Tuesday, June 09, 2009

a lonely vegetarian in a protein-crazed world

About a week ago I picked up third grader Iris uber Alles at school, and, when I asked her how her day at school was, instead of her usual "Meh", she said with intensity, "Momdude, I made the biggest mistake of my life today. Telling the PE teacher that I'm a vegetarian."

First the teacher went off on a sort of rant in front of the whole class, according to Iris, going on about how Iris should go on a mission to teach the world not to eat animals. But then, after considering it further, the teacher called Iris to her office for a private conference, where, turning her big earnest eyes on Iris, she asked, "Where do you get your protein?" Iris felt put on the spot and humiliated and embarrassed.

Hearing this, my blood pressure soared. I ranted in the car for a while. I hatehatehate idiots who turn their blank gaze on you and ask, "Where do you get your protein?" If I were ruder, I'd ask them in return, "Well, where the fuck do you get your fiber, vitamins, and minerals, because they sure as hell aren't in that meat you're so freaking fond of."

I realize that I've built up a chip on my shoulder about being a vegetarian. Whatever sense of humor I ever had about it wore off over a decade ago. I'm tired of being asked where I get my protein or being told that in Genesis, God gives animals to Adam to eat like fruit or being asked if being a vegetarian makes me have to forego oral sex or being informed that I'm at the bottom of the food chain while intelligent people are at the top of it. More than anything, I wish my beautiful, smart daughters wouldn't have to put up this crap.

Then last Friday I chaperoned an all-day, teacherless field trip for the third grade. Another chaperone had the very good idea of taking our group to Juban for lunch, a Japanese restaurant where you cook your own food on a little grill inset into the marble table. Of course the girls were thrilled with this, and this chaperone ordered filet mignon for them all, with one order of shrimp as a bit of a side, with rice. I intervened as gently as possible. "Iris and I are vegetarians." For us, I ordered tofu, corn, zucchini, and asparagus, which we happily cooked together. The chaperone (whom I actually like, a very nice woman) looked over at me and asked, "Where do you get your protein?" I could not believe that with everyone else at the table eating the nutritionally questionable choice of meat and plain rice while Iris and I had a rich and full meal of corn, tofu, zucchini, and asparagus, someone would question OUR nutritional choices. I responded as politely as I could, pointing out gently that the average American is rather protein-crazed and eats far more protein than recommended, including American vegetarians, and noting that as ovo-lacto vegetarians, Iris and I eat cheese, tofu, beans, eggs, and many other protein-laden foods regularly.

Meanwhile the end-of-the-year picnic for Iris's class was coming up. Last year this was held at a prestigious country club and catered, with each family required to pay a hefty charge. I asked, as civilly as I could, whether there would be any vegetarian food included, and I was told in return that no, there wouldn't be, and I would need to bring plenty of food for my family and assume we'd get absolutely nothing, but I still needed to pay the full, outrageous catering charge because it wouldn't be fair for our family not to help pay for the picnic. Neither the Sober Husband nor I felt like driving for well over an hour to pay for other people to have a catered picnic, so we skipped that one. This year's picnic was happily being held within the city limits at a reasonable price, but I still didn't feel like asking about vegetarian food. I'm sick of being the only vegetarian parent of the only vegetarian child in the third grade. I don't want to talk about it or bring it up with any of those people.

There are supposedly vegan families in the upper school, but I don't personally know them. The Sober Husband is a weak ally, given that he scarfs down meat on a regular basis and occasionally goes off on me about how he hates to go to fine restaurants with me because he feels constrained about ordering meat. Given that he lived primarily off taco chips and ramen noodles when we met, I do not feel any guilt about my impact on his diet.

Today I was feeling upset and unhappy, and a strange thought came to my mind. I realized that I missed my ex-husband. For all his faults and failings, the man was a dedicated vegetarian, and I never felt lonely as a vegetarian during the decade we were together. I always had someone who understood these issues and who was just as quick with an eye-rolling over that ubiquitous "how do you get your protein" or to take offense at foie gras. My children are more strongly and vehemently vegetarian than me, but they are children. (Indeed Lola recently learned that her father isn't a vegetarian and burst into tears. "I thought we were all vegetarians," she said between sobs). I don't have any other vegetarian friends these days, particularly vegetarian friends who are parents. I used to post on a board for vegetarian parents, but iVillage shut it down, the carnivores. I'm alone in this, without allies or anyone who gets it.

I tried to talk to the Sober Husband about the gym teacher's faux pas, but he didn't get it. "I thought you said the other chaperone asked you where you get your protein, but it was the gym teacher? Or the chaperone?"

"BOTH. They both did," I said impatiently. "EVERY idiot asks that. There used to be a vegan zine called 'Where Do You Get Your Protein.'" I hung up. How low I have sunk indeed, I thought, to be missing my ex-husband.


Carroll said...

Gawd, what century is this, anyway?! Even in enlightened San Francisco you're getting that kind of grief? Ridiculous! How about taking yourselves down to that fabulous Ferry Building Farmer's Market and holding up a sign "Summer Peer Playgroup Wanted". Ditch those insensitive/unenlightened school mates and take yourselves off on a few self-catered (thankyouverymuch) vegetarian fields trips with some like-minded hippie dippie new friends. Sounds like it would be a breath of fresh air for you *and* the kidlets :-)

J9 said...

I thought I'd be particularly alone in my veg-headed momness in this suburb of SF, but alas I have many veg head friends who have kidlets in my kids' class. Try befriending the East Indian population at the school - that's where I started, and then found others who were not comfortable bringing up the , "what about the vegetarian options?" questions. I'm not shy about it, and I'm not yet tired of the questions - if they are in true interest, and not in derision. What I am tired of is my mother, bless her, really, trying to still understand that even fake krab in a California roll is NOT a vegetarian option, because it is STILL made from fish. Or that, "It's just flavored with the bacon" doesn't help me at all.

pie_ho said...

I was going to chime in that I am a veg-head mom friend of yours, but duh, I still eat the seafood, and the girls aren't officially off the meat, even if it's served infrequently and rejected by them most of the time. Plus, I don't eat any cow milk product, which makes it hard for me to share recipes and meals with, well, pretty much anyone. But I continue to be with you in sympathy, because I am also v.v. tired of having to pack my own food and explain myself.

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Amy said...

You should hang out with more lesbians. Seriously, it's practically a crime to bring a dish to a potluck that has meat in it.

Freewheel said...

I guess I had the same misconception as Carroll - I thought SF and California in general was something of a green, vegetarian utopia.

I feel your pain. D.C. is really a southern city at heart, and this is BBQ season. I think it's really sad and a bit embarrassing that I have to show up at these BBQs carrying veggie burgers and then have to persuade the host to work them in next to the meat patties. Of course, there's blood and grease splattering all over the grill. Really, before I even saw your post, I had thought about emailing you for ideas on how to handle this type of situation. It sounds like you're in the same boat as me -- surrounded by carnivores and ISO more veg friends.

the Drunken Housewife said...

J9, that's a great idea about East Indians... but there are no East Indians in either the 3d grade or the kindergarten at our school so far as I know. The 3d grade is pretty white, with a few families of Asian descent but not Indian-Asian. The kindergarten is much more diverse, with several European families, an Argentinian mother, a Mexican parent, a few African-American families... but so far as I know, no vegetarians. Lola doesn't know of another vegetarian child in the kindergarten.

No lesbian families in our grades, either, Amy, although there are some in other grades (and we have some fabulous lesbian teachers). Lesbians are pretty underrepresented in the parent body, though. I was trying to talk it up to a lesbian mother I used to be friendly with, and she admitted that raising her daughter in an all-female household, she was worried about sending her to an all-girls school and felt mandated to seek some testosterone-laden school so no one would be able to say she was trying to mold her daughter into a lesbian also (of course, no one ever criticizes a straight person for molding their children into heterosexuals).

It seems not many vegetarians cross over into the all-girls private school world. There weren't many in the downtown big law firm world, either, or at my law school (although infamously a former dean was a vegetarian).

I want to run away from home and come home a different person. I'm not ready to eat meat, though. And even if I were, Iris would not go along with that silently.

Pie-ho, let's meet up this summer some. My schedule is flexible now school got out today... I won't ask you where you get your protein.

Ellen Spertus said...

I'm surprised and appalled that this is a problem in San Francisco.

Carol Ann said...

Man, ivillage shut down all the good boards, didn't they?

the Drunken Housewife said...

They did indeed, Carol Ann, they did.

I don't even bother going anywhere near their sites any more. All the boards I posted on (and I miss the one we posted on together) are gone.

Anonymous said...

So, DH, do you avoid the innkeepers who only sell meat, and just snack on the mushroom and fish offerings to get your health back up? (WoW injoke, couldn't resist. I would imagine it would be hard to be a Horde vegetarian. Or a hunter.).....Best, Keith (who is rapidly catching up to your current post after 6 months of Archive reading, and who still hasn't come up with a blog username, and who has become a great fan of you and yours)

the Drunken Housewife said...

Keith, thank you so much for reading everything. It means a lot to me, really.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Keith, thank you so much for reading everything. It means a lot to me, really.

Vegi Mom said...

oh drunken housewife, where have you been all my life? We may have been twins in another life!

I also am trying hard to raise good little vegetarians wih a carniverous husband. And man, is it hard!! He was a vegetarian before culinary school and our wedding. But now it seems as though weekly we have a conversation about the kids eating meat "if they want to" when they get a little older. Hopefully I have instilled some wisdom in their little heads & they just won't but how did you deal with that?
and what about public school lunches!? My oldest is almost 4 and we're thining about private school with veg options. But the only one is the Waldorf school. And as much as I want them healthy, I am not a fan of sneeking the bible into school cariculum. Are these our only choices these days?
last but not least, I'm not shocked when the fatty midwesterners (minneapolis) ask about my protien intake. But how is this even possible in S.F. ?