Innocence Lost: Explaining Veganism to My Child
By Mary Eileen Finch
My six-year-old daughter sat in the grass, a loaf of wheat bread in her lap. She was tearing off chunks and tossing them to the ducks that were swimming in the lake. Her laughter bubbled up as one brave bird walked up the bank and took a bite right out of her hand. “Mommy, they are so cute!” she exclaimed. She loves animals and I think because she has been a vegan since birth that she has a stronger connection with animals than most children. I believe that animals sense that she is not a threat to them. One day at the park a woman was walking her dog and Rebecca walked up and started petting the animal. The dog sat right down and let Rebecca play with her. The amazed owner told me that her dog hated children and never let them near her. I’ve also seen Rebecca patiently sitting outside while birds, stray cats and squirrels run and play around her.
I sadly smiled and thought about that day I knew would come, the day she would discover that to some people animals were a source of food. I watched as she fed the ducks and wondered how she would react when she found out that these adorable birds were sometimes served as a holiday dinner.
She knows that she eats differently but has never put together that others are eating animals. I wondered if I should mention it to her, but decided that she was too young and that I would wait until she was older. I knew that someday soon I would have a talk with her and gently explain to her what pork, veal, and beef were. But for now I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the heart to tell an innocent child, someone who sheds tears over dead insects, that her beloved animal friends were potential meals.
But then “the talk” was thrust upon us. I will never forget that day, the day my daughter’s heart was broken. The day her perfect world was shattered and she began to realize that pain was a part of life. I had checked the mail, and as usual had handed the junk to her, as she loved to pretend it was important letters just for her. But somehow, unbeknownst to me, a vegan pamphlet had gotten mixed in. I was looking through the bills when I heard her start to whimper. “Mommy what are they doing to the animals?” she cried out. I took the papers from her and saw on one page a butchered cow hanging from a hook with blood making a puddle on the floor. On another a sickly pig with a puss filled sore lay in his own filth while rats chewed on his ears. On yet another page scrawny chickens with clipped beaks were packed into tiny cages, most were dead. These were not the cute cuddly barnyard animals she was used to seeing. I sat down on the floor and took my sobbing child into my arms. How could I have let this happen? Why didn’t I try to prepare her for this day that was bound to happen? What was I going to say to her to ease her suffering? After her tears had slowed, I told her that these were animals that were being prepared for food.
“But why? Why would someone want to eat them?” she asked.
“That’s just how they were raised. Everyone is different,” I replied.
“Don’t they know it is hurting the animals? Can’t we tell them that?”
“We could, but they might not see it the same way we do. Being vegan is right for us but may not be for others. For now, you are doing your part by being vegan. When you are older there is more you can do. I’m sorry that I don’t have all the answers for you.”
Over the next few months she had tons of questions and I tried to answer them as best I could. She told me several times that when she was grown up she was going to change the world. Whenever I brought the mail in she always wanted to read the vegan newsletters. At first I was hesitant to let her see more of the pictures. But she was insistent so I would let her read them with me, together. That way I was able to discuss with her all that we read. And the knowledge seemed to help her, the more she learned the less upset she became. I was afraid that when she saw meat on other people’s plates that she would make a scene and demand that they think of the animals. But she seemed to accept that it wasn’t her place to do so. I think she is waiting until she is older, and then she will seek out respectful ways to educate others.
But it was so hard to see her innocence disappear. To watch her eyes saddened when we passed a field of cows and know that she now realizes that they won’t be frolicking in those fields forever. If I had it all to do over again, would I change the events? The answer is, I don’t know. Yes, it was horrifying to her but we learned a lot too. I learned that I shouldn’t have hidden the truth from her. But now I am more prepared. With my son, her younger brother, I began early on to mention to him that to some, animals are food. As a result he has never had a world shattering experience to upset him. And she learned that she is improving the environment, her health, and animal welfare.