Guest blog: Feeding a vegan and a carnivore at the same table?

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My sister was trying to figure out how to make dinner for her meat-loving husband and vegetarian teen, and I had the perfect book for her: “The Adaptable Feast,” the newest cookbook by Portland-based writer Ivy Manning. It’s aimed at “mixed-diet households,” teaching how to satisfy vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike without turning into a short-order cook.

The book is a timely one – not just in my own household, with a 7-year-old vegetarian and a 2-year-old who carefully removes every fleck of chard from his chicken – but also seems well-timed for a country just starting to coalesce around the idea of dining compromises. Die-hard vegetarians and vegans have their followers and have their own cookbooks, but those preach to a converted audience. I think now we’ve suddenly hit the era of meeting each other halfway.

No less a figure than Mark Bittman followed a diet of eating vegan until 6 p.m. each day, as he chronicled in his most recent book, “Food Matters”. Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning put their fingers on the trend this year with “Almost Meatless,” a guide to reducing the amount of meat in your diet, including some dishes that could be adapted for a mixed vegetarian-carnivore home. The idea of “reduce” seems more acceptable than “eliminate.”

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“I wasn’t thinking it was this huge movement,” Ivy Manning told me in a phone interview, but the book met a need she increasingly sees in her own life and community. Manning is married to the man she calls “Mr. Tofu,” a vegetarian – and plenty of families she knows or cooks for as a personal chef have mixed diets.

“The number of vegetarians there are in the country is increasing, as people are more aware of what’s happening in factory farms, more aware of food safety issues like e. coli… If you look at the numbers, there are going to be more vegetarians, and they’re not necessarily going to agree with everyone else in the family,” she said. Along with her book proposal, she said, turned in a copy of a Citibank ad featuring a “quintessential mom” serving Tofurkey to the girlfriend her son brought home for Thanksgiving. “If Citibank was aware this was an issue, my argument was, this has reached critical mass.”

Of course, to some degree, the need has always been there, and is only now being recognized. When Manning told her mother she was writing “The Adaptable Feast,” the response was “Ugh! Where were you 20 years ago when I needed you?” Manning herself, now a committed omnivore, was a teenage vegetarian.

Rebekah Denn writes at eatallaboutit.com.

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