How do Vegetarians and Carnivores cook & eat together and both be happy?
April 29, 2010 8:37 PM   Subscribe

My mom is going vegetarian. My father is a meat & potato kinda guy. Help me come up with plans and strategies that will won't make either one miserable.

They'd rather not prepare separate meals (all the time). My mom is an adventurous eater, my father is more traditional (ketchup is his go to condiment) but will eat some ethnic foods, but isn't a fan of spiciness. I don't want my father living off a diet of George Formaned burgers and a bit of Mom's veggies or my Mom eating a side of green beans and a salad and calling it dinner.

So how do a carnivore and vegetarian coexist at the same table?
posted by julen to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
They work together on some meals, Dad adds meat to them separately. That's what I do when dining with the few members of my extended family that are vegetarians, have food allergies, or are just picky earers. I also did that when dating a woman that kept quasi-kosher. Seems to work OK.

A friend of mine dated a woman that was a vegan while he lived in the dirtiest dive of a frat party house where most food was decidedly non-vegetarian and grilled or fried and he did OK as far as making acceptable dinners for when she came to visit. This isn't all that difficult as long as people don't start off being noncooperative.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:44 PM on April 29, 2010


er, eaters, not, you know, Mike Tyson.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:45 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like you cook dishes where the meat is an optional additive, stir-fry, spaghetti sauce, chilli, pizza, really anything "sauce based". All of which the meat can be cooked in a different pan, then added to part of the dish post cooking. As to spiciness, that s a little trickier as a lot of spice tastes better when cooked with the dish.

For what its worth, there are plenty of dished that while they are technically vegetarian they are also extremely satisfying to meat eaters. Thick chili with tvp, for example.
posted by edgeways at 8:46 PM on April 29, 2010


Textured vegetable protein grosses the hell out of me and a lot of omnivorous people I know. If your dad is, as you say, a "meat and potato kinda guy" I doubt he'll go for it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:48 PM on April 29, 2010


A spaghetti sauce, say a nice chunky bolognaise, is good even without meat. However, you can cook up a batch of it without meat, then separate some and add some mince and let it simmer.
posted by tomble at 8:55 PM on April 29, 2010


Look at "More with Less" and "Extending the Table" -- Mennonite cookbooks that are full of hearty, simple food. There are plenty of recipes in them that are vegetarian but totally satisfying to meat eaters.

I lived down the street from a veggie wife/meaty husband couple who did what you describe, until they ate some "More with Less" at my house and got converted. There are tasty vegetarian meals where omnivores don't miss the meat. (I make Pilakhi, which is on page 172 of Extending the Table, which is not only vegetarian but vegan, and omnivores constantly demand the recipe.)

It should be very possible to eat, say, 5 hearty vegetarian days a week where meat isn't missed and 2 days where meat-optional.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:06 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was in a similar situation, it also helped quite a lot to shift the focus of the day's eating towards breakfast, instead of dinner. Even the traditional breakfasts your dad probably likes get much of their protein from vegetarian sources-- eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese-- and breakfast is naturally more a-la-carte in feel, so it requires less thought to prepare a bunch of meaty and non-meaty options without regard to harmonizing the menu or making sure everything balances. And having previously filled up on a big hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon/veg bacon, yogurt, fruit and whatnot may make it easier for either your mom or your dad to compromise if necessary on the content of the day's subsequent meals.
posted by Bardolph at 9:12 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just one additional option: there are a lot of freezer cookbooks out there that offer guidelines for cooking and freezing a bunch of meals at a time for later single-serve reheating.

Should your mom and dad get tired of blended meals, it's always an option for them to take a day to together prepare and freeze a bunch of vegetarian and carnivorous meals. Then, with a bit of reheating, your dad can on occasion have his meat AND your mom can have her spicy veg fare, without having to worry about always cooking something jointly.
posted by Bardolph at 9:22 PM on April 29, 2010


As a strict veg who's been in relationships with carnivores, I can say that there won't be a problem if you pay attention to what kind of food the carnivore finds satisfying. There are flavor profiles that some vegetarian cooking can fail to include - like umami. This can be solved by making rich hearty dishes, using brewers yeast in cooking and browned onions, etc.

Vegetarian food can be savory, filling, and satisfying - and the meat substitutes now available are unlike anything some carnivores can imagine.

One example is Tofurky Italian sausage, sliced and pan fried it's indistinguishable from the real thing when used in a pasta dish. There are many more. This blogger even made a KFC-grilled-double-down, with no meat.

I make a totally veg thanksgiving each year with stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, everything - and carnivores never miss the meat. If it's traditional American comfort food the carnivore likes, they can both cook and eat that way making veg versions - when you really look at those meals, the meat is the least flavorful part and is easily substituted.

Check out the menu of this fast food place (PDF) for inspiration, it doesn't get more mean and potatoes than that, but it's all vegan.
posted by jardinier at 9:24 PM on April 29, 2010


I don't think you need a fancy strategy - I think you will be able to find vegetarian dishes that your dad will enjoy.

Some vegetarian dishes can be quite appealing to carnivores - these tend to be the ones that have lots of cheese or butter, natch. Will your dad eat Indian food? It's not all burning hot (North Indian dishes are milder than South Indian) and can be rich enough to satisfy that craving for animal fats ;-)

Italian food is another cuisine that offers vegetarian dishes that can appeal to meat-eaters. It's the cheese again, probably. There are vegetarian versions of many Italian faves that are just as toothsome as the carnivorous option.

My standard for good vegetarian food is when you don't realize it's vegetarian until you're nearly finished. In other words, it's not stridently healthy or virtuous, it's just good food without meat. Your dad would probably enjoy this kind of food, so my suggestion would be to build a repertoire of recipes like this.

Some cookbooks that meet this standard:

Vegetarian Planet is my current favorite for general/American vegetarian food.

Lord Krishna's Cuisine is a large collection of Indian vegetarian recipes.

I'd caution you away from faux-meat substitutes. They fall into the uncanny valley of being just meatlike enough to remind you that they're not. Even traditional Chinese meat substitutes (for Buddhists) are weird and fake. Tofu is perfectly good when out and proud.

I think if you find a bunch of vegetarian dishes that your dad will enjoy, this is the way to go. On those nights when he absolutely must have his meat fix, your mom can pull some leftovers from the freezer and eat her own thing.
posted by Quietgal at 9:26 PM on April 29, 2010


Inspector.Gadget has got it. Mr. sadtomato is a meat eater and I am not. We have a separate small cutting board and small frying pan for the preparation and cooking of meat. 95% of the time we eat the same meal and he adds some fish, sausage, or chicken to it. For example, I will make a big batch of chili we will split it half way through the simmering so that there is a veg and meat version. We do the same thing with butter chicken, and spaghetti sauce. Other things are meals in themselves (veggie shepherd's pie) and Mr. sadtomato will have a small side of meat with it (he is responsible for preparing his meat). This has worked out really well for us and is no extra work.

I would avoid relying on fake meat products, most of them are not very healthy and you don't need them to get protein in your diet. We get plenty of protein (and all other nutrients) in a healthy varied diet.
posted by sadtomato at 10:04 PM on April 29, 2010


Yeah, what Inspector.Gadget said: Textured Vegetable Protein. Looks like granola, feels like ground beef in the mouth when cooked. I'm a dedicated carnivore, but experimented with it with good results in dishes like Chili & Spaghetti where the flavor was not dependent on the meat component. When I wanted the meat flavor, I could add a token amount of hamburger and use the TVP for bulking out the meal. You might try gradually subbing it into Dad's food while he gets used to the idea of vegetables as meal-worthy. I bet you could make a killer veggie lasagna with the stuff!
posted by Ys at 10:20 PM on April 29, 2010


Pizzas. I make homemade pizzas all the time and I am totally a carnivore, but I'd say at least 50% of the time I go all veg on a pizza because a great pizza doesn't NEED meat. If he's straight up meat and potatoes, maybe a Margherita pizza would be a good fit, or if he doesn't mind olives and feta, those are good friends on a pizza. Or while you're making one pizza, making two is just about as much work, so one of each and you still get to eat the "same" thing for dinner.
posted by barc0001 at 10:26 PM on April 29, 2010


Get a copy of The Gradual Vegetarian for your Mom (or yourself).
It's a classic for transitioning vegetarians or those who want to live in harmony with meat-eaters. It's much more than a recipe book - although the recipes are excellent as well. I've had it in my kitchen for years.
posted by Paris Elk at 10:47 PM on April 29, 2010


My wife and I are a vegetarian/carnivore pair. Aside from the absolute baseline rule that I don't try to get her to eat meat and she doesn't try to make me vegetarian (i.e., we don't try to change each other), we've simply separated out meat preparation, either a separate course that I can prepare at the same time, or separating a sauce into two pans for the final addition of meat to one. For my part, I'm pretty careful to avoid meat contamination of vegetarian dishes (such as not letting the splatter from my pan get into hers).

Logistically it's not difficult at all, as long as both people are respectful of what the other person is eating and why.
posted by fatbird at 10:54 PM on April 29, 2010


I'm a vegetarian and I live with my omnivorous partner, and before that I lived with my omnivorous father and his partner.

My father is very much a meat & potato kind of guy also, so typically our meals were some form of meat, potatoes and vegetables. I was always responsible for coming up with my own vegetarian alternative to the meat. I didn't always bother, especially if I wasn't particularly hungry, but I usually heated up some beans or something to go with.

Now that I live with my partner I do the vast majority of the cooking, and I would say that about 5 nights out of 7 we have some sort of reasonably substantial vegetarian meal that my partner also enjoys, and the other 2 nights I try to make something that is suitable for having meat alongside or to which meat can easily be added after I've served my portion.

My partner is I think sort of similar to your dad in that he is not particularly adventurous with food (although he is improving, heh.)

Some vegetarian dishes that he really likes (most of these are quite junk food-y by my tastes but I agree with the person above that suggested dishes with a fair bit of butter/cheese as a component sometimes tend to be more palatable to the omnivores)

- Vegetarian lasagna (lasagna's pretty awesome and hardly anybody will ever say no to any form of it really) and other pasta bake type dishes
- He loves falafel, which is pretty great because I can make up some falafel and salad wraps that are really tasty and a good way to get some veges in
- Making our own pizzas and burgers means we can choose our own fillings/toppings, it can be great fun and if you choose well they aren't necessarily too unhealthy
- Wraps filled with chilli beans (mild) and a little cream cheese
- Various vegetarian Indian dishes many of which are quite mild, it's usually quite possible to get curries in jars if you don't want to prepare them yourself and then all you have to do is cook up some rice and vegies
- Bean nachos

Basically as long as your parents are reasonably cluey and willing to work together I don't think there is much chance of either of your parents being forced to live on a steady diet of burgers or subsisting solely on salad. Seriously, people work this stuff out all the time, it is not likely to be a big problem unless there is more to the story then you've mentioned here (such as your father being unhappy with your mother becoming a vegetarian or your mother being upset that your father is not also making this change.)
posted by lwb at 4:28 AM on April 30, 2010


I think one of the biggest reasons that meat and potatoes guys can't imagine eating vegetarian is that so many people associate it with eating new kinds of food. It's actually not all that hard to go vegetarian with food that isn't that different than what you are used to. Pastas, especially lasagna, don't seem to miss much when you skip the meat. Thanksgiving is pretty awesome even without the turkey. Veggie chili is fabulous.
posted by advicepig at 7:17 AM on April 30, 2010


As others have cautioned, attempting to use meat analogs is maybe not the best approach, at least to start. Some will offer similar texture to a few meats, but you will risk turning your father off vegetarian food. Best to start with simple, familiar ingredients, and then go from there. Meat is meat, and I have yet to taste the grain-based engineered substance that satisfies like even mid-quality meat. Satisfying and tasty? Yes. But meat-like? No.

So, what then? Meat and potatoes are rather structured bits of protein, fat & starch. Try dishes that manage to offer up at least the protein and starch. For example, there are hundreds of good recipes across the world that are variations on rice and beans, and I suggest your parents explore them together. I've found that the most hardened meat&potato eaters also love rice and beans. And while I'd suggest salsa or chutney or similar, I don't see why he couldn't keep that same bottle of ketchup on hand.

Fried foods will offer similar gastronomic joy as the animal fats your father won't be getting. Don't let him shy away from extra salt. And it ain't cheating if your father drops a little bacon fat into his side of beans when nobody's looking. A general good rule of thumb: for a while, your father should be eating no healthier than he was before. Keep his mouth happy, and only afterwards start exploring what else is out there among the vegetable eaters.
posted by jacobbarssbailey at 9:34 AM on April 30, 2010


my mom is a vegetarian and my dad is a carnivore. my mom cooks chinese style though- 4 or 5 dishes shared, with each person having their own bowl of rice. some dishes will be meat, some will be vegetables. he eats the meat dishes and veggies. she eats the veggies and usually something like natto for protein.
posted by raw sugar at 9:52 AM on April 30, 2010


This is a pretty common arrangement, and there are many happy couples who eat together all the time. A few blogs on this topic:

cooking4carnivores looks abandoned, but still lots of good recipes here.

The Militant Carnivore Cooks for his Vegetarian Wife This has pretty adventurous recipes, but works from the angle of veggie food that appeals to carnivores.

Cheap Healthy Good. One of the contributors is vegetarian, and the other two might call themselves flexitarian or only-eat-meat-occasionaly-for-combined-health-and-environmental-concerns-atarian.

Hopefully your dad actually eats vegetables, and won't resent your mom. Hopefully your mom won't resent her husband for not making the change too. All in all, they should draw some rules they can live with regarding meal prep and purchasing meat. Is she going to be cooking everything including his meat? Will he cook the meat on his own? Is he going to be very unhappy with a meatless meal or two a week?

One thing, that I'm sure they know by now, is that the worst, most stupid, and angry fights between an otherwise level-headed loving couple can come when they are hungry at the end of a long day. They need to be aware of when this might happen, and refuse to fight until they've had a snack. Also a having a few take out menus for places with vegetarian options would be a good idea.

A Veggie wife/ meaty hubbie couple I know go with a stir fry as an easy go-to meal. Make a big pot of rice, wok stir some mixed veggies with a vegetarian sauce. Serve 2/3 of the veg to the veggie plate, and the rest on the omnivore's plate. The husband then tosses a few strips of steak or chicken into the same pan with a spoonful of leftover sauce. Quick, easy, and no extra hassle to cook the meat.
posted by fontophilic at 9:57 AM on April 30, 2010


Thanks everyone! My father is super-supportive of my mom's decision, and does eat other things than ketchup (notably Mexican, various Asian cuisines, some Indian, Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern plus fresh from the garden vegetables), but I'm pretty sure he'd be happy eating bratwurst, roasted potatoes, and fresh corn on the cob for the rest of his life. I'm glad we weren't missing some sort of magic solution for making this work; the good common sense solutions so far are quite doable.

I really want this to work for my mom with as little stress as possible - she's gotten a lot of what I think is terrible advice about what to eat over the past few years and has been pretty miserable following those plans and then miserable again not getting the results she's supposed to get by being so diligent. So it's good to see things she makes anyway (pizzas, grains-based stuff, stirfrys, etc) and that he makes anyway (chili, noodle dishes, anything grilled) there - it will make the transition easier for them. Starting now, just as local veggies are beginning to be available and really tasty, will help too.

I'm going to wait another day or two to mark best answers; I'm forwarding stuff to my mom to see what sticks.
posted by julen at 12:29 PM on April 30, 2010


Disclosure: the author is a college friend.

Ivy Manning, a chef and cookbook author in Portland released a book last year called The Adaptable Feast, which is directed specifically at cooking nutritious meals for vegetarians and omnivores alike. She also blogs about feeding her meat-eating self and her husband, lovingly referred to as "Mr. Tofu".
posted by msali at 12:42 PM on April 30, 2010


Since your father likes Mexican food, you could try filling-y dishes like tacos, burritos, and tostadas. Put out fresh veggies, cheese, beans, rice, and some meat, and then let everyone choose what they want. Or you could even skip the meat... around here, the default is for tostadas and burritos to be beany rather than meaty. You have to pay extra for meat if you want it.

You could also make one-dish meals like cheese enchiladas, vegetarian green chile casserole, chile rellenos (stuff 'em with cheese, not meat!), Frito pie, etc. Carnivores love this stuff even without the meat, because the cheese/beans and spice makes up for it.
posted by vorfeed at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2010


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