Dinner tables can be places of transformative communion, where the cantankerous turns into the compassionate. In most families, more often than not, the resident chef uses comfort foods as the sugary, salty, and fatty sedative to calm tensions of a stressful day.
But something foreign has infiltrated the foods we know and love — keeping us up all night, gaining more weight than usual, and waking up sluggish and sedentary. People aren’t stupid though; they sense when something isn’t right, and many folks are putting forth the effort to incorporate whole and healthier foods into their family’s diet.
But what happens when your partner is resistant to healthier alternatives? What happens when you realize your “boo-thang” rather eat your “famous” fried chicken-steak and potatoes than try your Meatless Monday recipe?
It’s difficult to change one’s eating habits for they’re deeply ingrained routines that give instant gratification irrespective if there are some unhealthy long-term effects.
Recently, The New York Times profiled a small town in the Mississippi Delta, which struggled to even broach the topic of dietary change. Their food culture is so embedded into their identity, health officials turned to pastors to minister to their congregations on the dangers of daily consumption of comfort foods coupled with a sedentary lifestyle.
Reflecting on the deep-fried treats that comprise one of the The Delta’s most popular dining joint’s menu, a patron gave a honest statement that illuminated why it takes a momentous effort for anyone to change one’s diet:
“Once you taste it, you’re hooked.”
Being hooked is different than having a preference. Many people — not just in the South — are addicted to additives, preservatives, chemicals, and/or refined ingredients in food, which can hamper any meaningful attempt to introduce a healthier alternative to the dinner table.
Equating addiction with eating habits complicates diet conversations; Drugs are not necessary for life, but food is absolutely imperative. Lots of people become defensive when new suggestions may challenge their denial of seemingly objective facts. But what you may consider unhealthy, most people will not agree with or care.
Case in point, The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post published the results of a study that found, despite their expanding waistlines, a majority of the surveyed black women had higher self-esteems than their white counterparts.
It’s a stretch to claim that most black women are in denial about their weight, but what the survey clearly shows is most black women are self-defining, regardless if the definition is rooted in unhealthy ways of seeing themselves or not. Furthermore, the study reveals that a lot women derive their confidence from their ability to attract and maintain a healthy relationship.
The foods that keep the weight in right places tend to be the greasiest, most artery-clogging meats and dairy products, but they also tend to be the most satiating and fulfilling.
When Antoinette Metoyer, a 27-years-old Philadelphia-based dentist, moved in with her fiancé to save money for their wedding, her recent switch to vegetarianism caused contention in her relationship, — not because of the food, which she says “he loves,” but from the 25-pound weight-loss as result of her diet.
Commenting on his bride-to-be’s figure after her recent dedication to working-out and eating a vegan diet, Jimmy Morris, 28, says he was disappointed that she lost a little “girth” from her buttocks and hips:
“She was already perfect; she was thick and soft. Don’t get me wrong, I love she is getting healthy and what not, but, all I’m saying, I just miss her thickness. She used to look like a model”
Forget the fact that Jimmy has normalized some of the powerful images of black women on television and in magazines, where women with “thick” butts and breasts have the ideal body type, but how might his attitude towards Antoinette’s body change her diet?
The Post’s companion article to its survey pulled quotes from the women who were proud of the “thick” affirming songs and comments from men:
They grew up listening to songs like the Commodores’s ‘Brick House’ and hearing relatives extol the virtues of “big legs” and women with meat on their bones.
Men have always said to me, ‘You’re not fat, you’re p-h-a-t fat.’ And when I’m not teaching, I’m all girl.
Living in a culture where men at times don’t understand the ramifications of unhealthy dialogue pertaining to women’s bodies, women find themselves either conforming to their man’s diet wishes or creating an isolated space at the dinner table.
Antoinette explains why she’s not worried about going back to eating a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.):
“I’ve never felt so much better in my life and nothing is more important than that,” says statuesque, self-professed foodie.
Antoinette maintains she’s hopeful her partner will jump on board with her new diet, but she’s not holding her breath: “He always reminds me he’ll never give up meat … since I control the kitchen and do the majority of the cooking, [Jimmy] will have to either eat what I make or learn how to cook for himself.”
But don’t be fooled, when comes diet changes, women can be just as testy with their mates. For example, Jordan Redmond, who is a strict paleo-eater — a diet that eschews all grains, legumes, dairy, and most root vegetables — feels like he will never find a woman who understands his diet.
“Most women want to cook for me, but they always want to make what they feel will put some meat on my bones,” says the slender but very muscular 32-years-old accountant. “Most women think my diet is ‘quirky.’ They want me to cheat, or not to be so strict, but why can’t I just do me [in the kitchen] and they do them?”
It’s understandable when people excuse themselves from the latest fad diet even if that diet calls for the abundance of vegetables and fruits — which, by the way, are the base ingredients for most comfort foods.
The elimination of all animal products, as with veganism, or eating an abundance of protein, as with Hakim’s paleo diet can seem extreme unless one commits to doing the necessary research to demystify these alternative diets.
Alternative diets are marketed to people with disposable income and time, creating a wedge that makes people resistant to alternative ways of living because the smell of pretentiousness always overtakes the sweet aromas of baked chicken and candied, butter-laden yams.
Nevertheless, Americans are waking up to the food industry’s assaultive food concoctions, but one of the main excuses that keeps them away from embracing organic foods is the price. It’s more practical to choose the cheap, processed, calorically dense foods offered at your local eatery or supermarket over an organic spinach-based salad, which may cost over 70-percent more to feed a family of four.
As usual, many of the black Americans making the change to healthier lifestyles are women, who are finding vegetarianism as a way to combat the the rising costs of health care. Even though there are many vegetarians that eat as much processed foods as “omnivores,” more vegetarians are creating spaces online for people who want to learn how to prepare food that warms the soul and keeps your cholesterol low.
One of the most rewarding ways for couples to bridge the gap at the dinner table is to grow their own food. Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow your own herbs in a window seal. As couples do the work of healing, watching life grow in your backyard and or in a window seal will hopefully reinforce your love for one another’s health and wellness
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, gives her tips to CNN on how to bond at the dinner table:
- Respect: Regardless the reason for the choice – religion, ethical conviction, medical – it is critical that one person not mock or otherwise ridicule or put down the choices of another partner. That runs both ways: If one person is a committed vegan, he or she may need to get off his/her high horse and not make it a moral indictment of the partner who does not choose to eat that way, because that is a choice that may not be amenable to that partner. Find ways to voice preferences that are not disrespectful.
- Communicate: Such different choices only work if there is clear communication about grocery shopping (perhaps one person will not buy meat for the other), meal planning, restaurant choices etc.
- Compromise: If the person with more restrictions also does the bulk of the cooking, then there may need to be a way to meet halfway so one doesn’t feel there is no choice but vegetarian, etc. It may also require both parties to step up to the plate and cook together.
- Meet halfway: Cook together or surprise each other with a restaurant choice that suits the preferences of the other.
- Be an opportunist: If the husband is a card-carrying vegetarian and finds it hard to go to places where steaks are the “thing” on the menu, but the wife loves her steaks, then a great time for the wife to eat her beloved steak is on a girls’ night or at lunch.
- Create space: In some dietary restrictions (like kashruth), there should not even be proximity of one food to utensils, pans, etc. Create zones in the kitchen that respect those choices.