Friday, May 1, 2009

Living with an Omnivore

One of my favorite vegan blogs is VeganMothering. The young mother of two who started this blog shares, among many other topics, her stories about making the conversion to healthy eating and the impact that this transition has had on her family. I found one of her posts Living with an Omnivore to be especially interesting since my wife is also an omnivore who had to make some significant changes to accommodate my own journey from being a fish-eating vegetarian to an eating style based on high nutrition vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes/beans. I don't consider myself a vegan, even though I don't eat anything coming from animals. But, that's a subject for another post. Many of VeganMother's experiences with living with an omnivore are similar to mine, but I do have some additional thoughts.

My wife and I have known each other for over 23 years, and been married for 22 years. We met while I was a bachelor Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Yes, she was one of my students, although she is only 7 years younger. We married a year after we met. When we first started dating, I was a vegetarian, although occasionally I would eat fish. So, right from the start she had to deal with my offbeat eating style.

Before we married she would cook me wonderful meals and maybe add some meat and/or dairy to her meal. My wife is a wonderful cook who really enjoys the kitchen. She has been cooking for many years and is (I hope) challenged by crafting meals to meet my changing eating styles over the years. It would be harder for me to enjoy eating healthy foods if it weren't for her skill in the kitchen. She has hundreds of recipes that have been created just to meet my dietary needs.

During the past two years or so I have made significant changes, which have challenged her even more. I no longer want any oil added to meals. I have also eliminated added salt and want anything out of a can to be low salt or salt free. I ate dairy for the first 19 years of our marriage and for the past couple of years she has eliminated all dairy from my meals, although not from hers. She has made these changes without complaining and I would say could rival Mary McDougall (Dr. McDougall's wife) or Lisa Fuhrman (Dr. Fuhrman's wife) as a health oriented cook.

It is really great being able to enjoy her wonderful recipe creations almost every evening. I am pretty much on my own for breakfast and lunch (when I eat lunch). I usually eat a late breakfast, maybe snack a little between breakfast and dinner. My wife and I may have 'similar' dinners. The meal is often centered around a vegetable based dish and then she will add what she wants to the base dish. For example, if she cooks rice, tofu, and vegetables for me, she will often add some baked fish to her meal. Tonight she made a wonderful tomato sauce with whole wheat pasta and we had the same meal. Sometimes we do eat separate dinners. She often (3-4 times per week) makes a delicious high nutrition vegetable soup for me, adds some whole wheat pita bread or maybe whole grain bread and will cook some fish or chicken and vegetables for herself. My wife eats almost no junk food and shuns most processed food, especially sodas and colas and the like.

Eating out has presented some challenges for both of us. Here my wife has had to make some significant additional sacrifices in that there are many classes of restaurant that I try to avoid, namely fish houses, steak houses, and Italian restaurants (too much salt and olive oil in everything). She will go to those types of restaurants with friends when I am not present, but since most of her restaurant meals are with me, she has had to stay away from some restaurants that I am sure she would like to go to more frequently. I vastly prefer Asian restaurants and fortunately my wife also loves Thai, Japanese and Vietnamise cuisine. We like Chinese food less well, but I can often order a nice steamed vegetable and rice dish at a Chinese restaurant. When we eat out, she often makes helpful suggestions to ease my way to a healthy meal.

I prefer to eat at home because finding a suitable meal in a restaurant is a real hassle. I often don't succeed and have to make substantial sacrifices to my preferred eating style. When we go out with friends, unfortunately some of the conversation is invariably focused on my 'strange' eating, when I imagine my wife would prefer to talk about something else. Also, I have been known to be quite demanding with waiters, which I am sure embarrases those with whom I am dining, including my wife.

But, again, she has been very supportive and this shows up again when we are invited to a friend's home for dinner. My wife will usually have a long conversation with our hostess, explaining what I eat and what I won't eat. Recently, for example, two of my wife's friends have gone out of their way to create meals that satisfies my needs. They don't always succeed 100%, but I am very grateful for the effort. My attitude is to do the best I can in restaurants and at other people's homes without being too difficult or compulsive. I am mostly a perfectionist at home, where I eat 95% of my meals. Out of the home, again, I do the best I can.

Although my wife and son, who is away at college for most of the year, are both omnivores, it is my hope that my 'example' has been good for them. I have tried to be a good nutrition 'role model' for family and friends. I walk a fine line between that role and being a more aggressive navigator, trying to lead people to a healthier lifestyle. I probably get more 'preachy' than I should on occasion. My wife usually reminds me when I cross the line in this regard.

I sincerely wish that my whole family would eat a whole foods plant based diet, as I do. But, it hasn't happened and it may never happen, although my oldest son, who lives in Boston and has his own family, has moved to a much more plant based diet. Everyone else, my wife and my other two sons, are omnivores. My wife eats a generally healthy diet, within the constraints of being an omnivore, but my youngest son has a long ways to go to approach healthy eating. It is my hope that my example will rub off on him sometime in the future. I won't hold my breath. I have been a vegetarian his entire life, but he has shown no inclination to emulate me, at least in that regard.

Would I prefer to have my wife eat like I do. Yes. But, we have a very workable situation where we are mutually supportive, don't pass judgement, don't preach (well, most of the time) and leave the other room to be him(her) self. If I were to be more aggressive in trying to convert either my wife or sons, my efforts would undoubtedly backfire. "Live and Let Live" is my motto.

But, again, my wife has gone beyond the call of duty to be not only supportive of my eating style but a real ally in that her cooking is both 'on program' and delicious.


kneecap said...

Your wife sounds great. It's nice that she accommodates you and is a great cook too. It would be interesting to hear her side of the story too. :)

Howard Veit said...

I think she would say it has been difficult. She loves to travel, for example, and thinks that my eating style inhibits our travel. There is some truth to that. Maybe I'll ask her to comment.

Claire said...

I am facing this same thing, though as the wife and cook, I plan on gradually introducing non-meat based meals so that my husband will come along eventually. He doesn't seem to think that will ever happen, but I have to try. :)

My dd (14yo) has proven to be highly sensitive to any all gives her a headache, one of which lasted four months, poor kid. So, we are moving towards a vegan diet (though I don't like the political side of that term) for her health, and mine.