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“You're vegan?” people scoff.

I get it. I'm known for frequently exercising, commuting by bicycle, and having a relatively tall, muscular build (with a bit of a gut). All vegans are supposed to be hippies who wear plaid with thick-rimmed glasses, have ghastly skin complexion, and run through flower fields as a hobby. When some coworkers look at what I eat, they say, ”That's too healthy for me." And best of all, your significant other looks at you in utter disgust. Eventually, you'll end up eating whatever's in front of you and give up on the lifestyle you so strongly believed in.

For a while, I’ve fallen in the constant cycle of eating nothing but burgers and pizza, and fueling myself with plant power. My life events tested my commitment to food choices whether it's caused by finances, social constructs, or accessibility. Then it tested my spouse.

Your significant other has comfort food they grew up with, too.

My wife definitely loves sushi and Asian food, too. Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

And we can't hate them for that. Imagine how we'd feel if our favorite recipe was suddenly taken away by someone else. How dare they?

That's something I had a big struggle to understand when we first started dating. I've always been a health nut, researching about what goes in my body and how it affects me down to the molecular level. So I know that vegetables slathered in more vegetables in their oil form is still bad for you.

When my wife and I were dating, we spent a lot of time at each other's places. If you've done that before, you'll know that that's where the most surprising facets begin to show -- for better or for worse. What horrified me when I first saw her cook was the insane amount of oyster sauce and oil that poured into the pan. In one of the jars of bamboo shoots, it was basically a one-to-one ratio of bamboo shoots to vegetable oil, and she put four jars! All of that topped the fattiest of pork chunks. I felt so horrendously offended by her cooking that I told her to stop making that or else her health would suffer! She quipped with that's how her family made food when she was a kid.

The opposite was also true. When I made a simple pasta dish with marinara sauce, eggplants (her favorite), spinach, and mushrooms, she said it was "flavorless”. Again, I was offended that the food I ate most of my life was met with such distaste, and this time she felt disappointed that I hyped up the food. She pulled out her leftovers and said she would never trust my sense of taste ever again.

Therein lied our problem: We couldn't accept the fact that we grew up in two very different cultures and families. For many of us, we ate whatever our parents could give us if they even had the time to cook. That would develop our unique tastes. If anything, we should be grateful that our loved ones would even make food for us.

Keep in mind this was also the time when she couldn't give up meat no matter what, and I was strictly vegan.

A lot has happened since then and we're okay now. But how did we make it easier?

Here are a few approaches to assuaging our discomfort in the other’s food choices (in general):

  • Cooked our own separate dishes. This worked out for a while since we liked cooking. However, we would frequently be too exhausted to cook during a weekday. Or the kitchen's waaaay too tiny to work at the same time.
  • Cooked on an alternating schedule where Monday night would be Tomato Basil Soup with Bread, and Tuesday night was Chicken Stir Fry. Definitely good if you both have common dishes you like. It also gives exposure to the other's tastes where it could ultimately lead up to having a common dish!
  • Cooking one dish together. This is very conducive to intimacy or just downright fun. How often do you hear about couples cooking together on a daily basis? Hug each other while passing by or give a quick smooch (but watch out for that knife!). Awesome conversations are bound to happen! Downsides include "You didn't cut it small enough!" Also, tiny kitchen.
  • Meal prepping on a weekend. This makes it easier to do the first bullet point. One person could have a block of time to meal prep on Saturday and the other on Sunday. This means less cooking throughout the week and more “convenience food” ready to go for both people! My wife could eat whatever she wanted and was happier that we didn’t have to spend $13 for a plate at a restaurant that she could easily make. Even if one person doesn’t like cooking, this will still give you a chance to make both of your week’s menu on a non-time-sensitive day.
  • Cook a vegetarian version of the meal and have a side of meat. The great thing is only one person has to cook one dish, just separately. This one made more sense to me at first. It’s as simple as adding meat, right? However, there are two potential problems:
  • A dish could taste different to your spouse due to the meat flavor not “infusing” into the veggies.
  • If you’re trying to be vegan, some recipes call for things like sauces that have an animal byproduct. Again, this would change the flavor if omitted.
  • Vegan making vegan dishes that would appeal to the other person. This one’s a little more difficult. I’ve found that my wife likes the sauciest of sauces and can tell when a protein source is missing. Making sauces from scratch and buying meat analogues made it more delicious to her, but at the downside of cost, a little bit extra cooking time, and still not entirely tasting like meat. Otherwise, it’s a great choice as the chef of the couple!

The point is, be accepting with each other. If they are proud of making something they haven't made before and want you to try it, please, try a bite! Even if that means eating a piece of meat or dairy with no adverse effects, your relationship is more important.

Vegans save money (among other things).

Produce and habits are amazing for saving money! Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

The vegan lifestyle doesn’t have to drain the grocery budget. Also, no coupons are necessary. All you have to do is stick to the produce section and do not buy in bulk. Buying produce in bulk is actually a really bad idea because they don’t have a long shelf life. It’s essentially paying to waste your veggies. The only things I buy in bulk are dried carbohydrates like brown rice and pasta. Otherwise, bread and potatoes would have to be bought weekly, just like the produce.

Since I already had brown rice and dried Great Northern beans, I decided to have a grocery list for soup and a bit of fruit to last us the week. My wife had her own grocery list for salad. Total cost of my items: $22.87. That includes carrots, cabbage, nectarines, bananas, collard greens, celery, and shiitake mushrooms. Without the mushrooms (which I ended up not using for the soup), it costed $12.89. That ended up feeding me for two weeks! In comparison, my wife’s salad costed $27.19. Considering that was avocados, balsamic vinaigrette, bacon, croutons, shredded cheese, green onions, and a spring mix salad, I’d say that was a great healthy success…until she ate it all in two days!

My wife appreciated how I saved money. She also worried that I wasn’t eating right. But rest assured, I was eating a balanced meal.

Here’s the catch: I eat functionally plant-based these days. Yes, I do like eating for pleasure on occasion. But eventually functional cooking became so flavorful that I didn’t need to jazz it up. My taste buds completely changed! In fact, I tried a fast food double quarter pounder burger with cheese after those two weeks and felt disappointed (and ran to the bathroom). Vegetables were just…better! Just remember to change it up every now and then for the sake of getting all your nutrients.

Pardon the gross stove, but I'm preparing for the next Great Depression.

By the way, the shiitake mushrooms were later used in a pasta. Good thing we froze them!

Not enough gains, bruh!

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

For fitness couples, dogging each other fires up a certain kind of healthy competition. But there’s a common misconception that meat or whey protein is the only way to build and repair muscle. I’m not an expert at bodybuilding or kinesiology (sorry), so please take this with a grain of salt. As a I gained muscle mass while conditioning myself through calisthenics on a plant-based diet. For about two months, I ate a variation of beans and brown rice with nuts and kale. Reason why it sounds so bland was I needed to burn fat while gaining strength, all on a budget.

Strength is different from size and one cannot excel without a minimum of the other. So calisthenics was the cheapest and most relative to what I needed to do. Burpees and running for cardio. Pushups, pull-ups, squats, and situps (among other things) for strength. Eventually I was able to run 4 miles and do 60 reps of each strength exercise on a typical day (broken up into sets).

I'm still chubby, but I'm strong enough to ruck/run 5 miles to work every day and still maintain pushups and pullups. Also, I swear I'm not flirting with you. There's sweat in me eyes.

As a side effect, my muscles grew and I lost a little bit of fat. I think it’s really hard for me to lose fat, but my muscles visibly got bigger and more defined, especially on my thighs and arms. Though, this is just a personal observation and your body works differently. But if other vegan athletes can do it, then we can at least try it, too.

Who knows, maybe you can accept a little healthy challenge for a week of plant-powered protein with your partner?

What about treating them to an outside dinner?

If this was a real restaurant, I'd be surprised at the random berries all over my table. Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

This is where it gets very tricky. There are restaurants that have pretty good options for vegetarians, but almost very rarely for vegans. Even then, you want to see your significant other happily chowing down at their favorite restaurant, right?

Let’s just say it’s at a steakhouse. After studying the menu, you realize the only vegan thing they have is a small side of steamed vegetables and a side of mashed potatoes. One portion is not enough to feed you, so you’re tempted to order a bunch of them. /Don’t./ It would sadden your loved one to watch you struggle to eat. Let it slide for the day, order the same thing as them, and enjoy the night together. Make their day special.

However, if you are medically advised to be vegan, your spouse is most likely understanding at that point. This would also probably mean you wouldn’t need to worry about this. If you did happen to have trouble and somehow managed to work it out, please share it in the comments!

The big takeaway: respect each other.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

It takes two to tango and it takes time. By being reasonable and understanding, you can take the first step to co-exist as vegan/vegetarian and omnivore. Sometimes, we’re not aware that we offended the other person based on what they eat. Just respect each other's boundaries: it's no fun being told what to do. And as a vegan or vegetarian, you're still making less of an impact on the environment and animal life. One more person making a difference.

But if they're the type to kick animals and litter, then… My condolences.

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