Such the Dilemma
by Tammie Ortlieb
VegNews recently threw out the question, “Should kids have the freedom to choose whether or not they eat meat?” The response, as you can imagine, was like a bag of spring salad mix. At first glance it’s just a bag of lettuce, but you sit down to start eating and all kinds of things are happening in there.
Some parents practically leaped from the pages, “What, are you kidding?!? Kids don’t know anything. They need adults to TELL them what to do!” Maybe these aren’t the exact words, but this is how I read their brains at the time. Others were just like, “Yeah, well, whatever balances their chi and brings harmony to their karma,” and stuff like that. Maybe the more pointed question should have been, “Should children who have been following an omnivorous diet be expected to change when a parent decides to go vegan or vegetarian?”
Because, face it. You’re pregnant, due in a few months, and suddenly swear off all animal products. Where’s the dilemma? You’re going to breastfeed your baby. You’re going to feed him soy cheeses and veggie burgers when he starts eating people food. You’re going to clothe your darling in organic cotton booties and bathe him using soaps that have not been tested on any sort of living creature. You’re NOT going to introduce baby meatloaf and Vienna fingers. You’re not going to cover your baby’s butt in wool diaper covers. You are going to raise your child with YOUR beliefs, YOUR values, not the neighbor’s, even though two seconds ago your beliefs were the neighbor’s. You have seen the light, and now your little guy will benefit from your newfound knowledge.
Your teen or tweener, on the other hand, may have a thing or two to say about being forced to make such a change.
Once a child hits three or four, we parents get great at offering choices. We know that children need to feel somewhat in control of their lives, and that choices give them this sense of autonomy. “Do you want to wear the green socks or the blue ones?” “Goodnight Moon or Runaway Bunny tonight?” “Should we go for a walk or play in the sprinkler?” Even moms of teens hang on to the sanctity of choices. “You can either get away from me or find another place to be.” “You can do your chore now or forget about allowance.” “You can eat it or do without.” Technically, these still count.
So, handing your twelve-year-old T-rex a plate of tempeh stir fry and ordering her to eat it may land you with a curling of the brow and a, “What’s this crap?”
“I thought we would try something new tonight, honey,” you break it to her gently. “Are you vegan again?” she counters.
“Just eat it,” you give up in defeat, explaining that you no longer will permit ham sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, or any other sort of food that contains a once moving, feeling, breathing creature or any part thereof. Sigh. Bite your lip. And go into the other room. Because it just ain’t gonna get any better than this.
Now she’s building the wall. The wall that says this is me and that is you. I love meat. I will eat so much meat it makes me puke. I will eat meat for breakfast and meat for lunch. Then I will eat meat for dinner. I will eat big gobs of it right in front of you. And I will talk about it while I chew. I will eat it like Green Eggs and Ham. I will eat it on a boat, and I will eat it with a goat. I will eat it here or there. I will eat it anywhere. And if you won’t cook it for me, DAD will. DAD will buy me meat.
And Dad may very well.
Now for the dilemma. Should children who have been following an omnivorous diet be expected to change when a parent decides to go vegan or vegetarian? I can’t say. My teenagers actually led me to this diet by way of their cousin. My younger two, however, continued with their tuna fish sandwiches and cheeseburgers. Being that the new diet wasn’t exactly my idea, I never felt the need to impose it on anybody. My younger son has sworn to Jesus that he will never be a vegetarian. The baby of the family, on the other hand, led me to appreciate the ability of a child to assess a situation and make an informed decision.
Six months into this vegetarian thing, I filled a plate with chicken nuggets for my then six-year-old. Understand by this point she had a pretty good grasp of what Mom and sister and brother were eating and were not eating and why. She knew that meat meant dead something and that usually that something involved friends of the furry sort. Hands on hips and giving me a shake of the head she commences with, “Oh, no, I can’t eat that. I’m a vegetarian.” How cute, I thought, I’ll play along. After repeated attempts involving odd bags of salami, both links and patties of sausages, and the occasional meatball, she continued to refuse my efforts to force feed her sautéed, stir-fried, or otherwise prepared, flesh. She was, in every PETA sense of the word, a vegetarian.
Three years later, having not touched so much as a bacon bit, either real or fake, she is standing in front of me with forefingers pressed together as if saying a tiny prayer. Between them is one small slice of pepperoni. She is considering not being a vegetarian anymore. She is considering tasting the pepperoni. I give no counsel. She smells the meat first and licks it to make sure she indeed does want to taste it. My heart is still. She bites into the circular piece of pig then shoves the rest into her mouth and wipes the juice off her skin with a swipe of her hand. Lord bless me for I have sinned. I have failed to stop my daughter from eating meat.
Will she go to her grave a carnivore? Will she have a vision in the night and wake up healed of her need to taste dead animals? Who knows. What I do know is that whatever her decision, she will have much more conviction for her choice because in the end the choice was hers.