Valentine’s Day has come and gone but I’ve still got l’amour on the brain. When you fall in love and get married, you receive lots of unsolicited relationship advice. Couples who have weathered multiple decades together always share the same tenets for a healthy relationship: compromise, communication, and respect. It’s great advice, really. Most problems can be solved so long as you keep these things in mind and keep a clear head.
Of course, we’re living in different times now, and relationship roadblocks are no longer limited to money, sex, and division of household labor. What happens when the person you fall in love with has a radically different diet and the simple act of sharing a meal together becomes an act of congress? Thankfully, it’s not as hard as it sounds. It still comes back to those time tested bits of advice. If you’re vegan and your husband loves pork chops, or if you are gluten-free and your girlfriend potentially loves baguettes more than she loves you, fret not. There’s a way around this. You can stay true to your diet and still have a happily ever after. I’m a vegetarian and my husband is not, yet we manage to share many delicious meals together without killing eachother or sacrificing our preferred diets. It takes a little work, a lot of compromise, and a bit of pre-planning, but it’s possible. Here are some strategies that keep us happy and sane:
Survival Skill #1: Communicate/Educate
Early on in our relationship, I talked to Mark about vegetarianism, what it meant to me, and my reasons for eating a plant-based diet. I tried my best to do it in a non-threatening manner, because I wanted him to understand and respect my decision without resenting me and feeling like he was being pressured to change his own way of eating.
Understanding the reasons behind your partner’s food choices – whether they are medical, ethical, taste preference, or a combination of the three – is an important first step to living in harmony. Ask him/her (with an open mind) why they eat the way they do – their answer may even surprise you. Spend some time researching their diet online – not only will it keep you informed, it will mean a lot to them to see that you are embracing and learning about their choices.
If you are the one with the “different” diet, handle the situation with care – food is an intensely personal thing, and not everyone is ready or willing to revamp their eating habits to align with yours. If you calmly explain your choices while keeping in mind that you can’t change the world (no matter how passionate or informed you are) you’ll make for a more pleasant dining companion.
Survival Skill #2: Respect
Remember when your Mom told you to treat others the way you want to be treated? That’s huge here. If you don’t want to be teased every time you bring a tupperware of veggie burgers to a barbeque, then you can’t berate your husband when he orders up a bacon cheeseburger. Don’t make fun of your spouse for diving into a plate of meatless buffalo wings. There needs to be mutual respect. Each of you is entitled to your choice, even if you think you “know better”. For the sake of your relationship, keep quiet when you don’t have anything nice to say, and hopefully you’ll be treated the same in return.
Survival Skill #3: Compromise
Like with most other conflict/solution scenarios, compromise needs to play a role here in keeping both sides of the couple happy. This can take many forms. It might mean agreeing to eat vegetarian a few nights a week to please your veggie-loving spouse. If you’re vegan, you’ll have to make peace with keeping meat in your refrigerator. When you’re dining out, choose a restaurant with equally appealing options – no one should be expected to be content with a garden salad for dinner (or for that matter, don’t force your honey to fake enthusiasm for those tempeh kebabs, even if you think they are amazing). Have a conversation with eachother about what you both need to feel supported in your chosen diet/lifestyle.
Survival Skill #4: Don’t Try to Change Them
Change can’t be forced. If you strongly believe that your wife would be healthier/happier if she gave up hot dogs, let her come to that decision on her own. Be there to support her, to inform her, but not to relentlessly pressure her. It can be uber-frustrating to watch someone you love make less than ideal diet choices, but you’re not in charge of their life. Chances are, you’re not perfect either, and you wouldn’t like it if they were constantly heckling you about your diet coke addiction, or your crippling weakness for curly fries. Ultimately, those changes need to come from within, or they’ll never last.
One last thing – there are a bunch of cookbooks out there that have recipes to please both the meat-eater and vegetarian in your life. I thought I’d recommend a couple of my favorites (which both – totally coincidentally – happen to be written by instructors at my culinary alma mater, the Natural Gourmet Institute).
The Flexitarian Table by Peter Berley