“What can I do for you?” the barista asked. Phoebe sighed, glancing down at the children at her side.
“Um, I’ll take a large coffee with soy milk and hazelnut syrup, and the vegetarian vegetable soup. And then they’ll have….” she stuttered, trying to not cringe at the order, “two ham and cheese paninis and two small strawberry smoothies.” Phoebe sighed and paid for the food, thanking the barista before walking over to a table and slumping into a chair.
Once their food came, the small girl Phoebe was babysitting, Lily, asked, “do you want any of my sandwich?” Phoebe shook her head, spooning up more of her soup.
“No thanks. I can’t eat the cheese. Or the ham.”
“Why? Do you have an allergy? Because I’m allergic to peanuts!”
“No, Lily, not an allergy.”
Phoebe didn’t know how to respond. She knew that the parents of these children didn’t want them to get influenced by Phoebe’s vegan lifestyle, but the kids were practically asking to hear more about it! “I don’t eat meat. Or anything from meat products.”
“But, why?” Conner, Lily’s older brother, asked.
“Oh, you know,” Phoebe started, trying to skate over the topic, “environmental reasons, moral reasons, health reasons.” To this, Lily nodded, but Conner was still staring at Phoebe as if she had two heads.
“Health reasons?” he asked, and she nodded. “So do you mean that because Lily and I eat meat we’re not healthy?” he continued, looking confused. Lily looked up from her basket of food, her large brown eyes filling quickly with tears.
“Phoebe? Are Conner and me going to die because we eat meat?” Lily cried, and Conner looked at her as well.
“Well, no!” Phoebe stuttered. “I mean, technically, we’re all dying, but eating meat doesn’t necessarily mean you live for a shorter amount of time!” Despite trying to sound reassuring, both of the children were now crying.
“I don’t want my sandwich anymore,” Conner complained. “If you don’t eat animals, I don’t want to, either.”
Phoebe was speechless. How could she respond to that? “Conner, come on, it’s okay! It doesn’t really hurt the animals. I just do it for fun!” Her reassurances didn’t help out with either of the children’s worries, and the people eating at neighboring tables were looking at Phoebe strangely now. She tried to smile, but faltered. What had she done? “Hey, now,” she soothed Lily, patting the young girl’s arm, “come on. Drink your smoothie!”
Lily nodded, sipping her strawberry smoothie, and Phoebe was just glad that she didn’t understand the concept of veganism. Conner followed suit, and soon the two were both quiet again. Phoebe took another spoonful of soup and ate it, but something tasted weird. She inspected the food, shrugging when everything appeared to be fine, and then continued eating. Once the kids finished their food and Phoebe finished her soup and coffee, she stood up and took her bowl to the front counter to hand it to the barista, a different girl than before. “The soup was really good,” she complimented.
“Which kind did you have?” the barista inquired.
“The vegetarian vegetable,” Phoebe responded, and saw the barista’s eyes widen.
“Miss, we don’t have vegetarian vegetable soup. Only regular beef vegetable.”