My first year teaching I accidentally turned my class into vegetarians for 2 weeks. I got a new student who had recently converted to Islam. A few weeks prior she had been living in North Carolina attending a Baptist church with her very Southern American girl name, wearing very American girl clothing. Her parent married someone from India and so she moved away from the South, converted to Islam, changed her name, and began dressing in beautiful Muslim play clothes. She also had to suddenly understand what she could and could not eat. Though she was the first Muslim student in our small classroom there were many Hindu children who did not eat beef, so she was not the only one with dietary restrictions.
Every day going through the lunch line was an ordeal. "Does that have pork in it?" she'd ask and point to a baked potato. "What about that?" and point to corn. One day when I am sure I had to run go copy papers and finish lesson plans I said, "Ok, this is from a cow, this is from a pig, this is from the garden", etc.
"WHAT??" a first grade boy yelled. "This hamburger is from a COW? This is a COW?" The class went crazy. "I'm not eating COW." "Ewwww... PIG!! I can't eat that!"
Since then I've tried to stay with labels like "beef, pork, and poultry" when helping our religious kids choose what they are able to eat. Last week I was leading my kindergarten lunch club through the line when I realized one little boy was holding a ham sandwich I knew he could not eat. I grabbed it from him (keep in mind my previous posts about my lunch bunch... this is not usually a time when I am able to think calmly and slowly), reminded him he can't eat pork, and slapped the waffles and turkey sausage down on his tray. The lower lip began to tremble. "I can't eat that either!" he said pointing to the turkey sausage.
*sigh* you try to explain to a child who can't read that the meat on his plate may look like its from a pig but it really comes from a bird.
The cafeteria lady threw down a pb&j sandwich. The lower lip trembles even more. "I'm allergic to peanuts!" he announces.
*sigh* We are out of options. I re-plop down the waffles and fake sausage, hoping I can explain to him the difference upstairs.
Next in line is a little girl from the same country as this little one. A little girl also clutching a ham sandwich. I'm not sure I'm ready to go through this again. "Honey, are you Muslim?" I ask. "What? " she said, "What's that?"
moment of truth... do I coach her to get something else or do I figure that since I do not have any note on dietary restrictions, and since the child doesn't know at this moment in time what 'Muslim' is, do I allow her to each the sandwich?
Upstairs the little boy refused to eat anything that came into contact with the turkey sausage. Here is this crazy teacher letting his friend eat her ham sandwich and trying to tell him they make sausage from turkey.