Monday, September 25, 2006

the vegetarian wrath of the vengeful sot

(Note: "vengeful sot" is borrowed from one of my favorite writers, Jim Knipfel, who used it delightfully to describe his ex-wife and himself).

I'm sulking and seething with anger lately, anger at our youngest daughter's preschool. It's a co-op preschool, which means that the parents work regular shifts and perform school administrative jobs and fundraising. The beauty of this is being more involved in your child's life and bonding with the other families. The downside is the sheer overload of work and annoyances. My older daughter's co-op preschool was seething with grown-up intrigues, both political and sexual. This newer preschool is pretty tame. As far as I can see, the only thing seething is me.

Why am I seething? The last straw was that last year's end of the school year party was a "Ribsfest" at which not only was the only thing on the menu dead animal ribs, but also we were requested to throw in some cash for said corpses. I pointed out that I am a vegetarian, raising my children as vegetarians, and that I found it offensive that the party was meat-themed and that my family would not even have anything to eat. I was advised to take my kids to a playground instead and just drop by later, as the party was dying down, after everyone had eaten to satiety. (Way to make me feel like my children and I are second-class citizens). We skipped that event, and I was reassured that in the future, there would be vegetarian alternatives.

Although that was the most extreme, my feelings had actually been building up over the course of the year. At our first school event, a welcome picnic, there really wasn't anything vegetarian to eat other than what I brought, which was going fast (because dammit, I am an excellent cook). There were huge hams rotting in the hot sun (much of which was thrown out later uneaten). Meat sandwiches. Meat salads. Then there was the communal camping trip with potluck, which, as one other parent remarked later, "You must not have had anything to eat." (Yes, I slaved to contribute a gourmet entree, grilled hobo packs of asparagus, goat cheese, and fresh herbs, which were gobbled up). The "ribsfest" was the last straw, and my vengeful sot nature was sorely tried by a deluge of come-on emails about how "we all love ribs" and "our families can't get enough ribs", "we're so lucky to be able to gather together for ribs", "who doesn't love ribs??" etc.., etc...

So then this year the sign-up went up for the latest welcoming picnic, and contrary to the assurances I received after the ridiculous "ribfest", there was no provision made to ensure there would be vegetarian entrees. None. Now mind you, I am not the only vegetarian at this school. There are other vegetarian families; one of three teachers is a committed vegetarian. I am merely the most angry and vocal vegetarian (and probably also the only sot of the group). So I complained. What I asked for was a school policy that there will always be vegetarian alternatives at all official events (incidentally, in the Ninth Circuit, where we live, it has been ruled that vegetarianism is a protected religious belief and that public institutions must honor that religious belief). The distinct impression I have been given in return is that people want to avoid me now and think that serving vegetarian food is "excluding others."

I recently got the same complaint from a group of girlfriends, and I read it on an etiquette board, also. Excuse the fuck out of me. How the hell am I "excluding" anyone if I am serving them a motherfucking multiple course gourmet meal?? Now if someone holds a "ribsfest", I and my children are excluded, because if we attend, we'll just stand there like idiots, with our stomachs growling in vain and my children whining that they are hungry, while everyone else has blood (oh, excuse me, "jus") dripping down their chins. If I slave over a hot stove and spend huge amounts of money on gourmet ingredients, no carnivore is "excluded" who is in attendance. Everyone leaves full and sated.

Besides, I didn't even ask that our preschool become a vegetarian school (although I noted that many co-ops in our city are vegetarian. Yes, maybe I should have enrolled my daughter at one of the vegetarian schools, but I would have thought that our core religious beliefs would be respected at any San Francisco preschool). I'm just asking that there be some stupid fucking vegetarian food served alongside all that meat, and there needs to be more than one thing, because one of the great unwritten laws of the world is that every meateater in the world claims they do not want vegetarian food, but if you set out a buffet, the vegetarian food always goes first so long as it is not labelled "vegetarian." No joke. I first observed this phenomenon when I worked in public radio and set out buffets for our phone volunteers during pledge drives, and it's been proven over and over again, a rule most vegetarians know all too well. If we go out to dinner with you communally and only one vegetarian entree is ordered, everyone is going to grab some of that one vegetarian entree and it will be the first one done, although no meateater thought of ordering from the vegetarian section of the menu.

I just don't get the lack of understanding on the other side. Now, I love wine with my meals, but I would not go to a recovering alcoholic's home or someone, say a Mormon or Muslim, whose religious beliefs forbade alcohol, and order them to serve me some hooch, because they are "excluding" me by serving a dry meal. I would just wait until I got home and then pour myself a stiff drink.

I am not interfering in how anyone else raises their kid or what they eat. I'm just saying that there needs to be in, in this day when ~27% of the population in our city is vegetarian, some accommodation for this core religous belief. The school would not schedule a mandatory meeting on Yom Kippur or Easter, and this is an analogous religious practice.

Anyhow, given a lack of assurances, we boycotted the welcoming picnic this year, and the victims in all of this are the vegetarian children. Mine are not the only ones.

And as for anyone who feels "excluded" by being fed gourmet vegetarian food: sweetheart, you don't know the meaning of the word "exclusion." I had two dinner parties this weekend, all featuring non-vegetarian guests, and they all managed to go away stuffed and not appearing visibly "excluded."

Menu A (for a guest who has food issues, which is okay by me, better to be honest about these things). Theme: Non-threatening comfort food.

Corn on the cob
Scalloped potatoes
Homemade polenta (yes, I know that makes two corn items, but I was operating under a theory that the guest would like polenta if she tried it, but I couldn't guarantee it)
Iceberg lettuce salad with homemade lemon dressing
Raspberry cream cheese cookies for dessert (which I forgot to serve, so the children and Anton ate them the next day)

Menu B (for guests who seem to like everything, but who have picky little kids) Theme: summertime produce, with a little Mediterranean flair, reasonably child-friendly.

Watercress dip and crackers

followed by
Rice and cucumber salad (a big hit)
Zucchini frittata with homemade mayonnaise (much better than it sounds)
Patatas a la brava

and storebought carrot cake for dessert.

Now, who is excluded: (a) vegetarians at a "ribsfest" or other meal where no dish is served that doesn't have meat in it and who are hungry, crabby, and feeling socially left out, , or (b) a guest at my home who has eaten anywhere between 2-10 different vegetarian dishes? (Yes, I have been known to bust out with a ten course meal).


Anonymous said...

And it sounds like the gluten intolerent among us could eat well at your place also! I'm guessing that you should just write them off in terms of expectations of understanding. Could you set up a section for Vegans only, or assure that there is enough for them and that only excess be doled out to the carnivores? (I love ribs, but most have gluten containing BBQ sauce)

the Drunken Housewife said...

Coincidentally one of my older daughter's friends has celiac sprue disease. When we invited her to my daughter's birthday party, I bought some gluten-free, soy-free cookies because she wouldn't be able to eat the birthday cake. I also got some special fruit (champagne grapes, fresh raspberries, etc..) with her in mind.

The biggest challenge I ever had was a guest who was on the Atkins diet. I managed to do a 3 course vegetarian Atkins meal, but it took quite a bit of research to figure that menu out.l

Green said...

Can you rally the other veg families and all sign a letter saying that there have been repeated exclusions which clearly violate Title Whatever (Nine??), and you'd like to know within one month of the date of the letter what steps the school plans to take to fix this issue to your satisfaction, or would they just kick you out for being too much trouble?

I hadn't realized that being vegetarian was equal to religious beliefs - glad to have learned that.

the Drunken Housewife said...

The problem is, though, that the school is a private entity. Now, if it were one of the public preschools, one could make an argument based on the 1st Amendment freedom of religion (recently the 9th Cir. ordered the California prisons to serve vegetarian meals on a religious freedom theory).

Many, but not all, vegetarians hold it as a religious belief. For some, it's a health food thing or a picky eating thing. But for many, it's a love of animals thing. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and various other religions forbid eating meat because they hold life sacred. for me, life is sacred, in animal form, and that is a belief I am imparting to my children (as grown-ups, they will be free to reject my views if they wish).

Anonymous said...

the vegetarian food always goes first so long as it is not labelled "vegetarian."

AMEN, SISTER! This is why I have the reputation as someone who doesn't like to share my food! I'm only protecting my entree, often the only vegetarian one at the table, and it's always the one everybody wants to try.


Freewheel said...

Definitely can relate. We're vegetarians and my wife always makes a delicious entree to bring to potlucks, etc. The omnivores quickly devour it, and we're left scrounging up potato salad and cole slaw and any other salad that hasn't been polluted with bits of chicken parts.

Anonymous said...

I'm a ribs-eating omnivore, but I still can't fathom how anyone could think a ribs-only meal was fit for human consumption, especially where little kids are involved. My digestive tract rebels at the thought. And I'm stunned that an SF co-op preschool would be so continuously insensitive to the need to have more healthful menu options. Without even dealing with the issue of vegetarianism, what are they trying to teach the kids about food? about hospitality? etc.
What you say about the unlabeled veg entree going fast made me giggle, tho. If I'm at a gathering where an entree is labeled veg, I try to leave it for the vegetarians to be fair and because I also am subject to the misapprehension that vegetarian food is bland and yucky. But if it is not labeled veg, then I will gobble it up, because I am a lazy cook and love to eat yummy veggies that someone less lazy has prepared. Where's the drunken housewife's cookbook of delicious vegetarian food? My limited culinary expertise makes it difficult for me to identify potentially good recipes in my vegetarian and vegan cookbooks but, as one of the lucky people who have eaten heartily from your kitchen, I would trust a recipe vetted by the drunken housewife.

Anonymous said...

Why am I seething? The last straw was that last year's end of the school year party was a "Ribsfest" at which not only was the only thing on the menu dead animal ribs, but also we were requested to throw in some cash for said corpses. I pointed out that I am a vegetarian, raising my children as vegetarians, and that I found it offensive that the party was meat-themed and that my family would not even have anything to eat.

Sounds like someone didn't do her homework before signing up with the cooperative. It's a lifestyle choice that you made voluntarily, not a friggin' disability that needs to be accomodated.

Take your Sensitive Person Veto rubber stamp elsewhere and stop making a perfectly harmless social function a proxy war for whatever repressed anger you harbor at the world for not embracing your choices with open arms.

the Drunken Housewife said...

It's actually a religious belief, NOT a disability. Also, I don't think my anger is repressed in the least; I've expressed it pretty well.

But thanks for reading, and thanks for illustrating the kind of attitude which vegetarians have to put up with. cheers, the Drunken Housewife

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear, and beloved PieHo:

I have scads of cookbook recommendations, but one in particular you might enjoy is Deborah Madison's soup cookbook or her "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" (my second dinner party menu was all out of "V. C. for Everyone." Hundreds of yummy soups. This is readily available at any bookstore (or Powell's). I'm also enamored of "Pasta e Verdura" by Jack Bishop: 140 pasta recipes. I've learned so much from studying at Jack Bishop's knees. I'm currently cooking a lot out of Jack Bishop's latest tome, which is a big old hardback called "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook." If you like Italian food, you will like that book.

I have plenty more I love, but those are recommendations I think you would like, very good food which is child-friendly for the most part (Deborah Madison wrote her Greens cookbooks before she became a mommy, and she wrote "V.C. for E" afterwards, when she was cooking for a family and had less time and more interruptions).

M.Amanda said...

Miss Manners would not approve. If they invited you, knew you had strong feelings about certain foods, and made little or no concessions to make you feel more comfortable, they are just bad hosts and should be a little more careful in their planning of future events before they alienate all the families. Parties where nobody shows up tend to be downers.