Watching People Not Suck: Moments of Kindness Pile Up Into a Movement for 2014

“We’re out of meat.”

That normally doesn’t affect me. It was the last day of the year. Vegetarians don’t ring in the new year with dead creatures, but meat makes the others happy. I like to make others happy. Being unable to wave my magic wand and procure meat, I got in the car and went to the store. I tucked the Visa gift card into the pocket with my phone. It was a gift from a friend whom we’d been blessed enough to help. I was touched by his letter reminding me that kindness is a continual circle. I’ve received so much–I am humbled to give what I can. In his case, I didn’t think we’d given enough. I guess that’s often the case with helping.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.05 AMUsually, on a day like New Year’s Eve, the store is crazy, carts crashing around like demolition derby. This time something seemed different. There were a million carts–it looked like the GW during rush hour, but the store was not the same. People were acting–nice. Like it was they’d all vacationed in Colorado and weren’t standing in Rhode Island. They were all smiling so pleasantly. I sniffed for incense. None.

“You first…” I’ve never heard that in the store. The air was ringing with “you firsts” as people picked up bags of kale and organic things I can’t pronounce. I got some kale, too. It reminded me I really should call my friend in Colorado. I haven’t seen her in a while.

I headed for the meat counter. There was a bit of a wait. I checked my email, dropping the Visa card to the ground.

“Excuse me. I think this is yours.” A smiling lady with bags of kale handed me a Visa gift card. Two Visa gift cards in one week. Fabulous! I realized it was mine. She’d rushed from the kale aisle to make sure I didn’t lose it. And she smiled. That never happens in a store. People find a spare twenty and it’s off to the races.

The meat guy smiled, people let people go first at the counter, and people waved me through the coffee. Was there a wine tasting going on? Everyone was so elated to be alive. Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 7.53.26 AMI passed the cheese samples, smiling at the Robustotasted normal. I looked around. No mushroom samples anywhere in sight.

Time to check out. The line was long but still smiling. Everyone put their kale and organic things I couldn’t pronounce on the belt in turn. They talked to each other instead of using the constipation face doing the old “New England ignore.”  It was a sight to behold–lines crowded with New Englanders on one of the busiest store days of the year and only kindness and love abounded. Not one single solitary person with constipation. And everyone intending to eat their vegetables. A tear rolled down my cheek. I put my stuff on the belt. I was ready to go.

Until I noticed the person behind me. She had one thing. “Sorry,” I said, I should have noticed you.”

“It’s okay.” It was a long wait for just piece of dead animal.

I took her roast off the belt. She looked surprised. I wanted to say, “Your roast is safe with me. I’m going after the kale.” Instead I joined in the spirit of communal love. “You have to go first. You only have one thing.” She smiled. Now we were all smiling, even though none of us vacationed in Colorado or ever found the mushroom samples near the cheese. I enjoyed paying forward the smallest act of consideration.

There’s plenty of kindness in the region, but it’s rare to see it coalesce into a bubble of human goodness so large it spills out into the parking lot. “You first,” people were waving. No one in Rhode Island does that unless they’re waving you through the outside lane of a four-lane road where the inside lane’s about to crush you. There were Rhode Islanders driving with respect even as I passed the parking lot to the Dunkin Donuts and the liquor store. That never happens. We’re the worst driving state in the union. Everyone knows if you’re going to get into an accident, it’s going to be in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. “Must get my coffee now…” But even there–people parked between the lines and waited for each other to go… I paused a moment to enjoy the perfection of the universe. Meanwhile, I let someone out of her space. Enjoy now–it won’t last forever. 

Or maybe it will if each and every one of us eats our kale and leaves the New England constipation face at home joining the “You First” moment, making it into a movement for 2014.

I don’t make resolutions. I’m getting old. I break them and the years whiz by so fast I hardly have time to break the first set before it’s time to make a new bunch to break. But if I did, I’d make 2014 the year of “You First,” because if everyone says that to everyone, at some point we’ll all be put to the front of the line. With love and kindness.

 

[images: shorpy.com and babyccinokids.com]

 

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Food Extremists Who Are Worse Than Me

This is me. Entirely. I never made out with anyone in the produce aisle, but I feel strongly about food. I want to grow and raise what I eat. I want to eat healthy, to avoid packages. I do lots of things that are considered weird. I bake bread–it goes on the counter to rise at night so it’s ready to make in the morning. I make two types of yogurt–Greek yogurt, and filmjolk, both of which can easily be made into cheese, which I then mix with herbs from my own garden and spread on home-made bruschetta. If I could be perfect, in my own mind, I’d produce or trade for the bulk of my food. I have the land to do that now, and it’s going to get ugly–things planted everywhere–a landscaper’s nightmare, but my idea of heaven. My husband has advised me to “Stay the #$%%^ away from the front yard.” So far I have.

“People don’t like militants,” said my new friend with whom I was discussing food. Am I that bad? I don’t eat meat, I don’t like packaging, I try to avoid processed sugar, erring on the side of local honey and local maple syrup. I denounce pre-cut fruits in bags in the store and I think that the person who invented the Lunchable, is a marketing genius but the devil incarnate.

I never eat fast food–I told my son Chuck E. Cheese was the evil mouse. I haven’t taken him yet. There are much better foods to eat. Like the ones I grow myself.

I just ate my first salad from the garden. I made my own mayo for the dressing from eggs I got down the road–kidnapped right from the chicken at my request, the farmer put them  in the carton I brought from home–never even saw a fridge before they were converted into culinary greatness.

Maybe my friend is right. Perhaps I am a bit extreme. But not militant. I don’t spray-paint people’s leather shoes or threaten their eternal salvation if they eat shellfish or drink beer. I’ll even cook you a steak if you’re a carnivore guest, as long as it’s grass-fed beef.

I just think we’ve lost touch with our food and I think it’s time to find it. But I’m feeling a bit paranoid–am I really all that extreme? It’s time to engage in the great American past time of looking at other people to make myself feel better.  After all, I’m just a vegetarian–there are plenty of extremists out there worse than me.

Many  cultures don’t understand vegetarians. When I was in Russia, people would offer me meat. I’d politely decline. They’d say “Oh, just have one.” I said, “I’m a vegetarian, like Tolstoy.” Tolstoy was also a political extremist. That never helped, but it got me out of the beef stroganoff even if I had to starve that night.

Many of my students are Hispanic. Vegetarians are even less common in that space. More than one student or parent has, out of great concern, tried to send me to the doctors. “Vegetarian? You need to see someone about that.”

But am I really all that weird? I researched other diets. There are people out there who are far more particular than me. There are some really extreme foodies out there.

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 6.18.03 AMI feed paleos all the time. Their food lists are like mine, if you cross off the meat. A list of restrictions that makes an Iron Chef competition look easy. Then there are celiacs, raw foodists, vegans, and locavores, each with their own lists of prohibitions, rules, and food prep nightmares. Muslims and Jews are easy–even though I technically need a second kitchen and a rabbi to convert me to really cook properly for my Jewish friends, there’s a tacit agreement that vegetarians are understanding enough not to use bacon grease in the home-grown French cut beans, and we’re good with that. It’s the culinary secret handshake. If only solving peace in the Middle East were so easy.

So, I do my best to eat my raw carrots for breakfast unobtrusively, while I greet my next-door colleague who’s busy avoiding wheat, apples, and lactose. We drink home-juiced liquids out of mason jars and shot glasses, and the leaves in my desk aren’t inappropriate for a school setting, they’re just a blend of black and fruit teas, some of which I grew and dried myself.

Am I that far outside the mainstream? Maybe so. We planned a work outing. “You two will not be bringing the food.”

“Your loss.” I thought, as I downed another shot of my friend’s juice–two beets, a banana, pear, and just one sprig of kale–and ate my home-made sauerkraut from a mason jar. It was pretty good. And it was all mine.

[Image: beginwithnutrition.wordpress.com–today this is a link because there are some awesome recipes here!!]