If you’re judging compatibility solely by diet, Ben and I shouldn’t have made it past our first meal. I am allergic to nuts and sesame; Ben is vegan. My fridge almost always contained four different cheeses; his cabinets were stocked with trail mix and tahini. The overlap in the Venn diagram of our diets was razor-thin—and yet, we began a friendship by cooking together.
On a Tuesday night in October, Ben invited me over to cook for the first time. I had moved to Birmingham, Alabama five months prior for a writing job at a lifestyle magazine and had yet to make any real friends (aside from my roommate). Ben and I had met on a camping trip, when I’d spontaneously joined a group of friendly strangers for a weekend of hiking up waterfalls and floating down rivers. Over a jar of pickled okra, Ben and I discovered our shared passion for cooking, and I discovered my soft spot for a blue-eyed boy who wore goggles to swim.
Related: The Things We Eat for Others
That night at his place, we made falafel and green beans and tomato confit. As he pressed his thumb into a cherry tomato, I asked how he’d become vegan. He said it started as a bet. “Me and my friend were gonna see if we could do it for a month, and it wasn’t that bad,” he said, shrugging. “But I make some exceptions.”
He pulled up a manifesto on his laptop–three pages he’d written outlining occasions when it was acceptable to break from veganism.
There was the When in Rome clause—“When I’m somewhere that’s known for a certain food, I’m going to eat it”—and the Home Cooking clause—“If you’re a guest in someone’s home, it would be rude to turn down food someone has prepared for you”—and a slew of others, all focused on making veganism more accessible. I looked at him in his half-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and the whole thing felt unbelievable; not untruthful, but extraordinary. He felt extraordinary.