I have always had a complicated relationship with food. As a kid I liked bread and butter. I liked cheese. I liked mac and cheese. Peas were ok. Even my mother remembers my protests when it came eating meat – “I can’t swallow it,” I argued as I chewed for what seemed like years on a piece of chicken.
My taste for vegetables expanded as I matured and my parents accepted the fact that I would never like, nor comfortably digest, meat. My wonderful and accommodating mom began stocking the freezer with Bocca burgers and other protien substitutes. I was well on my way to becoming a vegetarian.
College brought on a new predicament – the poverty diet. Gone was Mom’s full pantry. Gone were guaranteed dinners that included protein, veggies and a starch. Most importantly, gone was a mother who catered to my picky taste. Forced to eat outside of the box, I discovered a world of flavors and ingredients that I had been too scared to try in the past.
After graduating I gave up all meat with legs (I still ate fish), took interest in our society’s food sources and began researching nutrition while dabbling in low-fat cooking. I was quickly becoming a difficult date – “What do you mean you won’t eat fried chicken fingers? I thought every girl wanted these?” Things only got worse as I learned more. I used to joke with my friends that the man I would marry would be whatever man could accommodate my low fat, high fiber, meat-free diet. “Lots of luck on that one!” they would say.
Then Jay came into my life: a tall and handsome carnivore that found my cooking palatable and never once said “Beans again?” When we moved in together our food boundaries were quickly established. I was not, under any circumstance, to eat a banana in his car as even the smell of bananas makes him nauseous. In return, he was to never serve me chicken, even free range. My fiber-laden sprouted wheat bread was my own business, please don’t make his turkey sandwich with it, and his sausage would never mingle in my sauerkraut. With these and a host of other rules established, life resumed a comfortable pace and everyone was fed.
Last summer I was diagnosed with food allergies – no more dairy, tree nuts or shellfish. This is far more complicated than many realize. The challenge of finding acceptable foods can be frustrating, and emotionally draining. In my eyes this would be the ultimate test of our relationship. Both die-hard foodies, if Jay and I could find compromise and happiness with my sudo vegan life-style and his loyalty to the cow, then we might be a match made in heaven.
Jay led my diet change by helping find cookbooks with recipes that were not only allergy friendly, but also interested him. Together we tried new things – poached tofu, quinoa, TVP, seitan, and more. We scoured the natural food stores in town to locate a chocolate that I can eat, and then stocked up. We adjusted our budget and accepted that the food bill would increase due to the huge amount of fresh fruit I was consuming in effort to stay full. It was truly a team effort unlike anything I have seen a couple tackle outside of child rearing. Together we were traveling down new culinary paths and, dare I say, enjoying the adventure.
Months later I’m pleased to report that Jay and I still live in harmony in the kitchen. Many nights we prepare dinner side-by-side. We eat at the table and discuss the meal – what do we like; what don’t we like; how we could improve the flavor; how to add more protein, calcium or fiber. Most importantly, we realize that the other cannot, and will not, be changed. Simple as a meal may be for some couples, for Jay and I it is the ultimate compromise between tastes, needs and wants and serves as my daily reminder of just how lucky I am.