01 June 2011

Dealing with co-workers: A vegan guidance counselor in a school full of omnivores

If I had green reptilian skin and six eyes, I wouldn’t be any more alien than I am these days working as a vegan guidance counselor in the suburbs of Dallas and Ft. Worth. It sounds ridiculous because my school in Euless, a small city in between, is surrounded by at least four or five excellent vegetarian restaurants. The suburbs, however, are culinary wastelands plagued with barbecue joints, fast food burger drive ins and Mexican taquerias specializing in pork products. I have to travel to get anything decent to eat.

The daily fare that graces the kitchen counters of the counseling building I work in is no better and some days, is much worse. I can always tell when the secretaries are stressed out by pushy parents because they bake like crazy women and the refrigerator bursts with brownies, cheesecakes and donuts. They round the menu out nicely with breakfast tacos full of sausage or pigs in a blanket from their favorite bakery across the street. All of these items are laying around waiting for overworked counselors to indulge and my co-workers do...often. Meanwhile, I’m toasting up a spelt tortilla to spread with almond butter and some fruit sweetened jelly or tossing back a handful of raw buckwheat cherry granola....neither of which help my reputation.

Somehow, over the past 11 years, the other four counselors, three secretaries, two nurses and two diagnosticians have made a grudging peace with my diet. “She’s not from around here,” was the first thing I heard but later, it was replaced with, “She’s a health food freak” or even “I think she may have an eating disorder.” The latter was quickly denounced from the sheer evidence that I graze all day and clearly don’t have time to purge in the bathroom because my office is constantly full of teenagers. Over the years there have been a few heads thrust into my plate examining my food while I sit at the kitchen table and I’ve kindly allowed it. Hey, if they’re curious enough, maybe they’ll want to taste the brown rice and garbanzo bean salad I’ve got on my plate. That would make my day. Usually, though, there are questions about what kind of bean that is or how can that slice of cheesecake not contain cheese and I cheerfully answer.

I realize that even though I’ve been laughed at for bringing garden burgers to the yearly school cook out and whispered about because I don’t bury my face in the onion dip bowl at Christmas, I have a serious off the record job and I take it seriously. I’m unofficially a vegan spokesperson and one of the only good examples of healthy eating my cohorts come across on a daily basis. If I act insulted and respond angrily at their ignorance, I might turn away a few people who actually might want to change their diets. Someone’s new life might actually get sparked by the quinoa black bean salad I bring one day and that thought alone gives me hope. It also helps squash the snarky retorts that live on the tip of my tongue at times when I really just want to eat my butternut squash miso soup and not discuss every last detail about it. Let’s face it, being vegan is not a mainstream choice. Until it is, I can be a little more patient and understanding toward those still trying to find their dietary way. Just keep the fried bologna sandwiches in the other room. I have my limits!

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/noneck