I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down! I hope you’ll take the time to read it if you feel like you’re struggling with how to feed your spouse the same things you feed yourself (which is what inspired me to write this little essay). Our changes were gradual, which helped, but I think you can find something that works for your household!
Did anyone watch the first episode of Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition? As someone who is trying to lose a significant amount of weight I’m a sucker for shows about heavy people changing their habits and shedding the excess. The first episode featured Rachel, who did a fantastic job losing a whole lot of weight while continuing to live her normal life. Based on what they showed though, her weight loss seemed to be hindered a little bit due to resistance from her family regarding the changes to her diet that would be necessary for extensive weight loss. I’ve talked before about locking up the junk food, because I just can’t take having it around, and it seems like that’s what Rachel needed too! A lot of it was probably added drama to make the show more exciting, but I think Rachel stood in as an example for what a lot of individuals in the US are trying to figure out each day. How do I eat better when the people I live with aren’t eating the way I do?
This seems to be a common problem that women face (maybe men too, but I mostly interact with women online and that’s where I’m getting the questions from). How did we, an American girl with a typical American diet, and a meat-loving Polish husband become near-vegetarians (compassionavores ) who eat little meat and buy/eat almost exclusively in season?
To tell this story, I think we need to go back in time, to when I first started dating That Husband. Here we are.
That Husband had horrible eating habits. He ate out for every single meal, and most of it was fast-food. Before he worked at Company X (where he was treated to many of the finer things in life) his palate was anything but refined, and so he didn’t understand what the difference between a grass fed burger on whole wheat bun with raw milk cheese and heirloom tomatoes, and a whopper from Burger King could be. Both are made with meat and cheese and bread, but one costs much less than the other. Why wouldn’t he eat at BK every day?
Then we started dating, and I happened to live in the basement of a house where I had an entire kitchen to myself. I started cooking for him, and introduced him to the difference between fast food and home cooked meals. It was nothing like the way I eat now, but I was trying to lose weight so the focus was staying away from large amounts of fat and carbs. I think he started to realize that eating a little bit healthier made him feel better overall.
We dated for about a year and a half, and then we got married. Suddenly, he was supporting two people instead of one, and eating out became a luxury he couldn’t afford. For about a year after we were first married we ate a slightly healthier version of the American diet. I kept a steady supply of crackers/corn chips in the pantry, all of our dinners were meat focused with rice/bread/potatoes on the side and me forcing myself to add some microwaved frozen vegetables on the side, and our freezer was stocked with Kashi frozen pizzas and Lean Cuisine boxes. He wasn’t excited about packing a lunch and so he ate out for all of his lunches, while I fixed myself something at home.
Then I read Real Food by Nina Planck and a whole new world view was introduced to me. I could drink whole milk and eat whole dairy? And I could throw out the Annie’s mac n’ cheese and crackers and chips and Lean Cuisine and somehow survive? Unfortunately in the beginning the only thing we really changed was switching from fat free milk and margarine to whole milk and butter. I was still shopping exclusively at the grocery store, buying the same old boring veggies (bananas and mealy fresh tomatoes, and those variety packs from the frozen vegetable aisle), and I didn’t let go of our processed foods yet. I knew Nina said she did it, but I just didn’t get how it worked for people. That Husband watched my weight balloon due to the switch to whole dairy combined with high intake of processed foods and he openly mocked Nina because he didn’t buy into her ways of thinking. I don’t blame him because I don’t think I was the best example of what the real food philosophy could be.
Mmmmmm. Hot dogs.
After T1 was born I spent a lot of time sitting around feeding him, and finally picked up a copy of In Defense of Food and BOOM. I finally got it and I could see how we could make things work. TH thought I had found another Nina and he wasn’t impressed with the passages I was reading him, until I handed him a copy of Food Rules and things clicked for him as well. We bought the audio book for In Defense of Food so he could listen to it and hear the science behind the real food movement, and I started throwing out our packaged foods en masse. I was overwhelmed by it at first, but I started visiting the Farmer’s Market. I bought my vegetables and dairy at the market, and went to the grocery store for staples and meat, and I thought we’d made all the changes we needed to make.
Previously, every single dinner dish I prepared had meat in it, most of it bought on clearance from the old meat section of the grocery store (and thus was never very good). We were reading in Genesis and I felt like the scriptures were telling us a message (respect the animals, eat less meat) that didn’t jive with the way we were living our lives. This was a mutual decision that we came to, not something I forced on TH. I knew we would cut back, but I figured that meant we would make one vegetarian meal per week. It was last May that I posted about wanting to cut back on meat but I didn’t have any idea how to do it. I remember feeling like it was a really novel thing to be doing, and then SO many of you chimed in and said you’d been eating meat-free or almost-meatless for a long time. I was behind the times!
Cristin sent me a copy of Eating Animals and another BOOM. I decided to exclusively put my funds toward meat sourced in ways I agree with. This means no eggs or meat from the grocery store (the way that chickens are raised in these industrial settings is absolutely deplorable and it pains me to think that I contribute to that whenever I eat eggs that aren’t purchased directly from a farmer who uses methods I agree with), I use a guide from the Chicago aquarium to help me understand what fish is sustainably raised/caught, and I eat as a vegetarian when I eat out of the house.
This is the stage where That Husband and I diverged the most, at first. In the beginning I was still cooking with meat several times per week, and I would just give him a much bigger portion of meat than I would give myself. Over the summer of 2010 I cooked with meat once or twice a month, but that number went up to most nights of the week over the winter. We bought a share in a meat CSA and I felt pressure to make a dent in our monthly share before the next delivery came because we were running out of room in our freezer! A month or so ago That Husband asked me to stop cooking so much meat. Specifically he said that he didn’t feel like he really appreciated it the way he used to, and that he’d like to cut back even farther. What the what?!?!? I guess all of those juicy heirloom tomatoes, summer squash chips, and crisp cucumbers had won and we could now declare ourselves almost-vegetarians.
We’ve experienced this shift in preferences once before. When I started seriously trying to lose my baby weight we locked up anything and everything in the house that acted as a temptation for me (like cheese, we kept the cheese locked up in a bag in the fridge). He didn’t want to feel deprived though, so he kept a bag of candy (most of it Polish candy that his parents sent him), some Sunchips from Costco, and other assorted things to snack on. Over time, he started turning to his stash less and less, and eventually he realized that he felt better without it. Eating it didn’t make him want it less, it made him want it more! The same thing happens for me with cheese, actually. So of his own accord the bag of candy was emptied out, he discovered that Sunchips are really just corn chips and lost the desire to eat them, and now there are no more snacks hidden away just for him. We both also learned over time that vegetables and whole grains can be the star of the show, not the back-up singers to a huge slab of meat bleeding all over our plate.
It was only last week that we had yet another major breakthrough. We were having the missionaries over for dinner, and previously we had provided meat for every single guest (except our lovely vegetarian friend!) who came into our house. I said that I didn’t want to cook any meat, that I felt I could prepare a meatless dinner that they could enjoy, and that from now on I didn’t think there was any reason to specifically be preparing meat when we have people over unless it was winter and we would be eating it anyway. We argued about it at first, but before we went to bed I calmed down and explained my position more rationally, and he agreed with me. Even now, we’re still making progress when it comes to the way we eat! The missionaries ate the vegetarian meal with no complaint whatsoever, and future guests in our home will be treated the same way.
We still don’t approach things in exactly the same way. When he eats out, he eats whatever he pleases, whereas I won’t order anything with meat/fish in it if I don’t know where it came from and try to avoid any egg heavy dishes. But I do all of the grocery shopping and the cooking, so when we’re home he eats what I make. I don’t ever make something separate meal for him or myself, and I don’t plan to with any of our kids either.
My reasons for eating the way I do are because of my religious beliefs, my beliefs about what is best for our health, and beliefs about what is best for the environment/society. We sit down and discuss these positions, and though we might not agree on every tiny detail, our thinking has merged in all of the key places. This isn’t about winning over the other person to your side, it’s about doing your research and figuring out what you really believe in, and then taking that information to your spouse and saying “This is why I think this approach is best. Tell me more about your approach and let’s figure out how we can do all of this together.”
If you want to make similar changes but your spouse is digging in their heels, find out why. Communicate with each other! It’s possible that you’ll never come to a place where you both see eye to eye, and if that’s the case you’re going to be living life very differently than I do. I urge couples to sit down and talk things through, because I just can’t imagine cooking two separate meals every night, one for me and one for him.
This post didn’t even touch on feeding your kids, because for me it’s a non-issue. T1 eats what we eat, period, and he always will. He doesn’t know anything about hot dogs or macaraoni and cheese or gummi candies or chicken nuggets because we don’t keep them in the house and we don’t eat them ourselves. If you suspect your husband is picky because of the way he was raised, don’t do the same thing to your children! Be adventurous with your food choices and work hard to educate yourself and you can lead by example.
There is a part of me that wonders if maybe I’ll be writing another post in the future that details becoming a vegan. I don’t think it will happen, but a few years ago I never would have considered myself a (near) vegetarian, excitedly telling people about the new world I’ve discovered, but a lot has changed for me in a really short period of time. I just hope that whatever changes I make in the future continue to make me better!