What Happens When a Vegan Falls in Love With a Carnivore—an Actual Hunter, Even?
A love story about two opposite lifestyles.
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“If you Are going to disappear for a few days every time I kill one of my animals, this isn’t going to work. Their deaths are not about you.”– Hunter
illustrations: erin maala
Modern partners are increasingly star-crossed by their food preferences.Eating farmed fish versus wild, having an opinion on GMOs, having no opinion on GMOs, following a raw, gluten-free, nut-free, nightshade-free, breatharian diet—what you choose to put or not put in your mouth can be a deal breaker. We express love by cooking for our partners, and eating with them. What happens when you take that away? The Internet abounds with information about interdietary dating; however, I have yet to find writing that might address my own dating concerns: How does a vegan date a meat-eater? And not just a meat-eater, but an actual hunter?
I HAD SPENT an entire spring silently swooning over Hunter (yes, his name is Hunter)—while a student in his Permaculture Design course. Twenty of us would spend our weekends on farms all over O‘ahu, learning how to apply sustainable agriculture design techniques to urban and rural land spaces.
Despite my lifelong bookishness, I learned nothing about microclimates or mitigating hazards; I was too captured by the tangent of Hunter’s impassioned gestures, by his cynical tone that seemed incongruous with his idealistic lessons on how to best steward the earth and care for its inhabitants. As he explained the relationships between elements in a food forest, I daydreamed about sharing book collections, preferably naked. Without books.
A year earlier, I had taken Hunter’s introductory permaculture workshop. He taught us to design by first observing nature, and, as we began implementing our resilient backyard systems, he warned: You have to be OK with killing things. Hunter meant plants, but his statement swelled portentously in me. You have to be OK with killing things. Our attachment to identity? To toxic behaviors? Ourselves?
I had just ended a relationship that left me questioning how to love someone with compassion, particularly when that person does not want to live at all. I dove into the world of sustainability and growth, desperate to surround myself with life; veganism was one structure I crawled into, calmed by the belief I was doing no harm. I wrote an essay for this magazine on egg donation (bit.ly/hneggdonations), and its first sentence was “I am vegan.”
It was an empowering identity, but for years, grief would still wake me in the middle of the night, sink its teeth in my heart and shake.
On the last weekend of our Permaculture Design course, the class celebrated at a Waimānalo farm. With the help of wine and the threat of imminent partings, I finally managed to speak in Hunter’s presence, and hovered near. Mid-conversation about our favorite Radiolab episodes (inner monologue: “We have so much in common!”), we heard the repetitive echo of what can best be described as a banshee giving birth to an emergency response siren. Hunter disappeared into the growing fields and emerged with a limp peacock in his arms. (Inner monologue interrupted by inner screaming.) My fellow classmates seemed to respect Hunter for his bare-handed hipster-meets-paniolo peacock wrangling. But WWPD? (What Would PETA Do?) I gave him a look that I hoped would express complete horror, but it emerged on my face as something closer to, What? You want to spend the rest of our lives together? Cool, me too.
I reeled with awe at how easily I wrapped my morals in a gigantic red flag and, like a magic trick, made them disappear.
“I slaughter them with the least amount of suffering possible,” he said.
Even a little suffering is too much suffering, I wanted to say, but hormones triumphed over my conscience. I hovered nearer.
For the next few months, I picked up vegetables for the natural foods deli where I cooked as an excuse to see Hunter. It was a transparent ruse. Picking up cassava would blissfully take all day—our wanderings and conversations brought me to a Hawai‘i I had never known. We attempted to milk his nonmilking goat; we pounded taro with drinking glasses (not recommended); we indulged in new flavors—star apple, chico sapote, Jamaican liliko‘i. I was born and raised in Honolulu and was a professional local cook—yet I had never prepared kalo stem, picked ‘ulu, unearthed ‘uala, fingered trailside tangles for small berries or pohole. When he worried that I wouldn’t be able to engage in a significant part of his life with him—the slaughtering of animals—I dismissed his concern because I was raised to believe love conquers all, including murder. There was so much to feel kinship about—exchanging harvests and whisky-flavored secrets, spontaneous dance parties, delight in baby goats and foraged feasts—such a vibrant sense of being alive that it only increased the desire to bury my bleeding heart in the earth of his body.
•At least he doesn’t buy factory farmed meat.
• At least he is connected to the source of his food.
• At least he doesn’t leave peacock heads in the doorway every day.
• At least he is helping cull the destructive wild pig population.
• At least he will be super handy if something apocalyptic separates Hawai‘i from the rest of the world.
• At least he has the skills to dispatch me with minimal suffering if I needed to die really fast. (See “something apocalyptic.”)