Monday, August 15, 2016

When Vegans and Omnivores Collide

I became a vegetarian around age 17 and a vegan around age 26 and never looked back. I didn't find the two dietary/lifestyle transitions at all challenging, and have no regrets. I was floating along in my happy little vegan bubble until BAM.

I fooled around and fell in love. With a chef. Who was NOT a vegan. And cooked soul food.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it actually wasn't. I'm sharing our story to give some tips, and maybe hope, to other mixed-cuisine couples out there.

(An important aside: I'm writing this from the perspective of a person who for a long time felt ethically compelled to exclude anything animal-product related from her home and life, and evolved into the viewpoint that it was reducing my potential for meaningful relationships to be so militaristic about what other people ate. I am still absolutely militaristic about what *I* eat, but have come to the conclusion that it is not my business to try to control or influence the behavior of others. If you are a vegan and your commitment includes daily activism within your personal relationships, I absolutely respect and commend you, but I chose to stop doing that, and I found sometimes you catch more flies with agave than vinegar.)

Bearing the above in mind, here are some great ways that we both adjusted into the happy foodie greedy couple that we now are:

1. Keep separate kitchen items.

Since Bae is a chef, it was relatively easy for us to do this. She is very meticulous in the kitchen, so I never had to worry she would accidentally cook meat in a pot or pan that was reserved for vegan fare, thus assaulting my tastebuds with animal flesh flavor. We keep something similar to a Kosher kitchen, with certain pots, pans and utensils that are reserved for different types of foods and never cross-contaminated.

2. Cook from scratch.
This is a good rule of thumb anyway to cut costs and keep chemicals and excessive salt out of your food, but it's also an easy way to be sure that animal products don't accidentally wind up in foods that aren't supposed to have them. At first, I found myself constantly lamenting "read the label!!!" when Bae would accidentally bring home something that looked like I could eat it but wasn't vegan, but now we mostly make everything from fresh ingredients like the good foodies that we are and it's a non-issue. Because we both love food and cooking, it keeps our kitchen that much more vibrant and yummy.

3. Plan meals around the "sides."
Sides are where we find our common ground, and we've established a great repertoire of foods that both of us love that are vegan or can easily be made vegan. If Bae wants to eat meat with a meal, she cooks herself a separate portion and keeps the sides vegan so we can be eating the same food. If I'm the one who cooks, I make all of the "sides" and she either adds meat on the side or doesn't. It keeps mealtime feeling like a family time, and it also helps her to eat less meat, as usually the sides are the highlight of the meal!!

4. Work your substitutes.
We have found that we can "veganize" almost anything using the following:
*Earth Balance butter substitute, which the chef has informs me "reduces" just as well as real butter and can be used in anything from biscuits to mushroom risotto
*Liquid Smoke, which can be added to anything which usually calls for meat for flavor (Bae almost keeled over the first time she tasted my vegan collard greens)
*Nutritional yeast, if something is supposed to taste like cheese
*Better Than Bouillon, which is a very rich vegetable stock base that can be used to flavor just about anything

5. Sometimes French fries in the deep fryer (the meat-free one, of course and yes we have two) makes the best dinner.

My life has gotten yummier since Chef Bae has come into it, and we have shared a lot of great cooking tips. She eats wayyy less meat now, I eat way fewer meals that consist of a stale cracker with peanut butter, and "what's for dinner?" is the question which has become the linchpin of our relationship. It wasn't easy at first, but it's doable, and for us, it's totally worth it.