Food is love.love.
What brings people together more than food?
JoAnn Noriega had the Thanksgiving sardines and no plan.
The woman she had just started dating earlier that month, Avery Bang, decided they were going to throw an elaborate Portuguese-inspired Thanksgiving dinner, and she had tasked Noriega with gussying up the tinned fish.
“I didn’t know anybody at the dinner party!” Noriega recalled, laughing. “I barely knew her!”
But armed with the power of the internet and Google images, she went to the grocery store with what little time she had to prepare and set out to make nearly a half dozen sardine-based dishes for the feast, including one with an aromatic and vibrant red cabbage sauce.
The fish were a hit. And, therefore, in Bang’s eyes, so was Noriega.
Among the table of vegetable paella, Portugese custard pastéis de nata and the dozen bottles of vinho verde Bang estimates the group polished off last November, it was the fish that stood out.
“That set the course for how we eat together,” Bang, who’s a pescatarian but has dabbled with mostly plant-based eating for two decades, said. “Like that Thanksgiving, there are often other people there, and we have to accommodate them too.”
There are few other ways that universally express love and affection for another person than making food. Mothers and fathers pack lunches for their children. Birthdays could not be without cake. Couples cook together, their labor of love manifesting through tacos, pastas and, yes, sardines.
But what happens when a couple doesn’t eat the same things, when it has to find communal bread to break?
Oftentimes, it’s a bond that’s made closer through compromise and discovering new flavors. But sometimes that journey is rocky.
It’s a problem Scott Dimond and DJ Blackmon know all too well. Dimond has eaten a plant-based diet for about three years while Blackmon, before knowing Dimond, hadn’t even thought about ditching meat.
“I was very hesitant,” Blackmon said. “I was like, ‘I have to eat meat.’”
But as love often does, it found a way. For Blackmon and Dimond, that way forward wasn’t through carnitas but, rather, through plant-based tacos.
Blackmon and Dimond, who met on a dating app just before the pandemic closed the world down, would spend summer nights outside, margaritas in hand, tacos in bellies.
“That became our summer routine,” Blackmon said. “We’d eat some of Scott’s vegan tacos, enjoy a margarita or two and hang out by ourselves.”
Most of the couple’s early “dates” were to the only places that remained open: grocery stores to pick out food they’d make together that evening. When the world did begin to finally open up again, one of the couple’s first dates outside a supermarket was to Gracias Madre, a plant-based restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Suddenly, even the act of choosing a restaurant – something so many couples take for granted – becomes an act of love, of selflessness.
“It’s usually an easy discussion,” Dimond said before pausing and laughing, “depending on how hangry one of is us.”
For these couples with different eating patterns, food is love. Food is growth.
“There’s a level of respect and empathy for both dietary preferences and values. I’ve seen DJ become more patient and more understanding of my dietary restrictions over the last couple years, which has been really great,” Dimond said. “And to see him be more thoughtful and forward thinking if we’re going to be in a situation – he keeps me in mind rather than forgetting.”
That same sentiment is something that’s not lost on Bang, the pescatarian of the two.
“When someone cooks for me, it’s such an act of love, and I feel really seen and cared for,” she said. “That goes straight to the heart.”
As luck would have it, Noriega’s favorite plant-based dish Bang makes, like Dimond and Blackmon, is tacos. Bang makes a marinade for mushrooms with maple syrup, orange juice, lime juice and soy sauce among other ingredients.
As Bang began to mention the tacos, Noriega interjected and whispered.
“They’re soooo good,” she said.
So good, in fact, that Noriega made them herself for her own dinner party with friends even without Bang there that particular evening.
“They were a hit,” she said.