Eating in the middle

Any shrink worth his couch will tell you that healthy relationships require compromise. And for spouses or long-time cohabitants, middle ground is often fought for in the most dispiriting of theaters.

Like the bathroom. (“I’ll close the toilet lid if you stop using my razor to shave your legs.”)

Or the basement. (“I’ll throw out my 21 Jump Street poster if you get rid of that ridiculous rowing machine.”)

She says tomato, he says “yuck”: Meg and Dan Larson with their 18-month-old triplets, from left, Jeremy, Julie and Luke. Meg is a lifelong vegetarian, but Dan, a meat eater, doesn’t like vegetables. They’re raising the kids as omnivores. Photo Courtesy The Larson Family

The kitchen, however, is a battlefield all its own: Perhaps the presence of heat and knives makes eating issues seem somehow more dire. A spicy article in the online version of The Nest magazine serves up advice to gastronomically conflicted newlyweds, courtesy of L.A.-based nutrition consultant Ashley Koff.

If “he’s a greasy spoon and she has a sensitive tummy,” Koff suggests “faking fried food.” Under her tutelage, fish-and-chips becomes “pan-sear[ed] cod [cooked] with a small amount of olive oil” and paired with “crispy baked-potato wedges mixed with sliced veggies … that have been roasted in the oven on a baking sheet.”

Koff also offers solutions for situations where men sabotage their ladies’ diets by snacking in front of them or wolf away into the wee hours when their women prefer to dine early. And then there’s the sophisticated gourmand versus the comfort-food connoisseur.

If “he’s a picky eater and she’s adventurous with food,” says Koff, “stick with meals that can be made once but in two ways. … Cook separate servings of fish or chicken in a tinfoil packet. Place the plain cutlet on a foil square and add your favorite spices. Let him sprinkle whatever he pleases on his serving. You’ll be eating the same meal, but it’ll be tailored to your individual tastes.”

Locally, Xpress uncovered a man-sized helping of veggie-carnivore match-ups, happy couples with opposite appetites who stay that way in delicate measure.

“The huge key for us is respect for the differences,” confirms Asheville vegetarian Christy Reeves, whose husband, Robbie, “is a huge carnivore.” The Reeves family also includes two teenaged girls who are vegetarians and a 9-year-old boy “who follows Daddy.” She quips: “We also have a vegetarian dog and a carnivore cat.”

Such a melting pot smells disastrous, but Christy insists that a tasteful acquiescence keeps the peace.

“If meat is desired by the boys, they will prepare it themselves. Most of the time, we eat a veggie meal that everyone likes—Italian, Mexican etc. The one exception is eating out: The deprived boys make it up at restaurants!”

Another local vegetarian, Kate Swafford, is blessed with an easygoing omnivore for a partner. “He really will eat just about anything I put in front of him,” she says. “I usually cook whatever I am going to eat, and then he cooks whatever meat and just eats what I am having as his side dishes.”

And in fact, Kate’s nonmeat beliefs seem to be taking stronger root in her spouse. “He is also happy to have vegetarian meals sometimes,” she says. “He doesn’t need meat at every meal.”

But Dan Larson does. An airplane pilot based in East Tennessee, Dan feasts on flesh every chance he gets. His wife Meg, however, is a lifelong vegetarian.

She remembers: “My husband’s grandmother gave a toast at our wedding that went something like this: ‘Here we have a man that doesn’t eat vegetables and a woman that doesn’t eat meat, so here’s to applesauce and cottage cheese!’

“Of all the toasts we received that day, that is the one that has stayed with me,” Meg says. “Having a vegetarian and a meat-eater—who refuses all vegetables except potatoes and asparagus—in the same household has taught us to compromise.” The couple must negotiate “where we go out to eat and how we cook meat in the house and on the grill. We have to give a little when what Dan calls ‘the contamination factor’—when pickle juice gets on his meatball sub, or when I can taste the hamburger on my grilled veggie burger—rears its ugly head.”

In the beginning, Meg says she was “able to get creative with the menu, and cook a five-course meal for one. Dan would eat the meat and bread, I the vegetables, and we would share the dessert.”

Which is fine, for two people. But then they were five.

Eighteen months ago, the couple became the tired and happy parents of triplets, two boys and a girl. “There’s not much time for creativity at this point,” she admits. But those early experiences in give-and-take fortified them with crucial skills for this daunting new venture.

“Our babies were born premature,” Meg says, “and weight gain has always been an issue with them. So we decided to let them eat anything and everything in order to pack on the pounds. With that said, anything and everything to a vegetarian means anything and everything except meat.”

She recalls: “When we actually sat down and started planning meals, our differences of opinion surfaced. My argument was to let [the kids] decide if they want a hamburger when the time comes—because you can’t regret doing something if you never did it. His response was that you can regret not doing it!”

Remembering Grandma’s words, however, they came up with an applesauce-and-cottage-cheese-style solution: one that was simple, comforting, and all-inclusive.

In short: “They eat a balanced diet, based on the current food pyramid—complete with hot-dogs and ‘not’-dogs.”

[Melanie McGee Bianchi is an Asheville-based omnivore. Her husband and child would rather have goldfish crackers than steak or potatoes.]

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