How I survived my vegetarian husband

Katherine Visconti
What to do when your significant other turns the vegetarian table on you

LOVE BIRDS. Maryjo Reyes Feraren and her husband Bongo Feraren at their restaurant Quantum Cafe. Learning to eat together helped them stick together and create a place where others could taste the joy of healthy eating.

MANILA, Philippines – Maryjo Reyes Feraren had been married a month when her husband turned to her and said, “I want to be a vegetarian.”    

She realized that in North America it might be a common choice, but being Filipino and being vegetarian even today is “like a clash of cultures.”   

He tried to introduce her to a concept he had been reading about called “karma,” meaning actions and their effects.

But early on she had been introduced to another concept, called the smorgasbord, meaning a buffet that in her book always included meat.

Maryjo came from a longline of restauranteurs.

Her family, the Reyes clan, had started the well-loved Filipino icon Aristocrat, while her parents ran The Plaza restaurant and helped make buffets big in the Philippines. Family meant Filipino food, like adobo, sinigang and pork barbecue. Translation, meat, meat, meat.

At the time, she told her mom about her husband’s radical ideal that killing chickens was bad karma. She said, “Our restaurant has been serving how many chickens? How many life cycles of karma am I going to pay for?”

Maryjo said, “I was really nervous, I said our marriage might not last if this is a demand he is asking me now.”

Secrets to a happy vegetarian marriage

Nearly 30 years later, she and her husband Bongo are still happily married. These were a few of her secrets:

1. Get the facts from a nutritionist. In Maryjo’s case, she talked to her mother-in-law, who happened to be a nutritionist. Her father-in-law had recently become a convert to the no-meat lifestyle and her mother-in-law helped her realize new sources of protein, like tofu. But she said the most important thing her mother-in-law gave her was the courage to accept the decision and move on. Later, when 2 of her 4 children decided to become pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish and seafood) she knew just how to support them, with a good non-meat meal.

2. Cook in stages. For example, when making a traditional Filipino stew like sinigang, she sautés the garlic, onion and tomato first. Then she lets the tamarind, chili and the other vegetarian ingredients flavor the broth. After portioning off soup for her husband, she tenderizes the pork in the broth. She explained that by breaking up dishes into stages it was possible to cook for vegetarians and meat-lovers at the same time. 

NOT JUST A SIDE DISH. Garnish itself can be a meal for a desperate vegetarian at a carnivore-centered restaurant.

3. Make friends with garnish. Maryjo said this tip came from her daughter who, after a traumatic dissecting experience in college, became a vegetarian and occasional vegan, meaning she eats no animal products whatsoever. If worse comes to worst on a date in a restaurant, her daughter would eat the garnish served beside the main dish.

4. Standup for your vegetarian at family dinners. Maryjo explained, my parents “thought my husband was sick or weird…Because who can refuse a black angus?” Each time a critical comment came up at their family lunches on Sunday, she politely defended her husband. As she pointed out, it is better to have a husband who likes vegetables than a real vice, like gambling. Eventually, Maryjo said her mother, who she described as an avid meat-eater and candy-lover, developed diabetes. Meanwhile, she said her husband and kids had become healthy and energized, thanks to eating more vegetables.

5. Get involved in the kitchen. Maryjo and her husband have read a litany of books on proper nutrition. They got so involved in eating healthy, they came up with their own restaurant, Quantum Cafe, whose mantra is “food is the best medicine.” They serve slow-cooked food, made in ceramic pots, instead of aluminum pans, and appeal to vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners.

“I never thought that food, nutrition, life style can be a big factor in making a marriage succeed or fail…The topic of conversation in my family was always, ‘What will we eat next?'” said Maryjo.

But by embracing vegetarianism, she realized not only her husband, but her marriage as well, became more healthy. –

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