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Saturday, September 7, 2019

How to be a Vegan Pariah

“Are you a vegan, Mrs Poinker?”

The question had come out of the blue in the middle of a Math lesson and now the entire class sat staring at me with disparaging faces waiting for me to answer young Buster ‘Muscles’ Calhoun’s provocative question.

Buster Calhoun’s parents own a cattle farm. I think a few other kids in my class have parents who own cattle farms. Several of the teachers I work with have beef cattle as well.

Imagine me sitting in the staff room every day fastidiously eating my can of pinto beans and chickpeas, my apple and my banana. It’s no cake walk let me tell you. There’s a low tolerance for hipster vegans in this part of the world.

“No,” I replied. “I am not a vegan, Buster,” I replied, then quickly added, “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a vegan, unless you raid farms or hold up traffic in Melbourne’s peak hour.”

“Are you a vegetarian?” Buster persisted.

“No,” I said. “I’m not a vegetarian. I’m a pescatarian.”

“I thought you were a Catholic,” Kit ‘the Predator’ Maverick blurted out.

“A pescatarian is someone who doesn’t eat red meat and eats fish instead,” I said, hoping we could get off the subject and get back to learning about the minutiae of Cartesian planes.

“Why don’t you eat red meat?” Buster asked, his little face taking on a mock bewildered expression.

I was silent for a moment while I pondered on a possible answer.

Because the thought of my teeth ripping through the flesh of a once living creature is appalling to me? 

No. I couldn’t say that because I knew they’d tell their parents and I’d get into trouble for painting despicable images in children’s minds.

These kids are tough though. They can be sentimental, but farmer’s kids are realists. They all own beloved pets but a lot of those pets are working animals. Blue Heelers and Kelpies that round up the cattle and sleep outdoors on hessian hammocks, unlike my pampered mutts who monopolise my bed each night and sit on my lap as I eat dinner with their snouts snuffling at my chin.

“My husband loves red meat,” I finally answer as if that might make me seem a tad more normal to them. “My kids all eat red meat too.”

They seemed strangely disappointed but silent at the same time and I congratulated myself on having dodged a bullet and prepared to get back to explaining the x and y axis.

Belle ‘Trigger Finger’ Ferrell put her hand up. “Do you believe in climate change, Mrs Poinker?”

Now that was another loaded question fraught with controversy.

My brain frantically tried to recall the Australian Curriculum. Were we supposed to be explicitly teaching that climate change is a factual reality? Teachers are most certainly directed to teach about sustainable practises, but I wasn’t sure about climate change.

“What I believe isn’t important,” I said. “What you should do is read all the information and make up your own mind so you can believe whatever you think is right.”

“Do you believe Maths is important?” asked Josiah ‘Shotgun’ Wiggins.

“Yes. Of course I do.”

The entire class erupted in guffaws. “You just said that what you believe isn’t important so that means Maths isn’t important.”

Suddenly, I saw what they’d done. They’d flanked me like a cattle dog does a steer or a sheep, keeping at a constant distance in a circular pattern, nipping me on the nose, and skilfully driving me into the sorting pen.

Bloody grade sixers are too smart for me.