Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good Manners Rule in a Burger King World

As much as I love the vegan lifestyle, I fully recognize that it's not for everyone. Would I like it if everyone embraced it? Of course. But I have learned to show the same respect toward others for their lifestyle choices that I would like to be shown for mine.

Today a boy in my son's preschool class had a 4th birthday celebration, and his mom brought in Burger King meals for everyone at lunchtime. The teachers warned the parents yesterday, in case we would have preferred our child take a lunch from home. I have a feeling they had me in mind; no other parent minded.

I'm ultra-sensitive to my son's being "different" than the other children, so I regularly make a concerted effort to help him identify with the other children while not completely sacrificing our ethics. This means, for us, making a few concessions with food.

Ben is not completely vegan. He eats cheese pizza at parties, as well as birthday cake (which contains eggs). Interestingly, when I first became vegan 17 years ago, and even while pregnant, I fully expected to do everything in my power to keep my future child/ren 100% vegan at all times. I have changed. (That said, he is 100% vegan at home.)

Anyway, so I was correct in guessing that there would be burger meals and chicken nugget meals (the nuggets are shaped like crowns, if you can believe that). So just before party time I made a boca burger on a bun, and 3 vegan chicken nuggets, and I jogged them over to the school. (Incidentally, it's a good thing I intervened b/c Ben is allergic to sesame seeds, and guess what's scattered all over the buns?)

Once there, I met the host mom, and I offered her my help, which she gratefully accepted. Turns out she works at BK, so she probably got a discount on the food. She saw my home-brought goodies and I explained with a smile that Ben is a vegetarian, so I brought special chicken and hamburger. She said "Can he have the fries? Can he have cake?" and I assured her that those were OK. We chatted a bit about this and that, and as it happens, this mom was SO nice. She even invited me and Ben to the birthday party she's having at her home this weekend. I couldn't help thinking that I could have easily alienated myself and made her feel uncomfortable, and how pleased I was that she was so accepting and understanding.

Internally, I stress over potential pain my son might endure due to the fact that he is "different." It was an interesting scene, 15 3- and 4-year-olds eating fast food out of bags while one is eating a Boca Burger on aluminum foil. And it turns out that my discomfort with this scene is just my own. Ben is totally happy not eating what everyone else is eating (unless it's pizza, which he adores, even the vegan variety we make at home). He understands he is a "vegetarian" and we don't eat "real chickens or real cows" or "milk from a cow." A small part of me fears that, ironically, he will be somehow damaged by being the odd man out. But fortunately he is a very laid back kid who has a natural love for animals and can't understand why people would want to kill and eat them. He brings up the topic quite a bit, and I tell him that we don't eat animals but that "when you're a big boy, if you want to eat animals, that is your choice." I also tell him that it is impolite to put down other people's food, as kids this age love to say, "EWWWW!"

I think taking these gentle approaches minimizes conflict, and maybe even gets people thinking about the issues, because they are not put on the defensive.

What do you think? What would you do in this scenario?


Lisa said...

I will be in your shoes soon enough. And probably 10x more nervous!

ClizBiz said...

Great post. I think it's cool what you are doing. I love that Ben gets a 'choice' when he is older. This is how my parents introduced religion to me.

TRISTA said...

My biggest fear as an almost-vegan is that I'll offend someone by not eating food they've made. I realize now, that in four years, this situation has not come up yet.

I hope, if I am ever in your shoes, I do exactly like you did. Also, that you teach him not to make fun of other people's food made me realize, it's one thing to politely decline a meated meal, entirely another to say "EWWW!"

Thanks for the great story.

The Veg Next Door said...

I have those same thoughts. Fortunately my 4 year old understands where meat comes from and she says it "hurts her heart". I hope this lasts....

Diana said...

You're a wonderful mom, Dina. You are showing Benjamin both sides of the fence, leaving options open for him as he grows, and he's totally enjoying birthday cake! Kudos to you!

Diana Cullum-Dugan