Mixed marriages

February 14, 2008 | Original NSS

Today being St. Valentine’s Day and this being a somewhat spiritually focused blog, you’re probably thinking I’m going to talk about interfaith marriages. Sorry. In my book, mixed marriages are not about your God vs. my God but about your food vs. my food. And, trust me, when you’ve got a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore on one side and a meat-turns-my-stomach former vegetarian on the other, every meal can become an opportunity for conversion — or a cause for consternation.

Although this is not a new topic in our house, the discussion was reignited yesterday when The New York Times ran a great piece on this subject, “I Love You, But You Love Meat,” just in time for the year’s most romantic holiday. Dennis and I live in such a mixed marriage, although I am no longer an orthodox vegetarian. I’m not even a reform vegetarian. I am a sometimes vegetarian. But let’s go back to the beginning, when my being a vegetarian was seen as charming and intriguing…

Fifteen years ago today, Dennis and I went out for Valentine’s Day for the first time — to the amazing Cloisters in New York City followed by an equally amazing dinner at Dominic’s in the Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx. At the time I was midway way through my decade as a true vegetarian. I never ventured near vegan, but I was pretty hard core as a “lacto-ovo,” something that developed when I was studying yoga.

During the early days of our courtship and marriage, my vegetarianism was taken in stride. Dennis ate meat when we were in restaurants, but at home meat entered the house only on Thanksgiving. He developed a taste for tofu cutlets and couscous and meals without the main course, at least in his eyes. Then during the second half of my first pregnancy, Dennis decided to make “chicken-less” chicken soup, which means he made a chicken broth but removed all traces of the meat that flavored it. I saw the bowl of boiled chicken on the counter and that weird pregnancy craving thing kicked in. I had to have it. That was the beginning of the end. I have not been a vegetarian since, although, as I tell the kids, I would be in a heartbeat if I wasn’t cooking for a table full of carnivores.

In the past few years, the great meat divide has widened a bit. Dennis and I have actually have multiple arguments about meat. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. I just hate it and he just loves it, and it makes him so sad that I don’t enjoy a juicy, looks-like-it’s-still living, steak. This is a guy who asked for a digital meat thermometer for Christmas and who recently had to leave Bed, Bath and Beyond without the cast iron grill pan he desperately wanted because he had given up buying unnecessary things for Lent. So when I say he loves meat, I  mean he LOVES meat.

And I make meat — many nights, although if anyone is waiting for me to clean a turkey, they’re never going to get their Thanksgiving dinner. I can only handle certain kinds of meat, and even then I usually end the cooking process by saying, “One more reason to be a vegetarian.” I’m constantly threatening to go back to my old ways and take all of them with me.

When Dennis isn’t going to be around for dinner, I see it as an opportunity to make a simple meal of pasta and peas, or, if the kids are out with him, just a big bowl of popcorn. Conversely, if I’m going to be out, Dennis begins planning a week in advance, weighing the pros and cons of which kind of meat he will make, how he will cook it, what he will serve with  it. Even though he can have meat any night of the week I guess having me sitting there cutting away sections that look icky or pushing it around my plate like a 2-year-old puts a damper on his fun.

As with all things in marriage, we have learned to make compromises when it comes to our food diversions. I can deal with chicken and some pork. And Dennis loves most of the meatless meals I make, and I make a lot of them. In fact, tonight, for Valentine’s Day, I will be making Soba Noodle Soup, which is teeming with buckwheat noodles, tofu, edamame (soy beans) and shiitake mushrooms, a dish that Dennis considers a treat. If that ain’t true love, I don’t know what is.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie.

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