My husband is a wonderful man: kind, compassionate, giving, and a devoted husband and father. That being said, he doesn’t always “get” the idea of romance. He doesn’t often think to commemorate special days with flowers or chocolate. He doesn’t often think to brighten my day with a mushy text or professing his love publicly “just because.” But, though he’s not romantic in the traditional ways, my husband says “I love you” with every bite he takes.
Let me explain. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years (more than half my life), and at this point in my life suggesting to me that I start eating meat would be akin to telling me to eat a scoop of rocks or a cardboard box. I don’t even equate animals with food anymore, but I’m not an in-your-face vegetarian. If someone asks why I passed on the steak, I’ll tell them, but I definitely treat vegetarianism as my own personal choice. When Steve and I met 14 years ago, he was a died-in-the-wool carnivore, and I’d been a vegetarian since I was 15. His mom, sister, and stepfather were pescatarians, but Steve and his younger brother were stout meat-eaters. They would even go to McDonald’s to get a hamburger if they thought our family dinner would be too heavy on lentils and tofu.
Steve and I co-existed happily as a two-diet couple for the first eight years of our relationship. He ate his food, and I ate mine. Then, in 2009, our daughter Karys was born. Her diet wasn’t an issue for the first five months of her life, since she subsisted on a diet of breastmilk and formula, but as her half-birthday approached, Steve and I struggled to decide whether Karys would follow my vegetarian diet or Steve’s omnivorous one. I became a vegetarian before vegetarian protein was readily available and Burger King’s “Veggie Whopper” was a bun topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise (at the same price as a real Whopper, mind you). I’ve had to make mindful food choices to ensure that I get enough protein and iron. We know that kids can be picky eaters, even when they are only presented with healthy food options, so we worried that our daughter might not get enough of the nutrients she needed if she ate a strictly vegetarian diet. On the other hand, I shuddered to think about my baby eating ground up steak and mashed potatoes.
After talking in circles around the issue, Steve offered a compromise: he would stop eating all meat except seafood, and Karys would eat the same diet as he did. That way, he said, the amount of meat consumed by our family would be lessened overall, and we would have an easier time planning family meals. It wasn’t a perfect solution, since I still consider fish to be meat, but it was a solution I could live with. Raising Karys as a pescatarian gives us many of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. We have had multiple opportunities to teach Karys where her food comes from, and if she decides later to become vegetarian or vegan, she will have had exposure to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and non-meat protein sources. If she decides to become a meat-eater, the same idea applies: she’ll be used to eating and enjoying a variety of foods to round out her diet.
Steve could have easily decided to be a pescatarian at home only, but he carries his choice everywhere he goes. Every meal he eats and every bite he takes is a sign of his love and affection for me and our little family.
So while he sometimes leaves his clothes on the floor or says the exact wrong thing, whenever I get annoyed with him, I just have to remind myself that he commits himself to our family every day in a very real way. I’ll take that over flowers any day.