The Unwilling Vegan
My wife has taken up a Whole Food/Plant Based lifestyle. I, on the other hand, remain an unapologetic carnivore. I also do all the cooking so that means I can make my wife her vegan meals and personally starve (uh, no!), make my own meals and allow my wife to starve (I’m not that cold-blooded), make two dinners at every mealtime (who has time for that?), cook my meals and let my wife fend for herself (like an ingrown toenail, that’ll only get more painful as time goes by), or I could change how I eat (path of least resistance).*
I’m not going to get into the health or ethical issues surrounding meatless diets. Frankly, I don’t care. Sue me. I love my wife, this is important to her, so I’m doing all I can to support her choice. What I am going to share are a few vegan-by-proxy insights for other men who might find themselves in a similar situation because, as I discovered, it’s not just me.
Fist, guys, you have to accept and live with one simple truth. There is no such thing as a meat substitute. I’ve tried the bean-burgers, the fake-steaks, and the chickenless chickens and every time came away thinking the same thing. “That tasted like a bum’s sock.”
By all means, try them for yourself (see point two) because everyone’s taste buds are different. Just don’t set your sights too high because no matter how much great stuff you hear about so-and-so’s meat substitute product, if you are a carnivore like me, you will be disappointed. If it says “meat substitute” on the packaging, it isn’t. When you try them your best bet is to stick to the packages that proudly tell you exactly what they are, not con you with what they are supposedly replacing.
My second point is that you have to be open to trying new things. Before you had memories, your parents switched you off milk and soft cereal and onto baby foods. They bought you a wide array of pureed crap you’d never want to eat today in an effort to determine what you liked and what you didn’t. It took time so give yourself time to adjust to new foods.
Let’s look at milk for example. In the non-dairy section of the store you’ll find Almond Milk, Soy Milk, Macadamian Milk, Oat Milk, and on and on. I dabbled in all of them until ultimately settling on Oat Milk. Not just any Oat Milk, mind, but a certain brand because, while milk is milk, the taste of non-dairy milk varies by manufacturer. Be assured, I didn't sit at the table and sample them all in one go.
While I’m ranting about non-dairy let me also point out, like meat, there is no substitute for cheese. Don’t let anyone tell you there is. There are loads of cheese-like products and you may even like some of them. I don’t. They ain’t cheese. They don’t taste like cheese and they don’t cook like cheese. Same goes for butter. Grieve and get over it.
So what’s the unwilling vegan to do?
Don’t try to replicate a meat-based diet!
Unless you have the mentality of a six year old you know full well there are awesome tasting fruits, legumes, and vegetables out there. What I had to do was to find recipes that showcase those foods in their own right, not recipes that attempt to replicate a meat dish. Years ago I tried my hand at a vegetarian Hagias. It went straight into the trash. My meatless chili was poured down the drain. Eggplant Parmesan, on the other hand, is a wonderful dish in its own right, not simply a knock-off Chicken Parm. An amazingly large number of Chinese and Indian dishes are plant-centric and they taste great so be bold and make spices and foreign cuisine your friends.
That’s the best advice I have to offer: focus on the foods you have and don’t cling to the ones you’ve set aside. Being carnivores, we’ve spent all our lives thinking of vegetables as side-dishes. It is undeniably a mental shift to see them as main course meals and if you start off by thinking you’ll be substituting cauliflower for chicken in your Chicken Noodle Soup and that it’ll be just the same, you’ll never enjoy another meal.
Also, allow yourself some cheat foods because, after all, you’re not the vegan, you’re just supporting someone you love who is. I still use butter. I still eat cheese, although I do try to avoid the ones with enzymes or rennet listed on the packaging since those are meat products well beyond the obvious fact dairy comes from animals. And when we go out, I order whatever I like and it’s a safe wager I’ll be eating steak.
Having dabbled with vegan eating for a while, I am slowly growing a collection of dishes that I think taste incredibly good -- that I look forward to eating. That started with focusing on making the most of the plant and not trying to replicate the meat. This is coming from a guy who has no trouble eating bacon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; who believes any hamburger that isn’t more red than pink in the center is burned; and who single-handedly can eat entire hen-houses of poultry and rivers of trout. If I can transition to a (almost) vegan way of eating, anyone can.
*All from my perspective. My wife is so awesome that any option I adopted, she’d have been 100% supportive – except for the one where I starve. I’m fairly confident she wouldn’t be OK with that one.