"I wanted us all to eat the same thing for pragmatic, household economy reasons, but also because that's part of being a family."
-Jean Benson, whose husband Steve became a vegetarian after 19 years of marriage-
"If you can't allow your partner to have latitude in what he or she eats, then maybe your problem isn't about food."
-Susan Jaffe, Manhattan psychiatrist-
"My husband started eating meat again after a 7-year hiatus as an ethically motivated and health-conscious vegetarian. A year ago we came to a compromise: I would eat less meat--choosing mostly beef, pork and poultry produced by local California ranchers without the use of hormones or antibiotics--and he would indulge me by sharing a steak on occasion."
-Christine Lennon, from "Why Vegetarians are Eating Meat" in Food & Wine-
The new Mixed Marriage isn't about religion or race, it's all about food. There are a lot of these "inter-dietary couples" around these days, even among some of my best friends. The most difficult ones occur when you thought you married a meat-eating foodie and he or she ends up becoming a vegetarian--or worse--a vegan. It's tough when you and your spouse aren't in agreement about what to eat for dinner. It's no fun to eat an artisanal triple cream brie alone. Or bake a praline cheesecake or braised short ribs that your spouse won't even taste. Who wants to experiment with a new recipe when you're the only one who's going to partake? Not me! As Kate Murphy writes in her New York Times article, "I Love You, but You Eat Meat":
"Sharing meals has always been an important courtship ritual and a metaphor for love. But in an age when many people define themselves by what they will eat and what they won't, dietary differences can put a strain on a romantic relationship."
Dr. Kathryn Zerbe agrees. "Food has a strong link to love. That is why refusing a partner's food can feel like a rejection."
So what happens when your "same-diet-as-you" spouse switches teams after marriage?
The hardest part is cooking dinner. Everyone can make their own breakfast or lunch. But, dinner? Who wants to be a short-order cook, or succumb to an every man for himself attitude?
I started to think about all this recently, when my friend Annie said she'd just about had it with her meat and potatoes loving husband. She's not a vegetarian, but she's become health conscious. This creative cook is fed up with cooking & eating his boring meat meals, when he won't even try her healthy ones. She often cooks 2 separate meals (he doesn't cook) and not only does it result in a lot of work, she ends up eating too much.
True Mixed Marriage Confessions. Twice over the course of 37 years my husband decided to go 100% vegetarian--long before Boca Burgers & Whole Foods could make it easier. It got old real fast, for me, the chief cook. Since I only wanted to cook one meal--it felt confining--the meal prep took too long & eating at friends' houses & at restaurants meant pasta or salads. He jumped ship once when he started to crave thick corned beef sandwiches, and then again for visions of tuna fish sandwiches. Thank goodness!
He who cooks can call the shots--sometimes. Lee's an "after-marriage vegetarian" who cooks, married to a meat-eater who's quite happy to eat his vegetarian meals. Tess can get her meat-fix at lunch, and besides, Lee is quite happy to cook meat, as long as he doesn't have to eat it. He roasts the Thanksgiving turkey & cooks the holiday brisket.
It's called "Changing Your Taste Preferences" and it will work, if you give it a chance. Maybe with a little creative cooking and willingness on the part of your partner, you just might change his or her taste for a meat or fat or even for strictly vegetarian fare. I'm from a meat-at-every-meal-no-vegetables-but-iceberg-lettuce-or-canned-peas family. I routinely ate cookies and coffee lightened with vanilla ice cream for breakfast in my "salad days". Today my eating follows the Pareto Principle's 80/20 rule. 80% vegetarian, 20% fish/poultry. Meat on rare occasions.
I can honestly say, my tastes have radically changed! I wouldn't have believed that one day I would love whole grains, beets, kale, quinoa, tempeh, and green smoothies. And last Thursday's "grilled to perfection" Old Chicago hot dog started to taste like a "big mistake" half way through eating it. The same goes for former-favorites like barbequed ribs and Burger King.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the 70-something nutrition researcher who grew up on a dairy farm, and is now a compelling advocate for eating vegan, says that one's food tastes can change in as little as 3 or 4 months.
I see several very significant findings in Dr. Esselstyn's study. First, remember that these patients consumed a very low-fat diet quite comfortably for a very long period of time. How so? Primarily, by changing their taste preferences. This is a very important point seldom mentioned when speaking about these diets. Namely, if you switch from a high-fat diet to a low-fat diet, your initial response may at first be "Yuk!" However, if you exercise a little patience for, perhaps, three to four months, your taste preferences will change. You'll then prefer your new low-fat diet over your old high-fat diet. When, in addition, your health improves and you start feeling better, you're on your way to a lifetime of healthier eating habits. If you're like most people, you'll begin to wonder how you could possibly have eaten that greasy stuff in the past. Dr. Esselstyn reported that his patients lost their craving for meat and fat, and "can now travel away from home for weeks at a time while still adhering to the diet."
Even son #2 started eating my vegetarian dinners this summer. I hold him up as the standard bearer--if he could learn to like Quinoa with Black Beans and Mango, or Asian Noodle Salad with Mango, then there's hope for the most recalcitrant meat-eater.
How about the Omnivore's Solution? According to Christine Lennon, a meat-eater married to a vegetarian who recently turned omnivore, "about a dozen in our circle have recently converted from vegetarianism, eating sustainable meat purchased from small farmers." Michael Pollan, the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" has started a mini-revolution--giving the OK to eat meat--sometimes, with his motto: "Eat Food. Not much. Mostly Plants." And just to be clear, he's talking ethically-raised, grass-fed, no-hormones, no-antibiotics, no-factory-farms!
With the recent movement toward locally "grass fed" and "pasture-raised" cattle, meat-eating can be looked on as an ethical, environmental, and healthy practice. Grass-fed cows are lower in fat, higher in the healthy omega-3's and far better for you than the manufactured fake soy foods that many vegetarians end up eating. According to Ashley Koff, a Los Angeles registered dietitian:
A few famous vegetarians are giving animal protein a second look, as well. Mariel Hemingway says, "I was a vegan for 16 years, and I truly believed I was doing the right thing for my health. But when I was vegan, I was super-weak. I love animals, and we should not support anything but ethical ranching, but when I eat meat, I feel more grounded. I have more energy."
And even Mollie Katzen, the original Moosewood Cookbook author is experimenting a little with meat after 30 years.
We do what we can to bring everyone to the table. There can be something for everyone, a little fish, a little Black Bean Lasagna, a little gluten-free Quinoa casserole, a little cage-free turkey, a little wine, and don't forget a Big Salad. No one way is the best for everyone. It's all about breaking bread together, isn't it?