by Jennifer Alyah
If you’re like me, you have children and you have parents. If, like me, one set eats animals and the other doesn’t, you, too, may have experienced “The Talk.”
A year and a half ago, when I decided to eliminate animal products from my life, my children were almost 1 and 4 years old. I decided, for some reason, not to drastically change their diet as much as I did my own. I no longer served meat, but they did continue to eat it on occasion. My husband commented that he wasn’t particularly concerned one way or the other as long as I had done my research to ensure that our children ate a balanced diet, and as long as I didn’t interfere with his consumption of meat.
Then it happened-my oldest daughter, now 5, announced that she was vegetarian. From that point on, she explained to everyone who would listen (as well as a couple who wouldn’t), “Vegetarians don’t eat meat, cheese, milk, or eggs, but they sometimes eat chicken nuggets.” (We eat the vegan kind.) The next time we called my parents, she proudly informed them, as well.
That’s when it came: The Talk.
“I don’t know,” said Dad, insisting that Rachel immediately transfer the phone to me. “I suppose they might be able to go without meat for a while, but kids HAVE to have milk!” (In the background, I could hear him mumble to my mother, “She says Rachel won’t eat meat, and now she’s not even drinking milk!”)
Then, it was Mom’s turn. “I don’t know,” she said, “but if I were you, I’d give them meat at least twice a week, and PLEASE, let them drink milk! They HAVE to have milk!”
Suddenly, I felt like I did when I was six years old and had forgotten to bottle-feed the piglets we raised for food. “They can’t go very long without eating! They’ll die! Don’t you forget again, OR ELSE…”
There was one other consideration I couldn’t ignore–my dad’s occupation: chemist. Now retired, he used to supervise an amino acid laboratory at a well-known medical center. He interpreted lab tests on all sorts of people with unusual medical conditions, and had seen a wide range of cases related to nutritional deficiencies over the years. At times, he had been called in at odd hours of the night to recheck lab results of very ill children from across the country. His reaction made me panic! Maybe these were children who hadn’t been given milk!
As soon as I was off the phone, I raced to my horde of vegetarian nutrition books. Yes, I read yet again, a vegan diet can supply all the nutritional needs of a growing child. No, milk (or any other animal product) is not essential.
I still feel the occasional qualm. And I still don’t dictate what my children eat-not 100%. I explain my feelings on the subject of animal products and offer them what I eat. When we eat out, I give them a choice. More often than not they choose on their own what I would have ordered for them.
As for my parents, I am reminded of their parting comments from The Talk: “They’re your kids, feed them what you like, but just remember-they’re our grandkids.”
There’s no doubt we all care about the future of our children. I also believe in the wisdom of our elders. At the same time, I am not my parents. And, just as my parents did 30 years ago, I can only make what I believe are the best choices possible. After all, we adore our kids, and for them, we can only do our best. For me, this means being a vegan.