There are more vegans now than ever before. That's not a statement based off scare stories by the Big Meat lobby, or the literally millions of #vegan photos on Instagram, or the fact you definitely see more vegans publicly proselytising than you did even five years ago; it's fact. In May of this year, The Vegan Society commissioned research that found there are over half a million vegans in Great Britain, three-and-a-half times as many as estimated in 2006.
And with so many people living the vegan lifestyle, there have – of course – been ramifications when it comes to the way they date. The term "vegansexualism" first emerged in 2007, when a study in New Zealand found that the majority of vegans interviewed would prefer to date or have sex with other vegans. Some claimed to have little or no problem being intimate with non-vegans, but those who did saw their veganism as such a strong part of their identity that they needed to be with like-minded partners to make the relationship work.
Almost ten years after the study was conducted, and with this recent proliferation of vegans in the UK, I wanted to find out if and how vegansexualism had progressed.
First off I spoke to Kirilee, a vegan of eight years. "I wasn't always a vegan, and everyone is on their own journey," she said. "However, I wouldn't continue to be involved with someone who isn't open to the idea of becoming vegan and doesn't show compassion towards animals. You usually know pretty early on."
She then summed up the problem she faces when describing why this is an issue for her: "It's simpler to say that, typically, an environmentalist wouldn't be involved with a coal miner. A lot more people seem to understand that concept, but when it comes down to 'diet' and animals, things start to be a bit confusing."
"[Being vegan] made things like going out to dinner a little bit tougher, especially when their family was also involved – it often meant compromising what I wanted to eat and settling for a salad," said Ben, who was vegan for several years, when I asked him how his diet affected his relationships. "I also wasn't overly keen on kissing after meaty meals."
So far, so understandable. And as yet, the views of the people I'd spoken to were much the same as those interviewed in the original New Zealand study.
The research – conducted by Dr Annie Potts, Co-Director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies at the University of Canterbury – surveyed 157 vegans, 120 of whom were female. Sixty-three percent stated that, like Kirilee, they had (or would want) a partner who was also concerned for animals in the way they were.
The opinions of the people interviewed varied, but were mostly pretty straightforward. A 21-year-old vegan woman, for example, said: "My beliefs about animals have affected my relationship with my partner greatly. I have seriously considered leaving my fiancée to work with animals – he does not share my views – and we are still struggling." Whereas aman commented: "I could be in a relationship with any non-vegan. My belief is it is best to lead by example rather than preaching my personal views."
However, some were a little more militant. One 41-year-old woman likened non-vegan bodies to a cemetery for their previous meals: "I would not want to be intimate with someone whose body is literally made up from the bodies of others who have died for their sustenance," she said. "Non-vegetarian bodies smell different to me – they are, after all, literally sustained through carcasses, the murdered flesh of others. Even though I might find someone really attractive, I wouldn't want to get close to them in a physical sense if their body was derived from meat. For me, this constitutes my very personal form of ethical sexuality."
A study in the Czech Republic assessed the effect of red meat consumption on body odour attractiveness. The conclusion? Those on a non-meat diet were "judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant and less intense". So there you have it – in the same way a devout non-smoker might liken kissing a smoker to "pashing an ashtray", perhaps those dedicated to their dietary beliefs are just more sensitive to bodily odours than others.
But does that have to get in the way, when – for instance – two people see eye to eye on everything but meat? I asked Kirilee what advice she would have for a new couple, when one person is a vegan and the other isn't. "Grow?" she laughed. "If you walk into a party and start throwing glass, no one is going to stay to dance. Be open with one another – you have shared different experiences in life that have brought you to the place you are now in your life."
This year, SpeedDater.co.uk launched Veggie/Vegan Speed Dating, so there's obviously enough demand out there for vegans and veggies looking for like-minded partners. In fact, a SpeedDater survey found that 56 percent of vegetarians and vegans "said they would be put off dating a meat eater" – a similar percentage to the New Zealand study.
The Vegan Society also holds a regular event called The London Vegan Meetup – a free social group for vegans and the vegan-curious. I spoke to Robb Masters, who took over management of the event in 2011, when the group had 750 members. Now, it's at almost 6,000.
"We know that some members have met their partners at London Vegan Meetup," he said. "We've even held a few singles events, and know of at least four marriages that have resulted from people meeting at our events. But we're very keen to emphasise that it isn't a dating group: we don't want people to come to our events in order to hit on each other. So, last December, we launched the London Vegan Singles group on Facebook. That now has over 500 members, with occasional 'single mingles', and we've had a few success stories there too."
So it appears that while the number of vegans might have grown, there hasn't exactly been a huge surge of "vegansexuals". And perhaps that's unsurprising: after all, just because you don't want to eat meat, doesn't mean you have shut out anyone who does.
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