Veggie At Home, Secret Meat Eater When Out? Introducing Cheatatarianism

giant burger photo

Image credit: Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer, used under Creative Commons license.

When George Monbiot fessed up to being "wrong about veganism", it ignited some hot debate. We humans get pretty passionate about the relative ethics of a veggie versus meat diet—so much so that it can influence our choice of life partner. (For some people, it's a case of "not vegan? No sex.") But what happens when one party pretends to be vegetarian or vegan at home, but occasionally sneaks a "hit" of bacon when they go out? TreeHugger founder Graham Hill just introduced me to a new foodie term—the "cheatatarian". I suspect there might be more around than we know.When I read the term "cheatatarian" in an email, I laughed out loud. I've known plenty of people living in vegetarian families who would, on occasion, sneak a bacon sandwich or a piece of fish. Sometimes they would be honest with their partners, or families, and sometimes it was their little secret. I mentioned the concept to my wife, and she burst out laughing too—"My God," she said, "I totally used to be a chegan in one of my previous relationships. Sneaking cheese when my boyfriend was not looking."

Of course "cheatatarian", or "cheatavore" as another TreeHugger proposed, has some negative connotations. Who's to say we should stick rigidly with a diet just to please our partners? In fact, our colleague Jaymi suggested we'd be better off congratulating someone on avoiding meats out of respect for their significant other while they're around. Perhaps "bacophiliac" is more appropriate for those whose meat eating habits are confined to the salted pork side of things. (Thank you Matthew!) "Part-time vegetarian" is just inaccurate (you either are or you aren't), and "romantically-inspired herbivore" is just a mouthful. "Undercover flexitarian" has a certain sense of cool to it, but then some people probably find such behavior anything but cool. I'd love to hear readers' suggestions for more appropriate terminology.

Ultimately there's no easy term for such a habit, and it's no easy concept to discuss. Whether "cheatatarianism" is just an amusing manifestation of our search for ethical eating, and the moral ambiguity of what those ethics are, or whether it is an absolute abomination will depend on the people in question. Some vegans and vegetarians will no doubt be disgusted at the concept of their partner eating meat—and if they've been open about it from the start, then sneaking around is just plain wrong. Others, most likely, would just rather not think about it, see it, or know about it. And then there are those who came to veganism/vegetarianism after the relationship started—in which case, can we really expect our partners to follow suit?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of cheatatarianism are, we know it happens. Maybe it's time we started talking about it. And maybe giving it a name will help.

UPDATE: Christine, another fellow TreeHugger also suggested a term for the significant other whose veggie principles are being cheated: ground c(h)uckhold...

More on Vegetarianism, Veganism and Meat
Vegan Organic Agriculture: Is Your Carrot Really Vegan?
Cows and Climate Change
How Eating Meat Could Help Slow Climate Change
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet

Related Content on