I’ll start with my daughter. I was still eating chicken when she was born, so she grew up on that classic American child diet of spaghetti and chicken fingers. Around the 10th grade, she decided to become vegan. That was about six years ago, and it was much more difficult to be vegan then: no veggie burgers, no great websites like gardein, no cashew cream, no vegenaise.
I struggled to find things for her to eat–mostly pasta with olive oil and whatever vegetable, such as broccoli or asparagus, I could cajole her into eating. I wondered how she would survive in college, but, lo and behold, she chose to go to a school that served up a vegan menu for visiting students’ day! I vividly remember her gleeful description of their vegan pesto pizza. Only one problem: the school trotted out those vegan selections only on visiting days. They craftily ensnared her in their overly expensive system for four years: four years of battling the food system there and spending an equal amount of dining hall dollars at the local Whole Foods. (At one point, I even tried in vain to get the school to let her be on the commuting students’ dining plan, since she rarely found anything she could eat in the dining hall–and, even when she did, she’d later discover that it had been labeled wrongly or that the cooking staff had no understanding of the difference between vegetarianism and veganism.)
But she survived, and, as a result, has a strong interest in food issues and students’ rights. She spent the last year and a half working with Real Food Challenge, an organization working toward a just and sustainable food system by empowering students to enact change in their college dining halls. (I still remember one of her successes. The excitement came through in her text on the train ride home: “THE DINING CAR HAS VEGAN VEGGIE BURGERS!”).
Finally, the world was coming around to her way of thinking, and life was becoming easier around our dinner table. Vegan cookbooks appeared, and all the little secret substitutions to turn a regular recipe into vegan became common knowledge. There were even frozen food options by the score when you didn’t feel like cooking from scratch. Yes, life was good, and it wasn’t that difficult to cook for my husband and feed my daughter at the same time.
Then my husband went on a diet.
This was a terrific idea, long in coming. By the time he started, I’d long given up on trying to get him to eat better and focused more on keeping our dogs from getting harmed by anything he might be consuming, such as chicken bones or grapes. The diet has now been going on since October, and he’s dropped 30 pounds, and I’ve become the queen of salad–and not just your average, dump-the-bag-salad-on-the-plate-and-add-a-tomato variety. No, I’ve felt obligated to make things interesting, add almonds, raisins, artichokes, pears, feta, and those little orange segments whose name I can’t remember (yes, Jane, this is what the 60’s are like!).
Whatever may come next must be predicated by the best damn salad you’ve ever had. But–because of the diet–along with all of this necessary forethought, I’ve lost the ability to fudge dinner. No more luscious grilled cheese sandwiches at the last minute. No more homemade pizza, no more spaghetti, sob. My husband is thinking of food all the time because he’s starving, and I’m thinking of it because I’m trying to figure out what he can eat. Oh, and did I mention that my daughter doesn’t like salads that much? Are you beginning to get the picture of the war going on in my head each night over dinnertime?
I can either cook for him or for her but not really so much for both of them at once. My husband loathes beans; tofu makes him squeamish; and when his sons come to visit, I hear them grumbling about the almond milk in the fridge. And that brings up a whole other nightmare: two big, big, bigmeat eaters, who, when visiting with us, slip out in the night to purchase their ice cream or in the morning to get a Bojangles fix.
Worst of all: with my husband’s new diet comes competition for the foods I like. Whereas I used to get a bag of dates and savor them for days, now they get carted off to his work or just disappear altogether. I can’t keep apples in stock, and why is it that he can’t eat the older ones first and not take the prime new ones as soon as they appear? I reach for my morning banana to add to my oatmeal, but they’ve all disappeared in the night. And just as soon as I join in the game and restock sufficiently, my husband’s tastes change, and I’m stuck eating three boxes of clementines that he’s no longer touching. The irony here is that I’m not dieting, but I’m sure I’m thinking about food as much as (if not more than) he is.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been neglecting my daughter at mealtime, so tonight I made the lentil soup from the great classic Moosewood Cookbook and leek fritters from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (find the recipe if you click here). (Thank you, Sadhvi, for a comment in a column long ago about smittenkitchen.com). My husband had the barest of tastes of each, but my daughter and I enjoyed both until we sat satiated and content. One more night down. Nothing to worry about until tomorrow!