Illustration by Agata Sasiuk
She won’t eat animal products, but for 21 days, ethical single Kathy W. went on a hunt for a different kind of meat. Here’s what she found.
Think navigating the singles scene in Berlin is tricky? Well, it’s even worse if you’re a finicky girl searching not only for a normal, good guy – but also one who is vegan, or at least a vegetarian. Not just defined by a trendy diet, my man had better know his stuff, too. A guy who has pulled on a cow udder, knows the difference between B12 and B6 and does not contest the fact that pigs are smarter than dogs. Who’s not tripped out. Who’s not gay. Who’s not following any one deity’s or guru’s dietary footsteps. And who most definitely is not on his vegan high horse.
Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But with Berlin being the land of demos and soli-everything, I felt optimistic. Having lived in this veggie paradise for five years, I thought it about time to actively hunt out my vegan love. He must be somewhere, even if hidden away in the depths of Neukölln among the sea of righteous vegheads. So I gave myself a mission.
The 21-Day Vegan Challenge
Goal: Find a normal, decent veghead guy to date.
Objective: Do as many normal – and abnormal – things in 21 days as possible to find some good specimens.
Criteria: My ideal must a) demonstrate a high level of empathy; b) show universal reciprocity; c) balance the social norm with being his own person; d) be skilled at building harmony, both inner and outer.
Experiment 1: Krishna love
If someone is a vegetarian or vegan for religious reasons, is that good enough for me? To find out, I pedalled up to the Reinickendorf address listed on the Hare Krishna Berlin’s temple website for the weekly Sunday ceremony: singing, dancing and a vegan dinner. Upon entering the building, I came under the wing of another woman in her thirties, who showed me to the temple room, which had a light, joyous vibe, with instruments and prayer books strewn about and people sitting comfortably on floor cushions. There for more than spiritual peace and curiosity, I kept true to my mission and started scoping.
As the singing started, it crossed my mind that maybe I needed to get out more. With about 45 of us, seemingly representing perhaps 20 different countries, I was overjoyed and a bit overcome at the humanity around me. They were people of all ages and all backgrounds, all grouped around one centre of goodness. Love. Peace. And Krishna. And the men! Here were men at peace with themselves, constantly reflecting on their role in the world, humbly dressed in the traditional toga-style get-up. I couldn’t restrain myself from wondering what it would be like to sidle over to one of them and tuck myself into those folds, to nuzzle their shaved heads in the morning. With few exceptions, every man in that room seemed to exude harmony, patience, love, intellect and sincerity. And have they got some moves…
All in all, a total turn on for me. So much so, in fact, that I decided to leave before the meal, worried I wouldn’t be able to form full, intelligible sentences to speak with them.
Experiment 2: Dinner for one
So far, so good. But what if I wanted a man whom I wouldn’t have to share with a guru? I decided to target the scrumptious, smartlooking solo male customers of my favourite vegetarian café in Berlin, W Imbiss. Knowing many single eaters, myself included, tend to peer over book edges at one another, only to then sheepishly bury our noses into our meals, I decided to make things a bit more obvious. I spent three hours on a blustery afternoon cosied up inside with book in hand, curry on plate, and a sign on the table which read: “Got time for our first date? Einfach hinsetzen :)”.
A pair of decent-looking men in their late thirties nodded and winked as soon as I had set up shop, but not a single person was bold enough to join me – or even to inquire further. Upon actually packing up, though, is when I got the most interesting glances. Sitting at three separate tables, three separate men eating alone all gave me the same questioning look simultaneously: “Oh, you’re going so soon?” As though each had been considering coming over. Too late, boys. Upon later debriefing, I realised this had been the most unlikely of ways to catch my vegan mate – since it typically takes a German man six months to give even the slightest hint he’s romantically interested in you. At least now I know how to get a wide territory to myself next time I’m at a crowded café.
Experiment 3: The dating game
While giggling over this 21-day challenge with girlfriends, somehow the idea of staging a real-life version of the beloved TV dating game show Herzblatt, where a woman sits behind a screen and chooses between three prospective dates based on their answers to various questions, was tossed around. Despite my serious stage fright, two weeks later I found myself sitting blindfolded behind a makeshift bedsheet screen strung up between two bicycles in Mauerpark, with the soundtrack of my friends’ laughter and the nervous giggling of three strangers.
To find willing contestants, my champion girlfriends trolled the park wearing an advertising sandwich board reading “Follow me to The Dating Game for vegetarians and vegans” in both German and English. We started in with Round 1, during which, after laughing about this Herzblatt action for two weeks, I suddenly got really nervous! What if, on the other side of this sheet, sits my future vegan love?
My friends asked the bachelors questions we’d come up with beforehand, like “Your first date is on an FKK beach. How does your date recognise you?” and “You’re a vegan but your partner asks you to lick ice cream off her body. Do you?” After three questions and a bonus round, I made my choice. I removed the blindfold and the two ‘losers’ came over to greet me. With my heart actually starting to nervously pound, my future date and I were instructed to count to three and then stand up and face one another. I ended up less sheepish about meeting him than I was about the fact that, unbeknownst to me, a large crowd had gathered to watch the whole thing! Peinlich.
Exchanging nervous, non-promising light smiles and a quick hug, he and I exchanged names. As in the real TV game show, he chose his “prize” from several envelopes – each containing a different date of promise. He won a dinner with me at W Imbiss, but it turned out he lived in Hamburg. And I think neither of us were that interested. Even though nothing came of it, the ruckus we made in the park just goes to show how desperately this type of thing is needed in Berlin. People asked us if we do it every weekend. Many other people asked us to please in fact do it every weekend. Watch out, Berlin: Herzblatt is back.
Experiment 4: Animal cruelty
Early on in my research, I happened upon a store in Berlin specialising in vegan sex toys. The fact that someone would go so far as to consider extending their dedication to veganism in their sexual play was an immediate intellectual and emotional turn-on. Taking this to its furthest extreme, I thought I’d explore Berlin’s vegan BDSM scene. Yes, folks, because a pure vegan does not want to be tied up with leather straps or punished with horsehair whips.
What does one wear to a vegan BDSM meet-up – especially when it’s not an actual workshop, but rather a plain old dinner party? As soon as I entered the room (after nervously backing into rather loud Indian brass chimes with my bike bag), I realised I had not thought enough about my wardrobe. Black was clearly in. And I was standing there, smelling like a BDSM virgin in my colourful Strumpfhosen, washed-out denim skirt and bright purple and orange Guru sweatshirt. Did they know I was an infiltrator?
The first hour was definitely awkward – the old trick of ‘just picture everyone naked’ seemed ill-fitting in this context. No one spoke of the latex-clad elephant in the room. It wasn’t until late in the evening that some side conversations finally went in the direction of sexual encounters. Where to go, who said what, anecdotes from “the scene”. But mostly it centered around complaints about rent increases and the slow restaurant service. Yawn.
For fun and to test my own sexual fantasies, I tried to imagine what each one’s preferred role would be. Could I be naked, or cloaked, dominant or submissive with them? Which led me to the complex ethical conundrum around vegan BDSM: If I am looking for a ‘non-violent’ person whose level of empathy and compassion overrides any carnivorous cravings, then why exactly would I be interested in a person whose overarching sexual need or even identity involves causing or receiving pain and humiliation? Basically, why would I want to be with a vegan who wants to treat me, or be treated as “meat”? File under food for thought.
When carrying out a challenge like this, one shouldn’t be surprised when unexpected variables enter the mix. For example, a kiss. A very sweet kiss that came packaged along with one very, very interesting and sweet dude. A dude, however, who holds me with the same arms he uses to reach for the packaged dead pig in his refrigerator. I found him on a boring old dating site, the one carnivore I messaged out of dozens and dozens of vegans and vegetarians simply because his profile was just too amazing to pass up. On our first date, he showed me a photo of the rear haunch and leg of a wild boar in a plastic bag on his floor in West Africa.
So it is that after pouring my heart and soul into this 21-day challenge and pushing every ethical limit within veganism I could think of, I’m sleeping with the enemy. Not because I’m willing to compromise it all – I’m still seeking my veghead, and he knows that – but because the added level of convictions and extremism among vegans here in Berlin has made finding a man who fits my exact ethics very difficult.
For now, though, my ‘work’ continues – as I have a host of other ideas and actions to execute which I did not have time for in my 21-Day Challenge. What they are, I won’t tell you – just keep an eye out for me and my friends. Or, contact me if you want to mach mit! Let’s change this terrible reputation Berlin has as being the city of singles, and brighten up the days of ‘vingles’, and beyond.