Q&A: Author Michelle Maisto Proves A Vegetarian And A Meat Lover Can Live Happily Ever After

Food is an essential for life, of course, but it’s also a vital component of relationships. Without food, what would we do on dates? There would be no candlelit dinners, and no romantic champagne and strawberries or other supposedly aphrodisiac combos. In her new book The Gastronomy of Marriage, Michelle Maisto explores what happens in the food department after the dating stage is over, recounting the year before she and her fiancé, Rich, got married, and what they ate.

Both Michelle and Rich love a delicious meal, and they initially shared cooking duties when they moved in together; neither wanted to live according to dated rules dictating gender roles. But as Rich worked more to earn money for the wedding, Michelle volunteered to do his share, creating a more traditional division of work at home. So, did they go back to co-chefs after they got married? And how can a vegetarian and a meat-eater dine in harmony? We spoke with Michelle via email about food and marriage.The Frisky: You talk a lot in the book about how you worried that doing more cooking while Rich took on more freelance work to pay for the wedding might shift your relationship away from the more modern dynamic you had hoped to create. What happened after the wedding? Did the two of you go back to sharing food preparation duties?

Michelle Maisto: That’s an excellent question (and one I’m glad you’re not asking me in person, so you’re spared the strained, trying-for-good-natured expression that question unfailingly puts on my face). I have to say my gut was pretty right on in thinking that the patterns we established early on were pretty likely to stick. That said, I’ve also come around to the idea that in a scenario where we both need to be contributing, it makes the most sense for us to contribute in the areas we most excel. Rich is a great weekend lunch guy, and has even become quite the dinner party main-course-maker, but in the end I’m the better multi-tasker, which means that weekday meals, which need to be squeezed in between work and errands and obligations, tend to fall to me these days.

Though in that same vein, I’m a horrendous follow-through socializer, so it’s a huge relief that all the phone calls that requiring returning, and joint emails that need responding to, generally now fall to Rich.

The Frisky: How important do you think the ritual of sitting down to eat dinner together is to a successful marriage?

MM: I think it’s enormously important. It’s a designated time each day to sit down, look the other person in the face and ask how they are, how their day was. Most people seem to race through their days, needing to pack in so much; dinner, though, is this little oasis, a safety zone where you get to call a time out and stop rushing for a moment. I find so much comfort in knowing it’s waiting there at the end of the day, even on the days when it’s preceded by an overly long conversation about what to eat …

The Frisky: I’m a vegetarian and have only ever met one guy vegetarian, so the likelihood that I’ll end up with someone who has the same eating habits is slim. Do you have any tips on how to manage a mixed-food relationship?

MM: It really helps to develop a repertoire of dishes that work with and without meat. Pasta lends itself particularly well to this, as does fried rice and certain soups. I find it a lot less fun to be eating entirely separate dishes — I feel like I’m eating alone — so it’s nice when you can put aside one serving, add the meat to whatever’s left in the pot or skillet, and then serve up the second portion.

The Frisky: Your first date with Rich included a memorable food experience (he ordered a chocolate soufflé at the beginning of the meal). What do you think the best food to eat on a first date is? And the worst?

MM: I’m certain I have never managed to look attractive while eating a sandwich. Sushi rolls tend to make for overly large, less-than-feminine bites, and spaghetti can safely be ruled out. I’d vote for any cuisine that can easily be cut with a knife and fork, ideally in a warm, earnest environment, versus an overly fancy or sterile restaurant. The other option, of course, is to just go whole-hog, as it were — cracked crabs on newspaper, or Ethiopian food eaten with the fingers … At least then you have something to bond over and talk about.