Can One Marriage Sustain Two Diets?

Once upon a time, two people meet and get sweet on each other. They both like movies, books and many other items on the dating checklist which gets longer as one inches closer to middle age.

But aside from politics, manners and clean fingernails, she needs to ascertain one important criterion before plunging deeper into this relationship: Is he a good eater?

In this case, "good" means adventurous, open-minded and willing to try everything on the plate at least once. She shakes her head, thinking of the guy who added ketchup to all his food and then there was the ungrateful punk who had the nerve to critique the get-well soup she lovingly prepared and traveled across town to deliver. Harrumph.

Many meals and relationship hurdles later, the two lovebirds decide to get married. She cooks; he eats and cleans up -- and starts to pack on the pounds.

One day, in an effort to jump start weight loss and more mindful eating (or perhaps mindful restraint), he announces he's going on a vegan diet. "That's right," he proclaims. "No meat, dairy and eggs for a whole month. I'll never climb Mount Everest, but I think I can do this," he says while polishing off an extra helping of London broil.

The wife applauds his initiative and lends her support. "Hey, this is why I married the guy," she says to herself. "He's a good eater."

And so the vegan experiment at Casa Mighty Appetite begins. Mister assures Missus that she needn't make him anything special, that he will cook for himself.

Over the course of the next four days, there would be many trips to Whole Foods, My Organic Market and the neighborhood farmer's market. There was much label reading being done, and a hunt for products (rather than ingredients) ensued. But not one cookbook was cracked open.

The cabinets now filled to the gills with bags and boxes of vegan-friendly vittles, Mister Mighty Appetite set out on his solo kitchen adventure, while his other half waited for her turn in the kitchen. It was becoming the "His 'n' Her Meals" cooking show.

Along with the staggered cooking came dining alone. And on the fourth day, while I fixed myself an egg with some fresh chives and Mister MA tucked into a soy-cheese sandwich with warmed up marinara sauce, I came to an important realization: We had stopped sharing our time in the kitchen and at the table, which meant we had stopped spending our only free time together.

The moral of this story is NOT that going vegan is a bad thing guaranteed to ruin a marriage. Not by a long shot. In spite of its short life, the experiment succeeded in asking lots of questions -- how can a couple with differing diets peacefully cook and eat together? And what if one person wants to change the eating status quo -- what steps need to be taken to maintain balance and equity in a relationship?

Maybe two is better than one and I should have joined the old boy in his vegan adventure. Maybe not.

Maybe he should have asked me to teach him a few vegan recipes to bridge the gap and include me on his journey.

And MAYBE we both should have pushed each other to keep going for the remaining 26 days, to use it as an opportunity for palate expansion and contraction -- with a little humility thrown in for good measure.

One thing's for sure -- I married a good eater, and I'm proud of him for walking the vegan walk, even if it only lasted for four days. I'm betting there will be a next time, for at least twice as long, and perhaps he'll have a vegan co-pilot to help navigate the terrain.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 10, 2007; 11:11 AM ET Relationships
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This just confirms my suspicion that going vegan may feel like an individual choice, but in a joint household, it has community ramifications.

Maybe your betrothed can go in stages, and you can share some recipes about how to first reduce the red meat in a diet, and take it from there...

Posted by: Mr. McG | July 10, 2007 12:01 PM

Is he reading your chats, esp. the vegetarian ones? You have provided such a resource; there are so many perfectly natural vegan options that Mr. Mighty Appetite should never have to stoop to soy cheese (yeesh!).

Of course, you don't want to patronize him, either...

Posted by: Reine de Saba | July 10, 2007 12:18 PM

It is much easier when the primary cook in the family is the one to go on the diet. When I started going low-carb a la South Beach, the hubby and kids went right along for the ride and haven't complained too much. I do occassionally make them smashed potatoes but I have converted them, for the most part, to whole wheat pasta. When they start doing the majority of the cooking then they can make the decisions!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2007 12:50 PM

When my husband decided to go vegetarian (not vegan, but still a reach), I went with him. I've since backslid and eat meat when I'm out with friends, but we keep veggie at home. I may have lost some things, but I feel like we gained enough to compensate. We're both better cooks, we've explored different cuisines, and we're more sensitive to our friends' dietary needs (veggie, vegan, kosher, gluten-free, allergies, etc.).

Posted by: midgers | July 10, 2007 12:51 PM

I don't understand, Kim -- why did he quit after four days?

Posted by: anon | July 10, 2007 1:21 PM

I think it's true that it's easier when it's the cook who has the unique dietary requirements. I'm a vegetarian, the boyfriend is not, but I do most of the cooking and, luckily, he eats pretty much everything, including some entirely failed experiments I don't like to dwell on. Since we've been together he eats mostly vegetarian food himself, since when I'm not there he often cooks things that he's learned from me--though he still buys meat occasionally and usually gets it when we eat out.

Posted by: thistle | July 10, 2007 1:22 PM

Anon, he says he quit because he was feeling constantly hungry and craving meat. That I know is part of the adjustment period and also in part due to the fact that he wasn't investing the time to explore recipes and get creative. He said he could easily do without meat but was having a hard time with cheese in particular. He was starting to feel a bit isolated as well; for example, we were invited to a dinner party over the weekend, and the menu included options for omnivores and vegetarians but not vegans. Next time, I think he'll plan a bit better so that it doesn't feel like such a chore.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 10, 2007 1:34 PM

As a vegetarian living with a meat and potatoes partner, I understand. It would not be a problem, except partner will let nary a bean or pea pass her lips. No tofu(stomach issues), no TVP. The most we eat together is pasta and pierogi. We are making progress with quinoa. She will never give up meat, I would like to try veganism. I am sure that would not work. Yes, it is tough.

Posted by: Budd Lake NJ | July 10, 2007 1:39 PM

Sometimes it helps to have a main veggie dish for one person, used in smaller portion with a piece of meat for the other person. Or, have the same veggie, salad, and grain, with different proteins. The entire meals don't need to be separate. (Although I've never tried a strict vegan diet, I would think you could do the same.)

Also - making larger portions on alternating nights (2 servings of meat one night; a larger veggie dish another night), part of the dinner can be leftovers which simplifies.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2007 2:56 PM

I agree; His 'n' Hers meals takes a lot of special "couple time" out of the day.

Why doesn't he fix an extra portion of his meal for you on alternate days, and you cook a vegan meal (with maybe a non-vegan side) on the others? I also found it was useful to watch my weight simply by watching my portions. I'd cook as normal, but take a smaller portion. I've noticed that smaller changes to diet (portions) are easier to stick to than big changes (cutting out entire food groups).

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | July 10, 2007 3:38 PM

What's the purpose of vegan, anyway? Milk, eggs and cheese don't harm animals like the slaughter for meat can hurt them. Apparently going vegetarian or vegan isn't closing down the slaughterhouses -- just look at the amount of meat consumed by fast food restaurants alone. Not to mention steak houses and private homes. Famous Dave's, KFC and Outback alone are enough to keep the stockyards filled.

I can go for weeks on vegetarian, especially during summer. But I can't cut out dairy and eggs. I live on yogurt, omelettes and cheese.

Posted by: Northwest DC | July 10, 2007 3:49 PM

My husband and I eat very differently. If he never has a vegetable pass his lips, he would be a happy man. I, on the other hand, think that its important to eat vegetables for my health.

I have mostly let him get away with not eating very many vegetables because that is a fight I will never win. Instead, we eat two different meals based on the same base dish.

I will cook up some meat dish (usually in the crock pot) that has some kind of sauce that I think I can eat cold. We then make rice or potatoes for him. I throw together a salad and put some meat and sauce on top. I make him a plate with meat/sauce rice/potatoes and some type of vegetable like cucumbers or tomatoes that he likes and we eat like that. Some dishes, we have no problems eating together including vegetable dishes but he just wants to eat meat more than I do.

Its possible but you need to be creative and flexible.

Posted by: Billie | July 10, 2007 3:53 PM

My house is like thistle's -- I'm a vegetarian, but my husband is not. I do nearly all of the cooking and prefer to keep a vegetarian kitchen, but the rule at our house is that if he wants meat, he can buy it and cook it. We've had this "rule" for about a year, maybe more, and he hasn't complained, and is not interested in cooking. I'm lucky, though, that he is an adventurous eater (aside from tofu and tempe) who gives honest criticism. I do have to say, though, that I dated a picky eater in college, and it was frustrating. It would have never worked.

Posted by: Troylet | July 10, 2007 4:01 PM

I have a no-wheat diet because of a genetic disease, but like others have found that it's easiest on the household when the main cook (me) is the one with the special needs. My husband eats what is put in front of him (happily) and trouble only occurs when he's craving pizza.

He refuses to order it because he feels bad that I can't join in the meal. (Yes, I have a lovely husband)

So, I can definately agree that having a seperate diet can affect the whole household. Eating is a communal activity whether we think of it that way or not.

Posted by: Seattle | July 10, 2007 4:08 PM

One of the hardest things I've done as the primary cook in the family was cook for DH's family while we were living with them (MIL and FIL don't really cook and would eat take-out 7 days a week if they could). The problem was this: they're Italian, so food is family. The idea of our cooking a meal separate from theirs just does not fly with them, and that's fine with me. The problem I had was the endless stream of "I don't likes"...MIL won't eat soy or pork, FIL won't eat fish, we didn't eat much red meat (none now).

In the end, my solution was to cook whatever the heck I wanted, and you could eat happily, eat whinily or go hungry.

Posted by: librarylady | July 10, 2007 4:24 PM

"What's the purpose of vegan, anyway? Milk, eggs and cheese don't harm animals like the slaughter for meat can hurt them."

That's not true at all. Some of the most terrifying things being done to animals are done in the pursuit of eggs and dairy products. The animals are not treated very well because they are being manipulated to maximize their output, not their health. There are some really bad examples of factory-like henhouses where chickens are kept in cages in which they cannot turn around. They are kept in a sustained misery as long as they produce, which might even be grosser and more cruel than killing animals for meat when they are old enough.

Posted by: martha | July 10, 2007 7:47 PM

I feel that vegan/non-vegan couples has only become an issue in recent years. In this day, there's an intermingling of cultures (values and eating habits), plus an awareness of where food comes from. Since I can't look to past generations for guidance, it's a tricky subject.

I usually eat vegan for health and environmental reasons. Occasionally, I'll eat animal products, especially in social settings. I'd hate to refuse a meal and the company just because it wasn't vegan. My family's not vegetarian (although they eat healthily), so when I go home, I eat what's available. Sometimes I eat plant protein (soy milk, beans) before a non-vegan meal, but when you're in New Orleans for a week, what are you going to do? Besides, it's hard to make a tasty dessert without butter or eggs.

If your husband needs vegan meal ideas, I love Venturesome Vegetarian Cooking by J.M. Hirsch. Everything is easy, tasty and inventive.

Posted by: Jessica "Su Good Eats" | July 10, 2007 11:11 PM

Jessica, try Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the Planet by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. You won't miss the butter or eggs.

Posted by: Molly | July 11, 2007 9:43 AM

Actually, it's possible to have two cooks in the kitchen at the same time - even a small kitchen. Just requires cooperation :) and some duplicates of items like cutting boards and knives.

An overnight change in eating habits is virtually impossible for most people to pull off successfully.

It's much easier to make one small change at a time, and let those small changes accumulate into what eventually adds up to a major lifestyle change.

For example: today, for dinner, don't eat red meat. Repeat this for a few days to a few weeks to a few months. Then, make another change. Give each change plenty of time to be fully assimilated before you make the next one.

After all, life's a marathon, not a sprint, right?

Posted by: Leslie | July 11, 2007 3:18 PM

Hi Molly, I tried Vegan Cupcakes. I thought they were very good for vegan but not necessarily the best overall.

Posted by: Jessica "Su Good Eats" | July 11, 2007 9:33 PM

This is a very frustrating post for me to read. As the primary cook, I am interested in trying new things, recipes, techniques and ingredients and would love to share time or even a passing interest with my DEAREST HUSBAND in the kitchen, but he has no desire. Worse yet, some dishes that I make he quietly requests that I never, ever make again. I'm left with cooking for me, modifying or cooking for him from scratch, cooking for our toddler (2 1/2), and of course the baby (10 mos.) needs pureed things right now. Or I can open a box of mac and cheese and at least feed three of us with one meal; otherwise, I am pretty much making 1-4 different meals for each meal of the day.

Oh, and I get all of the clean-up too. Don't know how to negotiate out of this entire situation graciously! Keep your head with Mr. Kim and just keep trying...

Posted by: hearing you | July 13, 2007 11:04 PM

My husband went vegetarian a few years ago. I really will eat anything but was prepared to kowtow to his fussiness!!! (I know that statement will upset some people but there is so much wonderful food available, I find it really boring when people follow fad diets, but each to his own.)
As he was low in iron after a few years I insisted that he eats meat at least once a week. This has been a good compromise and means I don't have to cook 2 different meals every night. I might sound a bit selfish but he doesn'tcook at all.

Posted by: gilli | July 17, 2007 12:10 AM

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