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 I read that "reunions" was the topic of this month's Vegan Views, it was a little startling, because my ten-year high school reunion has been on my mind lately. Oh, it's not for another year, but I'm already thinking about it and wondering how it will go.

My mother brought it up recently when we were talking about my visiting New York for my sister's wedding this summer; she said, "And you'll be here next summer as well!" When I replied that I didn't know what she was talking about, she gleefully reminded me: "It's your reunion year!"

Like many people, I didn't have a great high school experience. I was one of the smarter kids in my class and was singled out as a nerd, which only got worse each time I aced a test or won an achievement award. I also grew up in a relatively small town, so my classmates had known me since kindergarten, or earlier -- hard to change your image when you're still being teased for things you did in fourth grade. My close friends were mostly in other grades, and while I could see them during multi-class times such as lunch or Band, most of the time I felt as though I was on my own.

I don't want to paint a dark picture here, because I did have friends in my own grade, and I have many fond memories from my school years. But the bad outweighed the good most days, and I skipped most of my senior year because I didn't want to deal with the social aspect of school.

So the prospect of exposing myself once again to those experiences understandably sends my heartbeat racing. I start coming up with excuses, reasons why I can't possibly go. The only ones I can come up with sound hollow and desperate even to my ears, but I'm feeling panic set in. I'm worried that not only will old wounds and nicknames be dredged up, but that "they" will be critical of my new lifestyle and my history over the last 10 years. I dropped out of college, got married early, moved to the West Coast, embraced veganism, switched careers, and started working my way up from the bottom once again.

I ask my husband what he thinks, and if he'll accompany me. He didn't attend his own reunion a few years ago, but encourages me to attend mine. He reassures me that he'll be with me the whole time and it will be alright, and why am I worrying about this now anyway? Besides (he says), you've changed so much since I've known you, they won't even recognize you, and vice versa.

I'm stunned. He's right. I have changed. I'm not the same shy little girl sitting in the back of Math Class pretending she doesn't know the answers so she won't get called a "brain." Heck, many of "them" are probably still paying off student loans, while I'm heading to Tahoe every weekend. Veganism isn't something to be nervous about, it's something to be proud of! Plus I lost five pounds when I made the switch to veganism, on top of the fifteen I'd lost the year before -- I'm in the best shape of my life! And If I've changed, then my classmates have almost certainly changed as well.

Suddenly this shadowy "them" becomes people that I remember caring about with whom I've lost contact. The girl I sat next to on the school bus the very first day of kindergarten. The boy who kissed me on the school bus. The other flute players in the band. My lab partner in Freshman Biology. People I have a history with: band recitals and County Fairs and AP Exams and Latin teachers and sleepover parties. I know some of their histories through my mother who still lives there: many have children, some are already divorced and remarried, a few left town but more stayed behind.

I realize now that not only is being a nerd an asset in this economy, but that my life choices aren't any better or worse than those that my peers have made. That's what makes my choices my own -- I wouldn't have made their decisions, and that's how it should be. If anyone doesn't approve of my choices, then that's their problem and not mine. And more than that, I realize that I miss many of these people and want to catch up with them, meet their spouses and have them meet mine, trade addresses, and promise to keep in touch. I don't need their approval, I don't need to settle old grudges, and I certainly don't need to avoid old ghosts at this point in my life.

What I do need, however, is a really killer outfit...

Kim F.

- n e x t   e s s a y -


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