Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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When you Need a Vacation from your Vacation

I grew up in rural Prince Edward Island, a beautiful area in Atlantic Canada. I've done six university years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but I always come home for holidays and summer.

During the summer, I work to try and earn enough money to pay for the upcoming academic year, and since it is next to impossible to find even short-term work in my field without graduate study, I am stuck doing nonspecific student work for another couple of summers. I am in my fourth summer of waiting tables. The money is good, but the restaurant is decidedly not veg*n, and now sometimes I feel ugly for serving meals that earn me the tips I need. Unfortunately, there is really no better job available to me here, and living anywhere else would mean paying rent out of the money I am trying to save.

This fall I am going to Aix-en-Provence, France with a study-abroad program put on by my university. I will be unable to come home for the two weeks' vacations at Christmas and Easter, let alone a weekend at Thanksgiving, because the cost of airfare is just too high. Part of me feels relief at this.

I love being home. The environment is relaxing and lovely, and the singing teacher who has done the most for my voice and my outlook is here in Prince Edward Island. On the other hand, I have always been frustrated at the dynamic between my parents. They fight over my father's alcoholic rages, which are becoming more and more frequent lately, and my mother's increased absence from home to fulfil musical commitments in addition to her full-time teaching job. I resent the one and I worry about the other and I get a lot of stress when my parents actually come to words over something. Usually one will simply leave the discussion, and I'm the one who has to help pick up the pieces. When I was first applying to universities six years ago, I made a point of not applying to the one here on the Island because even then I knew I wanted to be out of the house and away from this.

Since I became vegan, this stress is increased because my parents do not approve of my choice. My mother is coming around on the subject because she sees my continued (improved!) good health. However, my father is a dedicated carnivore who will not sample any vegan food I make. Both he and my younger brother have informed me that they hope I will get over this "phase" sometime soon. I came to see more clearly how my family sees my choices when I accidentally ate beef this month.

We had spaghetti with sauce, which my father and brother purchased. During the meal, I laughed off the usual teasing about my dietary choices; until that night, they were a frequent source of amusement for my family. After we finished our meal, I looked at the label of the spaghetti sauce bottle before starting on the dishes, and I discovered that the sauce had ground beef in it! I surprised myself by weeping for revulsion and sorrow at what I had inadvertently done.

My family came into the pantry to see what was wrong. My father hates to see me hurting, but he couldn't understand why I would cry over such a thing. He probably felt that my tears were accusatory since he had bought the sauce, and he became angry. My mother and my brother both defended me, which was heartening because it gives me the impression that they're both learning to respect my new way of life. My father, who had been drinking, made it clear that he had no sympathy whatsoever for my position and left the room.

Meanwhile, my mother held me as I sobbed. I didn't know whether I was crying about the meat or my father's attitude or just for gratitude that my omni mother and brother were so willing to accept my emotional reaction to having eaten something I would have eaten without qualms just a few months ago. When I had gotten the tears under control, my mother asked my brother if he could try to keep my father out of the bar. When my brother observed the impossibility of keeping my father out of a bar, I agreed and said, "He's always an a--hole in fishing season." (My father is a lobster fisherman.) I do not normally use such words about my parents.

I went for a walk along a field that leads to a forest that in turn leads to a beach. My orange cat, Zeke, followed me. He doesn't usually stay so close to me, but I had started to cry again by the time I was at the edge of the field, and I think the sound makes him want to stay near. I walked and cried for half a mile and slowly felt the sorrow loosening on me as I took off my sandals and walked barefoot through rows of potato plants, mossy forest floor, and finally sand and seaweed, with my cat following behind and the sounds of birds overhead. These are the land and the creatures that surround me when I am at home, and they are a source of spiritual comfort to me. A walk up and down the beach, drawing in the sand and wading in the water, was enough to help me regain my spirits and think clearly about what had happened.

I believe things happen for a reason. I found it terribly upsetting to have eaten something that to my knowledge I have not otherwise consumed since I made the resolution to be vegan. But it strengthened me to know that I have come so far in perspective from my recent omni days that it upsets me to eat a small amount of meat pureed in tomato sauce. My resolve to live vegan -- and read labels more carefully! -- has become much stronger as a result of this crisis.

I love my father very much, and I hope that he will stop drinking and sublimating grief into alcoholic rage, but I can't fight that battle for him. I love my mother very much, and she is a source of strength and support for me musically and personally. Without her, I might have left home for good long ago.

I don't know where I'll go when I return from France next spring. I may try tree planting or rickshaw running. Both of these are fairly lucrative student jobs and require me to live away from home. After next summer, I'll be in grad school somewhere in Canada, and I think that I will stop moving home during the summer. Of course I'll still visit. But I think it may be time to let go of living at home, even if it's only for a part of the year. This decision is not just a result of my new ethical choices, or of my father's alcoholism, but it is connected with both of these and with a need to keep growing up.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

- n e x t   e s s a y -

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