.

What to make of these first impressions? A 2005 study at the University of Pennsylvania based on multiple HurryDate events found that most people made their choices within the first three seconds of meeting.

And issues such as religion, previous marriages, and smoking habits were found to play much less of a role than expected. The research did not address eating choices.

Intriguingly, Malcolm Gladwell’s book on split-second decision making, Blink, includes the work of  two professors at Columbia University who run speed-dating events. These doctors found, from having participants fill out questionnaires, that what people said they wanted in an ideal mate did not match their subconscious preferences.

Could that mean that chemistry can top health-environment-animal-rights-ethical concerns? Is it possible for a committed vegan to fall for an unabashed omnivore and can such mismatches last? Can a rabbit-food loving lass hook up for life with an offal-loving lad? Or is a locavore who subscribes to a CSA doomed if his love interest favors fast food joints?

What say you readers: do our dietary preferences factor into our love relationships and what happens when opposites attract?

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside and was republished by The Bay Citizen.

You might also like:

A Culinary Confession
Meatless Monday: A Handy Primer, Part One
A Meat Lover’s Manifesto for Meatless Monday

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Alisa Bowman August 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

I am glad I’m out of the dating scene, but love the idea of like-minded groups. It’s cool that this had a veg theme.

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Sarah Henry August 5, 2011 at 9:12 am

Have you run across anything like it in your own neck of the woods, Alisa?

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Jane Boursaw August 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

What a great idea! And makes perfect sense, because think how much smoother a household would run if people had the same general philosophy about eating, cooking and environmental issues. Kudos to the brilliant geniuses who thought of this.

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Sarah Henry August 5, 2011 at 11:02 am

That’s the thinking, Jane, behind such meetups. But I can’t help thinking about my salad loving galpals who ended up with these meat and potato guys.

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Melanie Haiken August 5, 2011 at 9:43 am

Actually, I’m probably in the minority in that I think speed dating sounds like a great idea. (Sadly, I know I tend to sense instantly if I’m interested in someone and if I’m not, being stuck having coffee for an hour can be really unpleasant.) But I haven’t actually done it, so what would I know! I do think having some sort of common ground to start out with is a great idea, along with sorting by age. What about 40-60 lefty book-reading outdoor enthusiasts? I’m there!

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Sarah Henry August 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

Um, assuming you mean you would be there M, if you were’nt happily already attached. And yes, please, can you start a speed dating event like you described above?

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Living Large August 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

I think this is a wonderful idea. I haven’t been in the dating scene since I was a teen, but I know some very strict vegans and really, they would have a very hard time living with someone who didn’t share their values. I’ve flirted with vegetarianism, but again, very hard when your husband is not.

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Sarah Henry August 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

What obstacles do you run into, LL, wanting to eat a more veg-centric diet? Did you and your hubbie find yourself fixing separate meals?

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Jennifer Margulis August 5, 2011 at 11:48 am

“what people said they wanted in an ideal mate did not match their subconscious preferences.” Fascinating. Not surprising, though. What we think we want and what we’re actually attracted to are often so different! Cool that vegans now have a way to find each other!

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Sarah Henry August 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Aint that the truth, Jennifer.

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart August 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Well, as a long-married girl … all of this is foreign to me. But, after YEARS as a newspaper wedding /relationship columnist, I’d take a speed dating match over an online match any day. I got SO SICK of hearing that people met online. There is no real story there, for me, at least. This format, at least, gives you the opportunity for some kind of “meet cute” thing.

I can see, though, how such strongly held beliefs could matter in a relationship. As you know I’m a major dog girl, and I can tell you that there are subsets in the dog-loving community that I’m attracted to and many than I am not. So, I can absolutely see someone saying something about dogs that would peeve me to the point of mismatch. Often people throw out words or terms to make themselves sound like a dog “insider,” when really it reveals the exact opposite. Poser alert!

I suspect the same is true for non-meat-eating folks.

Such a shame the food was lame.

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:51 am

Rox, love your analogy to to the dog world, suspect there are many such similar “interest groups” with similar dynamics, as you indicate. (Poser alert indeed. Also: buzz kill alert. And: Obsessive alert. Need I go on?)

Wanna know more, too, about your years as a newspaper wedding/relationship columnist. Bet you have stories and insights to share.

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Alexandra August 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm

This is SUCH a cool concept. I hope it gets tweaked and spreads.

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:51 am

Sounds like there are more food-focused match-making events in store. Stay tuned.

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NoPotCooking August 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Wow that is an interesting concept!

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

So, NPC, what do you make of it?

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joanne Davis August 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Having been at the event, well it was more a tease for me than anything. It was fun talking with the young pups. Maybe I’m too picky, especially as a 50 something Vegan. Is it wrong to expect a little chemistry? I try fooling myself for a minute that sitting across from the one I love enjoying a plate full of dead tortured animals is something I’ll get used to. Who am I kidding? It would be a bone ; 0) of contention and I would turn into something I’d rather not. So single hood endures.
Maybe they should have produced the event ala Burning Man style where the pretext is speed dating, but they have participants wait and mingle a very long time before the start. My friend met her husband during the pre-mingle phase. Waiting for Gado? It’s a thought….. Anyhow, it didn’t suck, even if it was just a titillation. I did enjoy the Vegan cheese quesadillas. It was fun to read your piece, Sarah. Thanks!

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Sarah Henry August 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

Hi Joanne,

Thanks for sharing your perspective from the trenches and nice to see you on my site. You raise good points re age and animals. There’s no right or wrong answer in this regard, of course, it’s all just a matter of preference.

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Susi August 8, 2011 at 1:46 am

To sound really optimistic…visualise it, believe it, expect it and NEVER give up. The universe can’t help but deliver when the time is right. Thumbs up to anyone who steps out of their comfort zone to attend any genre of these meetings. You’ll never know if you never go!

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:53 am

Wouldn’t have expected anything else from you, Suse. Love your positive vibe.

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Sheryl August 8, 2011 at 4:02 am

Very cool concept. It’s tough to know exactly what will work with another person. I’ve been married a very long time to a meat and potatoes guy, and I wouldn’t touch the stuff. I must say that for him, it has opened him up to new food possibilities. Opposites attract?

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:53 am

No argument there, Sheryl. I suspect you find yourself with lots of company on the food front when it comes to relationship matters.

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Steph Auteri August 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Love this. I’m always wishing I could go to singles and speed dating events at independent book stores, just so I could meet some more like-minded people. A friend/colleague and I actually planned a speed dating event back in February that targeted NYC media folks, and there were some happy love matches. But you’re right. What you think is important to you flies out the window when chemistry comes into play. When you click, you click.

Another interesting viewpoint, put forth by Andrea Syrtash in He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing): You should open your mind to dating those outside your type because — if you’re still single — perhaps your alleged type won’t actually lead to Mr. Right.

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Sarah Henry August 9, 2011 at 11:56 am

Thanks, Steph, for adding your professional spin on this one (Ms. Auteri, for those who don’t know, writes about sex, love and relationships for a living.) Interesting P.O.V. from Andrea Syrtash indeed.

Fun to hear, too, that you’re in the match-making biz — with some success too.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi August 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

As an intense introvert, the idea of speed dating is BEYOND horrifying to me, but for the extroverts out there-who are the majority anyway, I can see a speed dating event that is more pinpointed to their interests would suit.

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Steph Auteri August 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

Au contraire, Melanie! I’m an extreme introvert myself, and have a healthy dose of social anxiety to boot. It’s for this reason that I’ve found that events with more structure — speed dating or speed networking versus free-form mingling — actually take the pressure off introverts to make the first move! In fact, I planned a Word Nerd Networking event around this very concept… I find that so many writers are introverts like me. You should try it! ;)

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Sarah Henry August 14, 2011 at 11:59 am

I’m with Steph on this one Melanie. I’m actually an introvert masquerading as an extrovert in my job who also deals with social anxiety (who doesn’t, right?).

So structure helps in these situations and does take the pressure off, whether it’s professional or personal “speeding.”

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MyKidsEatSquid August 15, 2011 at 10:03 am

Surprising that the food was lousy. Maybe next time they could apply the speed dating concept to prepping food. You do 3 different appetizers with 3 different people, main dish, side dish. I don’t know. It’s just a shame that if food preference is what brought everyone together then you’d think the food would be more memorable–a talking point (in a positive way).

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