At the moment, I spend eight hours of each day teaching twenty-two seven and eight year olds reading, math, and how to behave themselves (admittedly, mostly the latter). While I have always lived in North Carolina, the culture shock I have experienced since moving to Rocky Mount, NC, in order to fulfill a two-year commitment with Teach for America, has been no less than a mild-mannered (or vile-mannered) out of body experience. Growing up in a household where meals were reveled for the time put into their preparation and the quality of their ingredients, my world has been shocked and shaken by the majority ideology surrounding the consumption of food in Rocky Mount.
Perhaps the best way to begin to illustrate daily life as I have come to know it, is with a conversation that I hear on a daily basis in the cafeteria lunchroom. ‘Are french fries a vegetable?’ Well, in Rocky Mount, the answer is obvious. ‘Yes.’ My kids know french fries as the vegetable of choice on the lunch menu (and when I say ‘choice’ I mean the choice of the kitchen, not necessarily the children), and when they hear that in my past life, in the culturally-distant, organic oat-eating oasis of Chapel Hill, I was a vegetarian, I generally see their jaws drop in wonder. And here the conversation might slightly vary, but it generally takes the same path each time. “What do you eat??” they ask. “Well,” I reply, “like right now, I’m eating a veggie burger.” “Does it have chicken in it?” “No.” “Does it have any beef in it?” “No, it’s made of vegetables.” Here, I experience a slight (or not so slight) look of disgust and simultaneous eye-rolling. And so it goes, day after day. I eat vegetables and more vegetables and I become more and more of a source of wonder and awe.
As for my veggie burgers, the latest and greatest veggie burger episode goes like this:
[background information: I shamelessly love ketchup. and therefore I coat my lunchtime veggie burger in it. and the kids notice this.]
…I’m eating my lunch and student with colorless cafeteria burger sits down beside me.
She sees me eating my veggie burger, and alas, yes, the ketchup is oozing down the sides…she takes notice… she removes the bun from her burger, squeezes out two packets of ketchup onto the top of her ‘meat’ and replaces the bun.
She happily picks up the burger, ketchup oozing down the sides and proclaims, “Look Ms. Bowman, I got me a veggie burger too!”
And this! this! is what I mean when I want to grab someone by the shoulders and shake them heartily and ask, ‘where am I?,’…maybe it’s that I work with seven-year olds, or maybe it’s Rocky Mount, or maybe it’s both. Anyway, maybe I should start using less ketchup.