SEX FILES: ‘Bad Vegan’ a case of indigestion for a vulnerable restaurant owner in the latest Netflix series

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When we meet Sarma Melngailis she is at her best. As the owner of Pure Food and Wine, a premier gourmet vegan restaurant in New York City, she is known for her celebrity clientele and has multiple cookbooks under her belt. She then agrees to marry Anthony Strangis, a special ops officer who promises to immortalize her beloved dog.

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And her life spirals out of control in a dizzying montage of fear, financial crimes and clandestine visits to Chipotle.

What sounds like the plot of a rejected M. Night Shyamalan script is actually the subject Bad veganthe latest scam from Netflixyummy Documentary series that follows in the footsteps of the extremely successful Tinder scammer. And yes, this fever dream tale of love gone awry is as incomprehensible and disturbing as it sounds.

The docu-series currently trending on Netflix has received its fair share of criticism – both for its portrayal of Melngailis and for exploiting women’s pain for profit – and rightly so. However, when I sat down, I looked all four hours Bad vegan, holding an overflowing bowl of Takis Fuego chips, which I didn’t expect was an acute sense of recognition. Every time I heard Strangis abuse and bully Melngailis, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up with uncanny familiarity.

If you look beyond the fancy details of this story, Bad vegan is a textbook example of emotional and financial abuse in a romantic relationship—something I sadly experienced first-hand in my early 20s.

While my ex-boyfriend never went so far as to promise my beloved cat eternal life, he frequently made me pay for things and “borrowed” money that he didn’t want to give back. If I refused, he would berate and belittle me until I gave in. It got to the point where it felt easier to give in than to face his wrath.

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Similar to Melngailis in the documentary series, I couldn’t sleep or eat properly. I did not commit any financial crimes, but I still behaved in ways that alienated and confused those closest to me. I was alone and ashamed. However, because my ex had isolated me from my support network, I felt like I had nowhere to turn.

Such is the insidious nature of coercive control in romantic relationships. Often we don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late.

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While documentaries like Bad vegan and The Tindler scammer are not without problems (namely, that they have scammers like Strangis and The Tindler scammers Simon Leviev, an oversized platform at the expense of their victims), I find helpful when they point out that such behavior is anything but healthy in a relationship.

For starters, a romantic partnership shouldn’t come with any adverse costs—financial or otherwise. While it’s common for partners to share bank accounts and expenses, revealing your personal passwords and financial independence shouldn’t be a condition of the partnership. We are all entitled to autonomy and respect in our personal relationships.

Second, you must be able to have honest conversations about finances with your partner. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you should know exactly what your partner does for a living and where they get their money from. If they can’t be sure about their employment for “top secret reasons,” or if their work seems equal parts vague and too good to be true, these are both important red flags.

It’s also worth noting that if you observe a loved one being particularly secretive about a new relationship or behaving in a way that seems dissimilar to them, make sure you check with them regularly. Remind them that they have a support network in case they need it. When something unpredictable happens, it can mean the difference between staying in a bad situation or quitting for good.

Finally, unless you’re dating a charming taxidermist when your love interest promises to immortalize your pet (for a fee!), run the other way as fast as you can.

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