This is a rather personal story, inspired in part by a girl I follow in twitter and tumblr – Selena, who is a 16 year old vegan, and I often think, how smart she is compared to me at that same age. So I began looking back, and this is my story….
When I was about 10 or so, there was a girl at my school who was vegetarian, and I was always asking lots of questions about what she ate, there was also a 7th Day Adventist family, and I asked them a lot of questions too.
One day, I mentioned this “nut meat” product that my vegetarian friend at school would eat, my mother warned me, “Don’t think you’ll be allowed to go vegetarian”.
When I was 11, I was at luau in Hawaii, with my family, and part of that was a whole pig on a spit, roasting over an open fire. I took one look at it and knew then and there I would be vegetarian.
It wasn’t just “pork” – It was a pig!
It didn’t look like a pork chop… It. Had. A. Face.
I refused to eat any of the pork at the luau, and my mother told me she was so ashamed that I didn’t eat this wonderful food, what would people think.
When I got to high school, a big event happened that changed my life completely. I was brutalised and terrorised by a teacher. This man was a famous football player, back in the day when teachers still had real jobs.
He was my maths teacher. He was also a Parramatta Eel, NSW State Of Origin, Australian representative in Rugby League, and we were so annoyed that he wouldn’t even take a day off school during State Of Origin, not even when the games were in Queensland. (From this point on, he shall be named as Mr Win-At-All-Cost)
Anyway, I told my mother about it, she told me “don’t make a fuss”.
I told my principal about it, Did I have evidence? No. Then it didn’t happen.
The being targeted by this man continued, I told my mother that if it happened again, I would scream so loud, that the whole world would hear, my mother said “I am so ashamed you’re my daughter, now go apologise to Mr Win-At-All-Cost”.
I had been getting a lot of detentions, both as a result of this mans brutality, which led to me not co-operating with authority, but also because of being vegetarian, which the school decided was yet one more example of my bad trouble-making ways.
Apparently I had behavioural problems – at school, because I refused to co-operate with the man who brutalised me,
and also at home, which in my mothers’ world, that meant, I wouldn’t eat meat.
And wasn’t my mother ashamed that I was her daughter.
These two events happened about the same time in my life. They are inexorably linked. The brutality from the teacher, which lasted for a few months, and the standing up for myself as a vegetarian.
At this stage, if there was meat in something, I would take it out (yeah, I thought I was vegetarian). If it was on a sandwich, I would take the meat off. If it was on my plate I would eat around it.
I also cooked the family meals. I would come home from schools, while my siblings did sport or other activities, I had to do housework, cook dinner and clean up from dinner. But my mother would leave detailed instructions about what to cook.
If a recipe called for 150 grams of ham in the fried rice, it better be 150 grams, not 149 grams, not 151 grams.
In those early days of my vegetarian experience, I had to cook a lot of meals like goulash, spaghetti bolognaise (minced beef in tomato sauce with onions), things where it was almost impossible to take the meat out.
I didn’t dish up the meals, just cook them. So I couldn’t put more vegetables on my plate and less meat. No.
There was many nights when all I would eat was plain boiled spaghetti. For example, if the meal was bolognaise, I would push all the meat aside and wash the spaghetti off. My mother didn’t like that, she would hold my face down and tell me to clean off my plate, she didn’t like a messy plate.
Everything had to be clean. I often sat at the table until 9 or 10 o’clock, refusing to clean the meat (eat) off my plate.
This only reinforced my mothers views that I had behavioural problems. I was a messy eater.
That was my mothers big thing, if something was messy she would throw it out. If my pencil sharpener was a millimeter out of alignment on my desk, it was too messy, she would throw it out. If my book had a page that was bent or folded, it would be too messy and thrown out. If I hanged my clothes with the coathanger facing out instead of in, that item of clothing would be too messy and thrown out.
Meanwhile, at school I was always, always getting in trouble, I spent more time in detention that in all other classes put together, almost.
I got detentions for dodging maths class (hey, who could have predicted that)…
I got detentions almost every week for not being in uniform – no I’m sorry, but your policy that girls had to wear skirt, and no pants allowed, uh-uh – no one is getting access to under my skirt, I don’t care who they are, I wore pants, and the detentions continued.
or the time when it came to selecting subjects, I chose metal work, I got put in home economics (cooking) because I was a girl and girls didn’t do metal work.
Although I was the most popular kid in that class, I would pay the same money as everyone else, but when it came to eating the food, I ate the vegetables, and the rest of my table ate the meat, they loved that.
In one class we had to kill, dehead, scale and gut a fish.
Yep, that is right, there was like this bucket of fish swimming around, we had to choose one, kill it, chop its head off and scale it, and slice it open and pull its insides out.
The 7th Day Adventists were excused. This girl who cried and cried was excused. I was told I would fail the class if I didn’t.
“But I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat animals”
“Fine,” my teacher told me, “you don’t have to eat it, but you still have to …..”
“But that’s not fair, Anna doesn’t have to, and she actually eats fish”
“But she cried”
I failed the class and had to get my parents to sign a note. Oh boy, was I in trouble that night. I was such a continued embarrassment to my mother. Brought such shame to the family.
Or the times, that they had fund raising barbecues – “But I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat sausages, I don’t eat butter or margarine, and I don’t eat white bread, you expect me to pay the same money as everyone else, to lick up $3 worth of tomato sauce?” I said …. and off to another detention I went.
Detention was fun, I got to hang out with all the bad boys – “and what are you in for?” would usually be the start the detention sessions. The boys would be in for fighting, graffiti, smoking, skipping class…. and me? Oh I’m vegetarian.
When I was about 14 going on 15, I started experimenting with vegan days, where I would secretly not eat any animal products while still pretending that I did, and hoping no one would notice.
I would still have to prepare and cook meals with meat and other animal products.
One day, when I was barely 15 still in my occasionally eating dairy and eggs (I didn’t eat honey) sometimes, and vegan meals other times phase…. my sibling bit me.
I turned up at the meal table, my arm was bleeding, big mistake. My mother forced my head onto the floor and told me to clean up the mess. One drop of blood was just too messy. So I licked up the blood that had fell on the floor from my bitten arm. Then sent to my room without dinner.
What? but my sibling bit ME!
My mother responded if my sibling bit me, I must have deserved it.
I wasn’t allowed dinner, or any other food the next day either. Or the next.
On the 3 day of no food, one of my friends gave me a cheese sandwich. I ate it, and threw it up soon after, it was so greasy, all margarine and white bread and cheese slices, and I hadn’t eaten in three days by this stage. But it was possibly one of the greatest sandwiches I’d had in my life at that point.
But I fell over in class. I was walking to my desk, and its like I took a step and the floor came up to face, I didn’t have the sensation of falling. I must have fainted or something.
So of course I get a note sent home, my parents had to sign it, to give the school permission to keep me back late for afternoon detention. For “being a disruption to the other members of class”.
My mother went out of her brain. Accepting food from strangers, like I was a charity case, she was “mortified…. so ashamed that I was her daughter”. And I got no dinner that night either.
On the 4th day without food, my friend, the wonderful, adorable Sonya, whose parents had a farm, brought me in a container full of the luscious, plumpest, juiciest, reddest strawberries that have ever existed. And I ate them, every last one.
When I got home from school, I went straight to my room, like I had to, only allowed out to cook. Lamb chops, mashed potato (with one and a half potatoes each person), and three tablespoons for each person of frozen peas, and sliced carrots, no wider than 5 millimeters each slice.
After they finished eating, and I went out to wash the dishes, my mother called me out of the kitchen.
“Is it true, that you were seen eating at school?”
“Just a strawberry, Sonyas family own a strawberry farm”
“How dare you, I am so ashamed that you’re my daughter, accepting charity…. do you want people to think we don’t feed you?”
(Well, you don’t)
“If you ate food like a normal person, you would be allowed dinner, now here, have a chop”
There was a plate with a lamb chop on it. It was cold and the fat had started to congeal. It smelled like burnt flesh.
My mother didn’t like that, can’t leave food on a plate, it’s too messy. She shoved my head down and I refused to eat it.
“But I work so hard to put food on the table, and you think you can just be ungrateful, that you refuse to eat it?”
“But I don’t eat meat”
So my mother dragged me into my room, and began packing my things into whatever bags she could find. I didn’t have much, most of possessions had been thrown out over the years as being “too messy”. And, I was pushed out the door and the door locked.
I slept that first night in the garage. I snuck back in, in the morning to get ready for school. I hadn’t eaten in days, and the food cupboards were locked. But the fridge wasn’t. I opened the fridge, and was about to drink some milk, in my head the phrase “meat is murder, milk is rape” kept going through my mind.
I didn’t drink the milk.
I was never allowed back in the house again.
For the first few days, I kept thinking, “I’ll be asked to come back, won’t I?”
Was I really so messy, that I had to be thrown out as well?
There was an abandoned car under a bridge at an abandoned farm, “The Poderosa”, I lived there. I would go to school really, really early, shower in the locker room, dry myself with paper towels, then stay in the local library until that closed then go sleep in the car, and hope like hell that no one would come around and harass me.
In the hotter weather, when more people would be around The Ponerosa, I would sleep in an empty church, the Country Womens Association Hall, in the park, any place where there was no people. Sometimes I would go to sporting grounds and use their change sheds for a shower.
It was hard, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
When I finished year 12, I had actually topped the state in 3 subjects (but not Maths, I barely scrapped by with a pass). That meant 100%, there was people from other schools too that got 100%, but it was actually a big deal. There was an awards night at the school, and I went to the local op shop and bought a cheap old bridesmaid dress and got all pretty and went.
I collected my awards, and after the ceremony, one of my favourite teachers ever, Mr James, asked me where my family was, did I really come alone? I had topped the state, didn’t any celebrate with me?
Mr James was the first person I told, I said “my mother kicked me out of home when I was 15, I’ve been living in the park”.
“But your siblings, they go to this school too, are they homeless?”
“Nope, just me”
Yes, I still went to the same school as my siblings, the people who were not too messy and allowed to stay. I would pass them in the halls occasionally, that was weird.
Maybe all those hours and hours, I spent at the library, doing nothing but reading everything that had a printed word in it, did have some advantages. I didn’t watch television or listen to the radio. All I did was read.
How different my life would have been if I never looked at that poor pig on a spit roast at the age of eleven and decide that I was meant to be vegetarian.
How different my life would have been if I just ate that lamb chop at fifteen that my mother tried to force me to eat.
But I am vegan, it’s who I am, and I refuse to change that for anyone, for any reason.