Whether or not it’s Valentine's Day, it’s not easy for vegan and vegetarian singles to find a like-minded date. But February is the busiest month of the year for Karine Charbonneau, who runs speed-dating events for vegetarian and vegan singles in search of a kindred spirit.
She says the concept for Veg Speed Date grew out of conversations with single friends in Berkeley, who complained they couldn’t find any vegan men in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“That’s crazy. They have to be out there,” Charbonneau recalled saying.
As a vegan event planner, she’d thrown vegan conferences and weddings. But she’d never been to any kind of speed-dating event for vegans and vegetarians.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into,” Charbonneau said.
She says a pair who met at the very first gathering in Berkeley in 2013, later ended up getting married.
The hope of making that kind of connection drew 15 singles to Oblivion Comics & Coffee in downtown Sacramento on a rainy night the week before Valentine’s Day.
"The idea of dating a vegan woman is like the most spectacular thing I could think of,” said Matt Medland, who was hired by Charbonneau to host the Sacramento gathering.
“You don't have to worry about where to go to eat. You don't have to kiss her after she's had a cheeseburger."
Attendee Kevin Mudron said he wanted to experience this kind of social setting because it can be awkward to try to suss out other people’s dietary status when you’re out at a bar.
“It’s hard. You could just run all around and ask people if they're vegan or vegetarian, and look weird, or you can come here,” Mudron said.
Medland had the group divide into pairs and ran a clock on his smart watch. Each pair had five minutes to generate a spark with the person sitting across from them. When time was up, the host stepped in to rotate the men.
“I go up to all the men and I tap them and I say, ‘It's time to move to the next numbered table, and don't skip a number.’”
Medland asked folks not to exchange any personal information during speed dating. (Each attendee will be notified online, later that night, if there is a mutual match.) Watching the speed-daters, Medland senses some nervous energy. He can relate.
“I came from Fresno area … and I felt like I was the only vegan in a sea of people who wanted to make fun of me constantly. I felt so much on the outside,” Medland said.
Since 2013, Charbonneau, who is Canadian, has organized vegetarian-vegan speed dating in dozens of cities in North America. Event tickets run up to $40.
She says the appeal of dating a fellow vegan or vegetarian is not just about what you eat: It's also about a person’s lifestyle and values. “You want your partner to understand and be on the same page when it comes to diet and activities you do. Some [people] find that it works better,” Charbonneau said.
If dating singles are bisexual or seeking a same-gender relationship, there are several options to connect, according to the Find Veg Love site.
Sacramento has an active social community with a vegan Facebook group, vegan meet-ups and events like SacTownVegFest and Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge. The city’s food scene boasts restaurants like Andy Nguyen's and Veg, which cater to vegan customers, and Mother, which has a vegetarian menu. A growing number of upscale restaurants now offer vegan or vegetarian options, as well.
If the Valentine's round of speed dating doesn't yield any hook ups, they'll be other chances for those seeking a veggie connection. Charbonneau plans to run several more events in northern California over the next few months.