The delicate dance of what is for dinner and who will make it can be a point of contention in romantic relationships, especially when the two parties have different beliefs. As a vegan I was forced to face this dilemma head on when I dated an omnivore, but with understanding and accommodation, my girlfriend and I successfully navigated the murky situation and I was able to try a slue of new and interesting home cooked meals. I learned that romanticism doesn’t have to suffer from kitchen-based quagmires, and in the end it can be a blessing of mutual discovery and understanding.
I first officially met Alisha Mowder in Allston at a punk show in some dingy basement with low ceilings. A band’s set just ended and most of the attendees huddled in their respective social cliques outside in the backyard, surrounded by snow but warmed by High Life and cheap forty-ounces of malt liquor. I pointed Alisha out to a friend and mentioned how I thought she was cute, but being a human whose list of fears include rejection, I resigned myself to sneak furtive glances at her while doing my best not to be the creepy guy who stares. Thanks to my goading friend, she eventually approached me and gave me her number. With a bit of facebook finagling, reverse psychology and a great deal of patience, I secured a date with her. I brought her out to eat at My Thai, a vegan Thai restaurant in Chinatown, and this began a give and take relationship (mostly giving on Alisha’s part) of successful synthesis between an omnivore and an herbivore.
Alisha and I sidestepped the potential diet debacle by preparing dishes that were outside the realm of typical American cuisine. Alisha was born in Japan and her mother who is Japanese taught her how to cook as she came of age across the Pacific, and moved around from Japan to Colorado, New Mexico and finally northern California. This was one of the saving graces of our culinary compatibility; Japanese dishes are traditionally not vegan, but by adding or subtracting a few ingredients they can easily be made so, and dairy issues were easily avoided due to the fact that Alisha is lactose intolerant.
Alisha has made things like mapo tofu, a dish that originated in China but is frequently enjoyed in Japan. Mapo usually has ground beef or chicken, as well as a chili sauce that is flavored with fish. If meat isn’t your thing then just take it out and you are left with a decent tofu dish, and you can also substitute for the chili sauce. Katsu, a method of deep frying with flour, eggs and panko bread crumbs, normally has chicken or pork, but tofu also works, and seitan, tempeh or a variety of mock meats could easily be introduced to the recipe. Alisha was not bonded to the idea of including eggs, so she simply left them out, and nothing drastic changed the composition of the meal. The katsu sauce is vegan, and it kind of tastes like worchestire sauce. She also made simple seaweed soup using water, pre-made dried seaweed salad mix, sesame sauce and soy sauce, and a mean green curry served over rice, made from chunks of potatoes and carrots. I have eaten with ease in Alisha’s presence, due to the fact that she consistently went above and beyond. While one might be tempted to call our differences a conundrum, I came to see that it was an exercise in understanding, and what manifested was a deeper appreciation of her.
Japanese is of course not the only international brand of food that can be veganized. Couples and culinary companions should be eager to branch out from their American enclaves if they want to eat plant-based meals that don’t sacrifice flavor. Alisha and I sampled Ethiopian food at a restaurant in Jamaica Plain called the Blue Nile Café where I ordered the Shiro Wat, which had traditional berbrere sauce and roasted legume flour with ginger and garlic. It was the first time either of us had Ethiopian food, and while we weren’t amazed with the restaurant, sometimes the challenge of pleasing everyone is a great way to experience something new and break up the monotony that might plague a relationship. That challenge can also be extended to the kitchen, and working together to create something plant-based and cruelty-free can be a feat that both parties can revel in. A couple I know recently told me with budding excitement about the great Mexican meal they had prepared for dinner. They concocted tostadas with black beans, chipotles, vegetable stock, turmeric, chili powder, dried parsley, dried thyme, and hot sauce.
When it comes time to go out to eat, mutually beneficial compromises are key. Alisha was rarely opposed to eating vegan food and has joined me at My Thai, Veggie Galaxy and Veggie Planet. As someone who once had an affinity for the carnivorous side of things, I understand that pushing veganism or vegetarianism on anyone is counterproductive and only exacerbates the rift, so if she was in the mood for something with meat I obliged on the conditions that the restaurant have something for me too. Our main spot was the Friendly Toast, a great retro-chic restaurant in the Kendall Square area of Cambridge (also one location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire), that has vegan options. Also, as veganism gains momentum in America, most restaurants are willing to accommodate—The Border Café, a south of the border themed joint in Harvard Square that was one of Alisha’s favorites, has a vegetarian fajita that can be made vegan, and if you ask the manager you can get extra avocado if you choose to subtract the existing dairy from the meal.
Having different diets is no relationship deal breaker, but a positive game changer—an opportunity to work together, experience new things, and practice mutual acceptance. Furthermore, the lessons you learn from this tiny hurdle can be used as a frame of reference to help you and your better half work through any potential friction that might result from diverging beliefs and opinions.
I could not write this article without expressing the much-deserved gratitude I feel towards Alisha and her tendency to accommodate me. I have eaten with ease in her presence and at her dinner table due to the fact that she consistently went above and beyond.
Alisha if you are reading this…thank you. I’ll be seeing you soon, on west coast time.