Make Mine Pepperoni
If there’s one phrase that describes adolescence, it’s what I like to call “big thinking.” Children this age have finally come into the ability to understand the relationship between the choices they make and the world around them. They can comprehend complex issues. Do I believe in God? Are politicians for real? Why is the beach covered with homeless while right across the street well dressed tourists drop hundreds of dollars on designer bags and double mocha lattes?
These youth recycle, exercise, and help worthy causes not because we tell them to but because they understand the consequences of not doing so. They stop accepting information simply for what it is and start to research possibilities. What is my role in ending sex discrimination? How do I help put an end to racial stereotyping? What can I do to make a positive impact on my environment? More than anything, these young adults strive to have their big thinking acknowledged by peers.
This is the time, after all, when children begin to pull away from their parents and move toward those who are like themselves. In an effort to find their true identity, not that constructed by Mom or Dad, they try out different personalities, different behaviors, different ways of being. They try new hairstyles, new clothing, new language, hobbies, and, yes, even food. This, according to leading psychologists, is their job. The developing youth seek answers to life’s big questions—Who am I? What is my role in life? What do I have to offer those around me? Researchers suggest that the boy or girl who does not experiment in various arenas may appear more stable than the teen who hops from interest to interest. Interestingly, they continue, it is the youth who flits from this to that who is the better adjusted of the two. Teenagers, if they are developmentally healthy and doing their job, must seek out new ways of doing things.
Often during the middle and high school years, adolescents turn to vegetarianism in an effort to express their newfound independence. Parents who have absolutely no experience with plant based diets are suddenly thrown into the plethora of veggie burgers, the excess of dairy alternatives, and the glut of vegan junk food. Books such as Carol Adams’ Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! and Debra Poneman’s What, No Meat?! line library shelves specifically for these cruciferous veggie challenged parents. Websites like www.goveg.com,www.vrg.org, and www.tryveg.com assist the more techie oriented of the bunch. Sometimes, however, and I say this rather sheepishly, sometimes former vegan or lacto-ovo teens begin to experiment with including meat into their lean and green daily meal plan.
Horror of horrors! Gasp with a capital G! Where is a well meaning vegetarian parent to turn for aid and assistance in this, the most trying of trying times? As far as I know, no book exists to tell a parent what to do when a child confesses to wanting to taste pork. I could suggest a couple. Perhaps, “What, No Tofu?!” or “Help! My Child Started Eating Salami!” A little perspective, however, before dealing with this issue will serve us well. We must remember that munching on chicken nuggets is not illegal. We will not receive a call from the school principle or the local police department. Nor will our darlings be rushed to the hospital for binge cheeseburger eating at the prom after-party. We are not dealing with matters of self abuse such as cutting or huffing or vomiting massive quantities of food. No, we are dealing with turkey and processed cheese and maybe a little mayo.
Let’s keep in mind, too, that exploring during the time of adolescence, doesn’t necessarily mean converting. Just as some youth will experiment with eating a plant-based diet and return fully to an omnivorous one, others will scout out the possibility of adding a little meat to meals only to revert to beans and rice. Ashanti, a vegetarian teen of one full year, started downing burgers again the week before she went off to camp. She felt vegetarian choices would be limited during the month she would spend eating in the camp kitchen. While salad was always an option, plant based teen favorites were indeed not top priority at the farm. During her four week stay, Ashanti revisited tuna salad, ham and cheese, and lasagna with meat sauce. On returning home, she continued her carnivorous ways until school started two weeks later. At this point, she returned to the cafeteria and eating lunch with her friends, most of whom were vegetarian. Needless to say she is once again refusing to consume dead flesh and proudly announcing to anyone interested, or not, her commitment once again to plant based eating.
So, while not exactly what we would choose for our children, their diet adventures won’t involve riding around parking lots while lying on car hoods, stealing from friends in order to support a meth addiction, driving at the age of thirteen, mouthing off to police, or piercing tongues, noses, or body parts of any type (all behaviors I have witnessed, by the way, in my soccer mom experience with four kids). I also, just to be fair, have witnessed a young woman earn the Volunteer of the Year award for her efforts in the concession stand of her brother’s Little League field. I have looked on as a high schooler beat out numerous adults for a position on the vestry at her church. I have aided two young girls in creating a lemonade stand devoted to raising funds for the local animal shelter. And I am privy to the knowledge that an entire Girl Scout troop contributed to design and construction of the local camp latrine. Prep, Goth, Emo, Punk, Jock, Band Geek, Skater. Teenagers, if they are developmentally healthy and doing their job, must seek out new ways of doing things.
A pepperoni pizza now and then? I’ll take that.
The following is adapted from a piece previously published in Vegetarian Baby Online Magazine entitled 30 Ways to Tell Your Vegetarian Child “I Love You.’ Check out the original list at www.vegetarianbaby.com/articles/30ways.shtml .
20 Ways to Tell Your Meat-again Teenager “I Love You”
- Don’t insist she renew her PETA membership, “just in case.”
- Learn about animal products you may be unfamiliar with such as prosciutto. Know what she’s eating.
- Help her experiment with new recipes.
- Support her decision to try meat.
- Tell relatives, in front of her, how proud you are of her ability to make decisions for herself.
- Educate her on the importance of buying organic meats.
- Support her in her efforts to communicate with her friends about her choices.
- Go to restaurants that offer a variety of options.
- Encourage a healthy omnivorous diet, not just burgers and pizza.
- Point out teen nutrition articles in the local newspaper.
- Defend her at the pediatrician’s office.
- Make the “m” word a non-issue at meal time, just eat and enjoy each other’s company.
- Tolerate her new leather bag.
- Learn more by talking to vegetarians you know whose children have tried meat.
- Hide the aggravation—make your efforts loving and curious, keep any disdain of the subject to yourself.
- Teach her good manners—no flashing a big juicy steak in front of a sibling saying, “Ooh, don’t you wish you had one of these.”
- Let her throw a burger on the grill at the next barbecue.
- Buy her some cookbooks especially for students.
- Read archived confessionals like the one at www.vegetarianteen.com/articles/animallover.shtml.
- Read about celebrity veg teens who have experimented with meat.