Monday, February 22, 2010

A real weirdo: on being a vegetarian in Appalachia

Back to blogging after a lovely week with my fiance in upstate New York. Now, after a long weekend of work, I'm ready for a bit of a rant.

Let me start out by saying that I like the South. I'm a Southerner born and bred; I feel a deep connection to the land, the people, the history. I like Appalachia, having lived here most of my life. However, I will admit that it is not entirely easy to be a liberal Tibetan Buddhist vegetarian Southerner.

I'd like to focus on the vegetarian aspect. I do not adhere to what my fiance likes to call "the suicidal Southern diet." I gave up meat about ten years ago, when I was in my early teens, and I've never considered going back to being a meat-eater. Though I'm a very happy and committed herbivore, plus a member of PETA (call them crazy, but they do a lot of good work), I am not one to impose my convictions on others.

So this Saturday, I took a couple of clients to a free dinner held by a local church. It's a great service they do for community members, and my clients enjoy going. Staff are allowed to eat there too, but because the entrees always contain meat, I'm content to discreetly snack on cookies and eat my dinner later. I say "discreetly" because being vegetarian is not something you advertise in small-town East Tennessee, since it basically marks you as an alien species.

But this Saturday, one of the ladies helping serve noticed I wasn't eating much and asked if I'd like some spaghetti and meatballs. "Oh, no thank you," I tell her apologetically, since I don't want her to think I'm turning my nose up at her food, "I'm a vegetarian."

She turned away and muttered derisively to one of the other ladies something that began, "Those vegetarians!"

I know what she was thinking. She was thinking I'm a malnourished carnivore-hater who tries to convert everyone she meets. I'm used to that perception, but still it never fails to make me angry - simply because it's so far from the truth about myself and most vegetarians out there. I spent the rest of the dinner there running over things I would have liked to have said to her if I could.

First of all, I am in excellent health. Ask my doctor if you don't believe it.

Second, I never have to feel guilty about what I eat.

Third, there are so many delicious and healthy foods out there that I do not miss eating meat, which, I would like to remind you, is only one of many sources of protein.

Fourth, though you can't see it under my baggy winter hoodie, I have a figure that most American women would kill for. I achieve this without ever subjecting myself to strict and expensive diets. I would gladly show you, church ladies, but I don't think it would be appropriate to disrobe in a church hall, and it would probably get me fired, if not arrested.

I'm much more patient when people just think of me as a curiosity. My weekend coworker and I both laugh at my total cluelessness when it comes to fixing ordinary things like steak. (It bleeds! What the hell? How can you eat something that bleeds while you're cooking it?!) I tease back when one of my clients asks me, teasingly, why a pretty li'l lady doesn't like good country cookin'. I'm patient when another client wants me to tell him everything I do eat. To them, I'm quite an anomaly.

What I hope is that, by quietly enjoying my meatless lifestyle, people will learn to respect me regardless of what I do or don't eat. We can discuss the reasons why we choose to eat what we eat. We can respect each other's choices. And I hope that others can understand that I'm not out to convert people - I'm just living my own life according to my own beliefs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My bears in Namibia and Zimbabwe!

I was thrilled to find these photos of my bears on the Mother Bear Project site. I especially love the picture of the child in Namibia holding my bear - it is just the most amazing feeling to see that smile, and know it was because of me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Special? Normal?

I never used to like the way "special" was used to describe disabled people - special needs, special ed, etc. I used to think it was just a PC but patronizing way of saying "retarded" (a word I hate, by the way, even when used in the clinical sense). That was, of course, before I started spending my working hours among people who bear such labels as "developmentally disabled," "mentally retarded," or "special." And I came to realize something: we call these people "special" because it is an accurate description of what kind of people they are.
So-called "normal" people like myself fit into a mold. Yes, all beings are unique, but "normal" people seem to follow a pretty standard format. Our brains function in certain defined ways; we develop in similar ways and at similar rates. But "special" people, as far as I can tell, don't fit any mold. Sure, there are syndromes and disorders for diagnostic purposes, but as far as I've seen, every such person is different. Not damaged, not incomplete, not wrong - different. Special. And the best we "normal" people can do is to try to see things as they see them, because we could learn a lot.