Vegetarian Children – Raising Kids in a Vegetarian Home While Allowing for Choice
Summary: You became a vegetarian by choice. Perhaps your children should have that same choice.
I first tried being a vegetarian during my senior year of high school in 1984. I was living in Mesa Arizona at the time: a place of extremely wide, straight, flat streets punctuated by strip malls with names like “Poca Fiesta”, “Fiesta Village” and “Fiesta Mall” (I swear I’m not making this up!) I lived in a planned community called Saratoga Lakes in the Dobson Ranch area which was literally a cattle ranch back in the day before it was paved over with suburbia. So just about everything around me (my home, my school, shopping centers, parks, streets, etc) was less than twenty years old and most of it less than ten years old. My entire neighborhood and school district was less than 7 years old.
We had very few “local” businesses. Pretty much everything was a chain store. Natural food stores just simply didn’t exist anywhere in the valley. Same with vegetarian restaurants.
My reasons for trying vegetarianism were not related to any moral or ethical issues about killing and eating animals. I didn’t then, and I still don’t now, have any ethical problems with the killing of animals for food as long as the animals are raised in healthy humane conditions and their deaths are as quick and trauma free as possible. No, my reason for trying vegetarianism was a quest for better health. Over the years I had noticed a pattern. Eat meat, get heartburn. Not always, but it was the only food that repeatedly caused problems. So why did it take me seventeen years to notice this pattern and do something about it. Conditioning is the culprit.
The “meat = protein = strength = health” paradigm is thoroughly embedded in American culture. Starting with school we’re taught to eat from the basic four food groups, which included separate categories for both milk and meat, leaving everything else in the world to fight over the fruit/vegetable and grains categories. I was even shown a movie in Home Economics class that not only declared outright that you absolutely must drink lots of milk every day, but that you should also get at least four pats of butter as well. Even as a kid I couldn’t buy into that one. An RDA for butter? What nonsense!
Nonetheless, the conditioning takes its toll over the years. The end result is a limiting of the questions as well as the answers. Even though I had noticed a pattern between eating meat and stomach upset, it took years for me to accept what my body was telling me. Since our extended family seemed to have various minor stomach issues scattered throughout the family tree I initially just assumed that I must have one of those “weak stomachs” as well. After all, it couldn’t be the meat. Meat is good for you!
So here I am, 17 years old, a high school senior and living in a new southwestern suburb surrounded by chain stores. This was also the Reagan era; where ketchup was a vegetable, trees caused pollution and single moms on welfare were single the greatest threat to our nation. I didn’t know it at the time but my odds of becoming a successful vegetarian at that moment were nil.
The biggest mistake for first time vegetarians is keeping their same diet but just eliminating the meat part. And that’s exactly what I did. Ham sandwiches without the ham. Hamburgers without the patty. Thanksgiving without turkey. And lots of peanut butter sandwiches. Since I didn’t know any other vegetarians and they were no health food stores or vegetarian restaurants in the valley, I was pretty much doomed. I think I gave up after a month or two. I instinctively knew there must be a proper way to adopt a vegetarian diet but I simply had no access to this knowledge or the materials.
Completely unrelated to my attempt at vegetarianism, I also became severely allergic to fish that year. I was eating lunch at Dairy Queen and ordered the fish sandwich (please, no lectures) and immediately felt a tingling in my mouth. An hour later in class I had leathery hives all over my body, severe indigestion and a face that looked like something out of Star Trek. You know the look, it’s the “hey let’s make a person look like an alien by putting a big wad of lumpy prosthetics right in the middle of their face” look. I could barely see out of my eyes slits and the nurse kept asking me if I could still breathe. The whole experience caught me completely off guard and I didn’t fully believe it was the fish until it happened again a year later (I was never a big fish eater) with some freshly caught trout, and again when I was baiting some crab traps and accidentally touched my lip with the bait.
So fast forward a couple of years. It’s 1986, I’m nineteen-ish and living in Santa Rosa, the largest California town north of San Francisco. It looked like your typical bay area bedroom community, but under the surface there was a lot of activity. They had several health food stores, a peace and justice center , independent record stores, independent book stores, and lots of lefty political activity.
I got a job in a custom framing shop (posters and prints…not houses) as an apprentice to their head framer. He was different from just about anyone I’d met previously. He rode a bike to work, recycled his lunch bags and ate all kinds of strange homemade organic vegetarian food. He and his wife co-slept with their baby daughter which was of course breast-fed. He was pro labor, pro peace and definitely anti Reagan.
He turned me on to all sorts of interesting foods, interesting ideas and interesting places.
It was time to try vegetarianism again.
This time the transition was smooth and I’ve never looked back since.
A couple of years after that I met my partner and she too became a vegetarian. She was never that into meat and I was already a vegetarian, so it was a natural choice for her to go that way as well.
So what does this long story have to do with raising a vegetarian kid? Everything really.
We both agreed that we would raise our daughter as a vegetarian but how that would be accomplished was a blend of both of our values and preferences. For me, killing animals for food is not really a problem. For my partner, it is. I’ve killed plenty of animals in the past (fish, gophers and moles mainly) and handling their dead bodies or their flesh, while not something I enjoy, generally doesn’t bother me. My partner, on the other hand, has never killed an animal and doesn’t want to buy or prepare meat either. Both of us though, are strong proponents of free will and choice.
So we came to a compromise. Our daughter would be allowed to eat meat when she was old enough to comprehend where meat comes from. But my partner would not buy it or prepare it. That would be my job.
By age four she had developed a good grasp of the meat making process. She’d tell you matter of factly, if not with a little glee, that meat comes from animals that have been killed and cut open and had the flesh torn from their bones. Seeing a dead animal didn’t bother her and she was fascinated with blood and bleeding. She had a decent grasp of anatomy and cadavers didn’t bother either as she really enjoyed the Body Worlds 2 exhibit that came through the Tech Museum in San Jose as well.
So when my daughter asks for meat, I give it to her. So far she’s only eaten meat in restaurants or at friend’s houses. She’s had a bit of tri-tip steak, some chicken breast and a bit of ham. In every case she ate it once but wouldn’t eat it a second time. It seemed to be an “in the moment thing”. Perhaps her preferences are like her parents and she’ll dabble with meat for a while before settling into vegetarianism. Perhaps she’ll develop a passion for flesh when she hits her teenage years. Who knows?
Both my partner and I became vegetarians by choice, so it’s important to preserve that choice for my daughter. Do we prefer one outcome over another? Sure we do. But you can’t make someone be like you. All you can do is present options and reasoned arguments for you preferences. After that it’s out of your hand.
So back to my “weak stomach”. Turns out it’s not weak after at all. As long as I’m not eating meat I can pretty much throw anything down my gullet and feel great. Blazing hot Mexican food, super spicy Indian, tonsil burning Thai, it doesn’t matter. Eggs and cheese? No problem! Nuts? Bring em’on! High fiber, low fiber, high fat, low-fat, crunchy, soft, sweet, sour, the list goes.
Just no meat* please.
*Yes, that includes salmon and chicken. Your fakey veggie friends are just delusional if they think otherwise. It’s not tofu on dem’ bones.
PS. I would never have predicted that vegetarianism would become so hip that people would claim that title even if they ate meat. Go figure.
That’s it for now.
File Under: Raising Children in a Vegetarian Home – Staying True to Your Values While Allowing for Choice – Vegetarian Kids – Vegetarian Children – Vegetarianism and Children – Kids Not Eating Meat – Vegetarianism and Healthy Children