What Would Malcolm Eat? It’s apparently a pressing question among the pre-K set–I’ve heard from a couple friends now that their kids sit at the dinner table musing about whether or not Malcolm would eat this thing or that thing. Since we became exclusively herbivorous several months ago, Malcolm has adapted readily to the change. Simon, on the other hand, threatens to slaughter entire cities full of people when we tell him he can’t eat a hot dog. But he does that over just about everything; after all, he’s not even three yet.
Malcolm has embraced the change, asking at restaurants and friends’ houses, “Is this only plants? Because we only eat plants.” Malcolm leads a charmed life, mostly. He doesn’t have celiac disease, or autism, or even Asperger’s, or ADD or a weird religion, or English as a second language, or anything that would set him apart and alienate him from his peers. Except that we’re mostly vegan. Which is weirder to people than most weird religions. And while Malcolm rarely complains about missing out on pizza parties, or having to decline the ice cream at birthday parties, sometimes he gives me just the slightest indication that he knows he’s different.
The other day, as I was preparing some weirdo vegan supper (pasta with spinach and asparagus), he came running in from the den where he was watching Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman. “Mom!” he yelled breathlessly, “Shreya, that girl on Ruff? She’s a vegetarian!” And then he ran back to the t.v., his eyes wide, to watch this kindred spirit–a little Indian girl on PBS. After all, no amount of reassurance from parents can compete with an actual kid who’s a vegetarian too.
Malcolm is very open about our diet, volunteering the information to strangers. Today, we stopped by a plant/bake/book sale in nearby Brentwood, NH. A spry, wiry guy who looked to be about 55 years old assisted us with our plants. Malcolm informed him that we’re vegetarians, and I tensed, waiting for the usual New Hampshire guy response to news like this. But instead, the man crouched down next to Malcolm and began a monologue that was at times touching, and at times a little strange. As I remember it, it went something like this:
“You know buddy, I’ve been a vegetarian for fifty years. When I started pre-med, I changed my whole life. I stopped eating meat and ate cottage cheese instead. My friends called me The Cottage Cheese Man. My family made fun of me. Now, I’m seventy years old, and my doctor says I’ll be the healthiest man in the cemetery. Because we all have to die someday, but if you treat your body right, it’ll take care of you until the last moment of your life. And you know, after about forty years of being a vegetarian, my family finally came and apologized to me for making fun of me for so many years. Because they’d been burying my cousins, and they saw that what I was doing was the healthy thing to do. So you be a vegetarian, buddy, and you’ll be the healthiest guy around. That is, if you stay away from drinking, and drugs, and you get lots of exercise. And take care of your mom too. You do all that, and you’re going to have a great life.”
Malcolm endured this with his eyes cast down, but finally, a wide smile broke across his face, and he nodded and tucked his head under my arm, and we went home.