Before the SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome in December, my boyfriend, his LSU-alum friends and I stopped at a McDonald's for some pre-tailgating sustenance.
Until then, I had not been to Ronald's house for nearly three years. I quietly ate my salad of wilted lettuce and bleeding red cabbage, and indulged in a deep-fried apple pie. I watched in horror as my companions wolfed down their supersized No. 5s and No. 8s. I picked at some fries.
I am a vegetarian. This is really not a problem because most restaurants, nowadays, offer vegetarian options and if not, one can always order something sans chicken. My dietary habits have only become an issue since I started dating my Southern-bred, beans-are-greens boyfriend.
At first, it was kinda cute. We joked that we could order one entree between the two of us and be fully satisfied; he would eat the meat and potatoes, and I, the salad and sides. We were two faces of a coin when it came to food. Or at least that's the card we played.
This past New Year's Eve, as we sat across from each other at a Mexican joint at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, I became suddenly aware of our jarring differences.
I watched him scrape out the insides of his chicken burrito, attempting to separate the onions and other "greens" from the rice, beans and chicken. I was so engrossed by this sight that I could barely eat my own spinach-and-mushroom enchilada. He noticed me staring and asked me what was wrong. With a hostile shrug, I squinted at his mess and gave him an "I can't believe you're doing that" look.
I was pissed off. This came as a surprise to me because up to this point, we had silently agreed to stay off each other's case when it came to food. Peacefully, we regarded these differences as something we were born with, like skin color. But now that we were on the verge of moving in together, I saw a red flag.
I grew up in a traditional Chinese household, and we dined family-style every night. The kitchen table was equipped with a lazy Susan, and everyone at the table ate everything on the table. Including vegetables.
He, on the other hand, grew up playing sports and says there was never any time for family dinners. Supposedly, his mother never forced him or his brother to eat their veggies.
"You're a hypocrite," he says. "You don't eat meat; I don't eat vegetables. Same thing."
While I argue that the food group I choose to stamp out makes more sense because proven health benefits include reduced rates of coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, diet-related cancers, constipation and gallstones, he still sees the issue as black and white. Do it for your colon, I tell him. Do it for your prostate. He'll respond with some comment about my nonexistent protein deficiency.
I moved to Atlanta two weeks ago, and we are living together. Before this, I lived in Toronto – a two-hour plane ride away – and we saw each other only twice a month. It was easy to stick to our own eating habits, and go for in-betweens like pizza and pasta when we were together.
We've now entered a stage called compromise. In the past week, I've eaten tilapia, salmon and tuna. The tilapia and salmon were OK, but the tuna's consistency was so dense and steaklike that I just couldn't do it. We've also introduced broccoli (cooked to a pulp and heavily seasoned with salt – hey, it's a start) and Green Giant's frozen mixed vegetables into his diet.
Last night we ate a quiche with onions in it, and he did not mash it up beyond recognition and pick out the pieces.
Little by little, we are overcoming our culinary egos and meeting somewhere in the middle. I really don't mind eating some fish once in a while, if it means he'll get some leafy greens in his system.
Though he won't do it for his colon, he says, he'll do it for us. And that's perfectly fine with me.