Monday, July 27, 2009

Lesson from a Fourth Grader

I am the food service director at a summer camp. At every meal I deal with special diets; it's part of my job to be flexible and diverse when it comes to serving vegetarians, food allergies, Celiacs, lactose intollerants, or any other camper that has a specific need. Last week I served a young girl named Shasta, who is Muslim. Because it is a violation of her religion to eat pork, I adjusted an individual menu for her as a provision of her faith. I prepared dishes that contained cheese, beef, chicken or turkey for her and had no problems until on Thursday night we served double chocolate smores brownies as a dessert. "I can't eat this. It has marshmallows in it," she said. "Sure you can, Shasta," I said, laughing. "It doesn't have pork in it." "Yes it does." She replied. "There is pork in marshmallows... From the gelatin. Gelatin is made from pig-hide." My first instinct was to argue with the young 4th grader. After all, we had served this dish several times to die-hard vegetarians (and one Jewish counselor) who had no qualms about eating it, most of whom even commented on it's deliciousness to me or my staff. Suddenly a little girl is telling me that it was a violation of the her religion to eat the dessert. I decided not to argue with her. "No problem, Sweetie... Let me get you a cookie or something else." After the meal was served and the kitchen was cleaned up, I went to my food guide and looked up Gelatin. Honestly, I wasn't surprised to read that gelatin is indeed made from pig skin (and possibly horse hoof fragments too). I was impressed with the little girl not only because of her knowledge of what foods she can or cannot eat, but also because here she was miles away from her mother and father, or anyone else who could enforce such a rule on her. Clearly for a child to resist such a tempting treat, it would take a high level of will power. I admired her tenacity on sticking to her religious vows. I cant help but wonder about the vegetarians I serve every day. Most are counselors, teenage girls who seem to take a lot of pride in their choice to avoid meat. I'm not sure what their choice is based upon, whether its animal rights, or the health factor. I find it very hard to believe (and a little bit disturbing) that one would become a vegetarian because it is a "cool thing to do". I do however find it incredibly ironic that they shape their choice to suit their own needs. In other words, their vegetarianism seems to go out the window when it comes to double chocolate marshmallow desserts*. I found it quite enjoyable to tell the vegetarian counselors that they aren't allowed to eat marshmallow-based desserts because they contain meat. After all, I figure I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't. But either they do not believe me, or do not have the will power that a certain 4th grader named Shasta has. My guess is the latter... And that it probably wouldn't be too cool to pass up such an angelic temptation. *I also find it ironic that these vegetarians eat eggs, which essentially is partially formed meat... But that is a post for another time.